On the evening I dined at HaSalon, I had the seat of honour at the bar, directly across from celebrity chef, Eyal Shani. The meal was one I had been most looking forward to. Although the chef has several restaurants in Tel Aviv and has been on many cooking shows, this particular restaurant is only open two nights a week (Wednesday and Thursday) and is so popular that it is difficult to secure a table. There’s no signage on the restaurant and it’s located at the end of a quiet side street at 8 Ma’avar Yabok. It has no website and the menu is only in Hebrew. It kind of sums up the chef’s personality. He doesn’t give a damn. He knows he has a loyal following and he can make up his own rules. I have to say it was intimidating sitting opposite him. He was not interested in talking or even smiling, for that matter. But it’s like going to a great medical specialist. Who cares about the bedside manner, as long as he is successful at what he does?
The kitchen is a completely open concept right in the middle of the restaurant and you can see everything being prepared a la minute in front of you if you are lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar. The chef and his sous chefs work magic as the doting guests sit in awe. The bar is piled high with every manner of fresh vegetable and makes for a colourful display in an otherwise very dark and unadorned restaurant.
Chef Eyal is known for his flair at each of his restaurants but HaSalon epitomizes his philosophy of fresh food of the highest quality. The experience is a combination of texture, smell, taste and proper execution. If you don’t read Hebrew, you are given a long detailed explanation of each dish as to what it was and how it is prepared. As you can imagine this was an arduous task on the waiter’s behalf. The menu is new each day the restaurant is open, depending on the optimal picks from the chef’s organic farm, local fisherman and butchers. You see the chefs caress the food, working slowly, but enthusiastically. The whole process really is a show in itself. For us, the evening started off quiet and romantic, and as it progressed the volume of music and people talking increased. People end up dancing on the tables and singing making the experience a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. It’s a real scene – a lively party. It may not be for everyone, though there’s also the option to come earlier and skip the theatrics entirely, but I don’t recommend it – it really is an unforgettable experience.
Expect Modern Israeli cuisine served in a bare warehouse environment where the food is treated as art, composed of the freshest and highest quality ingredients (note: the prices are also quite high). The tomatoes taste like sugar. The pizza is rolled out in front of you and served immediately fresh out of the oven. The twice baked potato with the potato removed, mashed with lots of butter and re-stuffed and topped with sour cream is simple but delicious. The fish is deboned in front of you, filleted and carved so your crudo is as fresh as can be. The pastas are delicate with fresh artichokes and cheese that melts in. Meats are thrown on the grill and cooked to perfection with simple garnishes.
You’ll want to order everything because of the way the server describes the food and before you know it the bill starts adding up. I also noticed a lot of booze being consumed at all the tables. The wine list consists of only Israeli wines or French Bourgogne.
The food is inventive, the vibe is festive and the energy is infectious. A meal to remember.
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