When I saw the tweet from the Inbal Hotel inviting Israel based foodie bloggers to come to a special tasting of the new summer menu at their five star Sofia restaurant, and to sample the fare of Executive Chef Moti Buchbut, I barely paused before quickly getting in touch. What an amazing opportunity, and certainly not one I wanted to pass up!
Arriving at the lobby of the Inbal hotel brought back such memories. As a seminary girl, I was constantly at the hotel, meeting with guests, friends and family members in the lobby, to pick up packages or shmooze. I was also fortunate to spend a Succot meal with a close family friend and, let me tell you, eating a meal in the Inbal’s Succah is an incredible experience. Then, a couple of years later, I found myself sitting with my blind dates in the lobby, sipping a cold drink and counting the minutes until the date ended.
The lobby remains the same, but now was the perfect time to make some new memories.
I arrived five minutes late and the rest of the diners had already polished off the first course, a gorgeous tuna carpaccio dish! At the round table sat a number of Inbal’s executives, and fellow foodie bloggers Sarah Melamed of Food Bridge, Yael Ruder and Ariella Fixler Alon. Ashamed that I missed the first course, I quickly slid into my seat, fumbled with my camera and purse, picked up the folder the hotel staff kindly put together, and nearly missed the gorgeous view! After composing myself, I laid my napkin in my lap and gazed out the window at the beautiful scenery. You can’t deny that the view from the Sofia restaurant is one of a kind, and taking in the beautiful greenery and the architecture of the City, reminded me why I love living in Jerusalem so much.
Fortunately, I didn’t have too much time to look out the window as a server quickly placed the tuna carpaccio in front of me. I’m not a big fan of carpaccio, but this dish actually changed my opinion of carpaccio. The acid in the dish was wonderful, as I delighted in the tangy taste of vinegar and kalamata olives (my absolutely favorites!). And the parmesan shavings were just heavenly! You can tell it was a good parmesan, and the addition just elevated the dish.
All caught up, I was ready to tuck into the next course, which was onion soup with parmesan melted bruschetta. I was happy to see parmesan once again; us cheese lovers really do love our parmesan! The use of red wine instead of white infused the soup with a wonderful bold flavor. I was a little surprised to see the soup on a summer menu, expecting perhaps something using more seasonal vegetables and served cold, but it was delicious nonetheless. If they decide to keep it on their Fall/Winter menu, I could certainly see myself enjoying a steaming bowl of soup to ward off the Jerusalem chill.
When the server placed this green salad in front of me, I started doubting I would make it through all 10 courses! If this plate was tasting menu size, I can’t even begin to image how it would look served as a main course! The dish had a dizzying array of ingredients: the lettuce heart, chopped tomato and kalamata olives, a healthy portion of bulgarit cheese, parsley, mint, basil, dill, chives, olive oil, sea salt, lemon juice, pine nuts and passionfruit! Phew, that’s a mouthful! Yet, when I tucked into the salad, my taste buds literally exploded into a happy dance. The addition of passionfruit to the dressing was culinary genius. I made a mental note to add passionfruit to all of my vinaigrettes; it was innovative and perfect.
I mentioned that this plate certainly wasn’t a good first date dish, as many single women would find it intimidating to eat while trying to impress a potential paramour. And, as we debated the etiquette of pasta eating on a first date, the spaghetti pomodoro arrived.
Every Italian restaurant needs a good pasta dish, and the spaghetti pomodoro was unremarkable but delicious. I liked the little touches; the plate was warm and we each got individual bowls of extra grated parmesan. I would have loved to see a different grated cheese though, a Gruyere would have been fabulous! But, you just can’t compare the taste of freshly made pasta to what you cook from a bag. And sometimes, you really hunger for good pasta.
Had I known three fish dishes were to follow, I never would have polished off my tasting menu portion of spaghetti pomodoro! And, what these dishes did for me, was solidify that there is a new place in town to eat amazing fish. I love going out to eat fish, and whenever we go to a dairy restaurant, I skip the pasta, quiches and unique salads, and order the salmon. I was absolutely thrilled to be introduced to perfectly cooked filets of barramundi, trout and denise.
This dish was a true culinary masterpiece. I wanted to get up and applaud Chef Buchbut and then lick my plate clean. The plate was a stunning work of art, elements put together in such a way that I felt almost intimidated to take a bite. Barramundi, also known as Asian Sea Bass, was cooked perfectly. It rested on top of a mushroom risoto cooked in white wine. Surrounding the fish was cream of leek, a vinaigrette of green olive oil with madagascar black pepper and cubes of maple syrup drenched sweet potato. Topping the fish were mandolin thin slices of potato that were cooked to perfection, a salad of radish sprouts and one perfectly cooked snow pea.
The fillet of trout was served with perfectly crisped skin, on cubes of potatoes cooked sofrito style with wild mushrooms. On top of the trout were cut celery, cubes of tomato and onion, capers, and olive oil and lemon juice. In addition to the delightfully fresh acid of the lemon juice, was a flavorful red wine sauce. I was thrilled to see capers in a dish, and really loved the fact that Chef Buchbut infused Latin flavors in the sofrito style potatoes.
When this plate came out and I spied the yellow coulis, I immediately thought of fresh mangoes. They are finally in season and I was impressed with the seasonality of ingredients. And when Chef Buchbut told us it was actually yellow pepper, I was still amazed. The color was so vivid, it brought life to the plate. I was slightly disappointed at the mild flavor, hoping for more spice ala Bobby Flay. Once again, the skin on the denise was so crisp, I could have pulled the meat off and eaten the skin like a chip. But the fish was the true star of the dish. I thought the ratatouille of tomato and root vegetables were tasty, but the garlic soaked brioche was misplaced. I would have much preferred the brioche served in a separate bread basket along side the fish.
With time ticking down, and gan pickup for Baby J. just minutes away, I knew there was no way I could stay for two more courses. Fortunately, dessert was served in seconds!
Chef Buchbut explained that you can’t have an Italian restaurant without ravioli, and instead of a doughy pastry, I happily bit into a crunchy almost tempura-style battered dough. The chocolate ganache was slightly bitter, not overly sweet, and still steaming, which was a delightful touch to the dish. I thought the coconut ice cream was okay, but would have loved a mango or cherry sorbet instead. For some reason, I don’t associate coconut as a summer flavor, and would have preferred a cool sorbet of mango, cherry or watermelon. The plate was another work of art though, where the beautiful ribbons of fresh plum and apricots, and dots of caramel apple sauce, were truly pleasing to the eye.
After a few bites, I blotted my mouth, apologized for having to eat and run, thanked my hosts and gave kudos to the Chef of the hour, and raced out the door.
All in all, it was a wonderful culinary experience. Chef Buchbut really brought some innovation to his creations and introduced flavor pairings that will have this diner coming back for more!