A recap of my summer trip to Israel! The Tower of David, Jerusalem, Eucalyptus Restaurant, Castel Winery and more! (Check out Part II: Tel Aviv here!)
Suddenly I’ve been home from Israel for two months and am just getting around to writing about it now! (How is it October?? Can you make time stop, please?? What am I going to be for Halloween?? So many questions!) Whomp, whomp. Sure I’ve been busy finishing my first cookbook and traveling to SF, Michigan and Denver but I think I needed a little time to let the whole experience sink in, you know? If you’ve been to Israel, you understand. Israelis get me (most are trilingual in Hebrew, English and sarcasm), the food (soooo much hummus), the history. It’s just a magical place. Have you been? I’d love to hear about your trip in the comments!
Before I went to the Motherland, I stopped by the other Motherland- NYC! And somehow I was able to wrangle up most of my favorite bloggers for a dinner, who schelpped from all over the tri-state area to nosh with me. (Thank you!!) Some of these ladies I have been Internet friends with for years and never met! Crazy. But we all felt like instant BFFs (at least I did :)) Even though we all come from very different Jewish backgrounds, we bond over food (and humor. These ladies are hysterical!! Lots of lolz.)
The next day, before my late flight, Liz and I tried these adorable mini babkas from Padoka, including this guava paste babka! (!!!) So good.
I knew this was going to be a good trip when we were granted access to the business lounge (VIP baby!) and there was already hummus and lox for the taking. And a glass of wine. Needless to say, I slept well on the plane.
After a long but uneventful flight (thanks, sleeping pills!) we arrived in Jerusalem! Check out the sunset from the Tower of David by the entrance to the Old City.
This wasn’t a food trip per say, but don’t worry. We ate well. Because seriously, even a shawarma stand at a gas station in the desert has some of the tastiest food around (more on that in the next post). Anyhoo. The first stop was Eucaleptus in Jerusalem. We were all a bit jet lagged, but the multi-course meal and excitement from chef/owner Moshe helped us get over that! (And the wine. Wine helped.) All the dishes have their roots from biblical times, and each one has a story. Moshe also aims to use the 7 Species in his recipes. Nice touch, Chef.
The dishes were simple, but flavorful. The room was romantic (aka dark and not the best for photos) so I swiped this photo from their Facebook page of two of my favorite dishes. In the back is pastilla, which is duck confit and plum preserves stuffed in phyllo dough with pumpkin cream and red wine. (Ridiculously good.) And in the front, figs stuffed with chicken with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. We also had lamb stuffed in a pita crust (almost a Jewish pot pie), a very herby tea, creamed spinach with persimmon, and more.
Another glamour shot of those figs. As a refugee, Chef Moshe planted a eucalyptus tree on Tu B’Shevat, a festival of trees. Hence the restaurant name!
Our feisty bus driver Yuval modeling the figs. Yuval was a total character. Within moments of meeting him, he was joking about tattoos, sharing anecdotes from his recent trip to Vegas (not blog appropriate) and bragging about the discount he got on a rental car in Utah. We were fast friends. At the end of dinner, they asked for volunteers. If people hesitate, I always volunteer, it (almost) always works out. (Except for that time in El Paso…) This time, I got to help make the last course! And sport a fancy apron. (Dress from Synergy Clothing.)
After dinner, we got a private tour of the Tower of David, followed by a light show, depicting the history of Jerusalem. Before this trip, I had only been to Israel once before, as a 16 year old. And this time it was already totally different (and not just because we had wine.) Maybe because I had started this little blog for funsies, and suddenly here I am in Israel, with a small group of legit journalists learning about our history and sharing it with y’all. Warm and fuzzies! But seriously, if you’ve only been on Birthright, you need to go back to Israel as a grown-up. The next day, we toured the Old City. To give you an idea of what they mean by old, the walls of the “New City” are still 500 years old. Sounds pretty old to me. We also got a tour of the tunnels under the old city and walked all around. A Roman historian once commented on Israel that it has “A sea no one could drown in (that’s the Dead Sea), a day no one works (Shabbat) and a temple without one statue inside (The Western Wall).” What other country can say that?And then, it was wine time! Can you believe these beautiful vines can grow just outside of Jerusalem??We got a tour of Castel Winery, complete with lots of tastings!
Here is our crew, photographed by tour guide Elie (luckily he is a better guide than photographer).
Me, Marc, Jessica, Ellen, Aron and Judy, Libby and Ryan!
Happy place. Normally I don’t think of kosher wine as stellar, but this wine (all kosher) was delicious for any wine! Owner Eli Ben Zaken (in the polo above) had a super interesting story about starting his family owned winery. He originally hailed from Egypt, and lived all over including Italy before settling in Israel.
Eli also owned many business including a chicken coop and a restaurant in Jerusalem. With a restaurant, you need food wine! So a winery seemed like the logical next step. At the time, wines were technologically good, but not too interesting. They planted their first vine in 1988 and the rest is history. (Look at all these barrels! They keep 150,000 bottles (!) on the premises.)
Castel makes their wine only with grapes grown at the winery. Malbec, petit verdot, cabernet, chardonnay and rosé. Eli compared making red wine to cooking, and making rose to baking. It’s very technical. Their rosé was awesome- light but with some body, not too sweet or acidic, with some strawberry notes and a buttery finish. Below is their red blend of petit verdot, cab and merlot- light tannins, smooth, with some notes of plum and smokiness. Blends used to be to use leftover wine, but Castel makes better wines with purpose.
It’s not all roses and rosé owning a winery. For example, you can’t fire anyone in a family business. Eli started off on the wrong foot, perhaps, when he told one famous American wine critic that no one remembers critics, only people who do things. He didn’t get a great review, but there was an interesting article on how Israeli winemakers are very opinionated. Hmmm.
But for Eli, owning the winery is more than just making wine. It’s something very zionistic. “I’m an unpaid diplomat. Fantastic wine is an excellent tool in diplomacy. It shows we belong.” I loved that. We asked Eli about his favorite wines, but his face really lit up when we asked about beer. Perhaps his next venture?
After wine, we all needed coffee! The famous Aroma hit the spot.
Dinner that night was at the meat heavy Hachatzer. Standouts for me were the carpaccio and the (dairy free!) halva topped ice cream sundae. Can all ice cream be topped in halva? K, thanks.
The next day, I met up with my friend Amy for a tour of the shuk in Jerusalem! You can read more about it in this post for shawarma stuffed peppers.
We hit up Azura for some seriously amazing hummus. (You may remember these photos from Instagram.) Y’all. This halva! I wish I put my hand next to one so you could get the size. These things were massive and delicious.
More hummus! (Here are 25 awesome hummus recipes if you want to make your own!)
Falafel! Inspired this falafel salad.
Some rugelach back at our hotel.
We had a few breakfasts at the hotel, and every meal was a feast. Tons of salads, fresh vegetables, hummus, cheese. Even a platter of gefilte fish. Score!
This was a typical breakfast. Not a boring muffin in sight! Lots of veggies and labneh (and a tasty croissant).
Side note- the chairs were Coach print. Fancy!
Yes way, rosé! The view of the Old City from our hotel.
We were in Jerusalem during Tisha B’av, which commemorates a few of the disasters in Jewish history, including the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. So it was especially meaningful to actually be at the Kotel (aka Western Wall aka Wailing Wall aka that last standing wall of the temple) that day with so many other Jews and Israelis. A significant final day in Jerusalem, before we headed to the desert! (More posts to come.)
I was invited to visit Israel with Go Israel! but was not required to blog about it and all opinions are my own.