Not long after East and West Jerusalem were unified in the wake of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, pioneering restaurateur Shraga Levy made history by opening Dolphin Yam with a Palestinian partner in the modern Arab sector of the city. Since then, the landmark restaurant has moved twice—to West Jerusalem and, for a brief stint during the Intifada years, to Tel Aviv—but it has retained its status as arguably the city’s premier fish and seafood restaurant.
The management reins of Dolphin Yam have now been handed over to Shraga’s son Moshiko, who is dedicated to maintaining the high standards of the Jerusalem institution. To this end, he has instituted a special Chef’s Menu, revised yearly, which is a good place for any first-time visitor to the restaurant to start.
The Chef’s Menu comprises a special selection of appetizers and entrées, as well as two platters for two, one meat platter and one seafood platter. Some of the items on the Chef’s Menu are based on a page of the regular menu titled The Dolphin Specials.
While perusing the menu, it is worth checking out the specialty cocktail of the week. The night of our visit it was 1800 Coconut Tequila with pineapple juice—an interesting, refreshing twist on a piña colada, with premium tequila instead of rum. The full bar can also mix any of the classic cocktails.
A meal at Dolphin Yam starts with a delicious tradition that has won the restaurant a loyal following: nine mezze, served with the house focaccia, which resembles a loaf of round frena bread. Noteworthy among the mezze—which are included in the price of the main course—are rich white ikra, a North African carrot salad, a seasonal avocado spread, piquant matboukha, and cubed beets.
The rotating Chef’s Appetizer is a daily special that will be explained by your waiter. On our evening, it was shrimp paired with goose breast smoked in-house, in a cream sauce intriguingly flavored with nutmeg. The dish tasted every bit as heavenly as it sounds.
One of the Dolphin Yam’s signature dishes is the strawberries ceviche, served in a martini glass: exceedingly fresh diced raw sea fish, with crisp vegetables for crunch, and slices of fresh strawberry in season. The lush red berries lend a touch of sweetness to balance the acidity of the marinade, in this truly inspired version of the Latin American classic.
The crab bisque is a thick, creamy red broth garnished with raw shrimp that ingeniously cooks in the warm soup at the table. The bisque, chock full of delicate crab meat, is a rare treat in this country.
The daily Chef’s Special is a fish entrée, and ours was sea bass, scallop and shrimp in a black pepper sauce with green chili and chopped hazelnuts. The moist, flavorful fish was cooked just right, in a decadent sauce that left a pleasant tingle of heat in the mouth.
The side dish was also done perfectly, small baked potatoes that emerged from the oven with light and fluffy interiors. A green salad may be substituted for the potatoes.
The seafood platter for two is a real crustacean extravaganza: calamari, shrimp, blue crab, soft shell crab, scallops and mussels, in a choice of another one of Dolphin Yam’s ideally balanced house sauces: mustard and cream, white wine and garlic, mushrooms and cream, lemon and capers, or lemon mint.
A nice change of pace is the Chef’s Menu meat platter for two. While the dish features both beef and lamb, the specialty is the latter: succulent lamb chops and juicy lamb kebabs, both generously garnished with pine nuts.
Dolphin Yam takes immense pride in its wine list, curated overwhelmingly from Israeli wineries, especially small boutique wineries and even wines made by individual winemakers. Moshiko will be glad to consult on wine pairings with your meal, whether from the adequate selection of wines by the glass, or from the restaurant’s cellar of aged wines by the bottle.
In particular, the house white wine—a private label from the Ortal Winery in the northern Golan Heights—is a pleasant, crisp blend of Roussanne and Viognier.
Desserts are not on the printed menu, but are explained in detail by the waiters. Reflecting the same creativity that characterizes all of the restaurant’s dishes, the vanilla ice cream sundae with cherry tomato syrup, tehina and halva is a prime example of a sweet finish that is none too heavy after a substantial meal.
Half a century of success is a track record any restaurant can be proud of; and the good news is that a first experience at Dolphin Yam need not break the bank: weekday business lunches—served until 5pm—offer main courses, seven salads, house focaccia and juice at prices that start at NIS 68.
Shimon Ben Shetah St. 9, Jerusalem
Tel. (073) 759-8522