Israeli start-up Eatwith is making quite a name for itself in Tel Aviv, as the facilitator for talented chefs to host meals in their homes on a par with the best restaurants – where, in fact, many of these chefs trained.
One of Eatwith’s culinary stars is undoubtedly Chef Ofir, who serves up memorable feasts in his Tel Aviv loft, revolving around no fewer than four ambitious themes.
Chef Ofir and his team – co-chef Royiki and sous chef Gooli – operate out of The Manor, the name he has bestowed on the house (on the street of the same name) where he both lives and works, and the headquarters of his catering business.
His industrial kitchen, right off the dining room, turns out feasts for up to 36 diners at a time; and there was virtually a full house when I attended one of his most popular offerings: Butcher’s Cut: A Night at the Manor.
I arrived right on time, at 8 pm on the dot, and people were already there, mingling with glasses of red and white wine. The wines were premium, from Tishbi and Tishbi Estates; remarkably, the Cabernet-Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc flow freely throughout the evening, from the Manor’s "bottomless bottles."
Chef Ofir introduced the evening in Hebrew and English, as there were quite a few tourists present. Butcher’s Cut revolves around meat and lamb, as well as what the chefs consider one of their specialties: Vegetables – only the freshest available at the market, so what is served varies by season.
The two starters were a variation of Ukrainian borscht and bruschetta, served one after the other. The borscht was actually a root vegetable consommé with a predominance of beet, garnished with small dollops of sour cream infused with horseradish. My only complaint here was the small portion – at least relative to the courses to follow; it was polished off all too quickly.
The bruschetta was also a variation on the usual, with toasted dark bread standing in for the standard focaccia. The topping was a tapenade and brisket, complemented perfectly by potato salad and a pickled egg. It was great fun experimenting with alternating forkfuls combining the bruschetta and accompaniments.
As it was Friday night, two giant challot were served with the main courses, along with a warning not to fill up on the freshly baked bread, rendered even tastier by the mixture of seeds on the crust. Three platters appeared simultaneously: One with thinly sliced roast beef, made from sirloin; one laden with fresh vegetables; and what the menu calls "Lima bean Fava extraordinaire."
The roast beef, garnished with green broad beans and drizzled balsamic vinegar, was textbook pink in the center. The astoundingly colorful vegetables – crunchy pakoos cucumbers, four different kinds of tomatoes, radishes, raw lupin beans (known colloquially as toormoos) and unusually leafy roquette lettuce – needed only a few drops of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt to stand on their own as a course in their own right. And "extraordinaire" certainly sums up the warm bean dish – possibly the best dish consisting only of plain seasoned beans I ever tasted.
And yet the piece de resistance was still to come: The largest squash I have ever seen was placed ceremoniously in the center of the middle table, and everyone was invited to dig in and scoop out a generous portion of the succulent stuffing: A rich lamb ragout, studded with dried cherries. Enhanced with optional yogurt swimming in olive oil, the giant stuffed squash had to be seen – and tasted – to believe.
Somehow, there was still room for three desserts: "Chocolate nemesis" – a buttery flourless concoction that was absolutely decadent; a delicious cherry clafoutis (venerable French version of a flan); and a sweet-and-savory surprise: slices of fresh apricot, cooled after being sautéed in amaretto, then served with whipped cream flavored with orange zest, black pepper and olive oil.
Washed down by a homegrown blend of herbal tea (comprising earl grey, sage and rosemary), the sweet trio was a fitting end to a superb meal.