The Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel may be located on the beach, but that has not prevented the property—which recently completed a $12 million renovation—from becoming a popular hotel for businesspersons. In fact, the Carlton was recently named "Israel's Leading Business Hotel” by World Travel Awards 2017, for the second consecutive year, and the fifth time in its history.
Which is not to say that the hotel does not have its attractions for locals: it is home to both of Meir Adoni’s kosher restaurants—Lumina (meat) and Blue Sky (dairy)—the remaining two—and only—restaurants in Israel of the celebrated chef, who closed his iconic establishments Catit and Mizlala in December and decamped for New York City, where he is striving to make his mark with a Middle Eastern restaurant, Nur.
Dietary restrictions prevent Lumina and Blue Sky from sharing kitchen space, but what the two restaurants do have in common are the same specialty cocktails, which bear the hallmarks of Adoni creativity. The Caribbean mojito, for example, is the refreshing classic sweetened with a touch of coconut.
The Gamba Loca, meanwhile—tequila, yellow bell pepper, basil and lime, served neat in a martini glass and garnished with red chili—takes its color from the herb rather than the vegetable, and packs a bit of a punch.
As we perused the menu, we enjoyed a basket of the house bread, especially the brown raisin, served with butter, olive oil and a zesty aioli with paprika. The menu comprises seven first courses and seven main dishes—all but one of which feature fish. The primary difference is the fish in the starters is by and large raw.
Our knowledgeable waiter recommended as a first course the Sea Kobania: fish tartare, bulgur with cured lemons, yogurt, eggplant cream and tomatoes, tossed in a vinaigrette and seasoned with Lebanese arissa and Persian lemon powder. Left to our own devices, we would not have chosen the tartare, but we were glad we took the restaurant’s advice: the freshness of the raw fish was evident, and the mélange of exotic ingredients yielded a very pleasant surprise indeed.
Next we had the Israeli Summer Caprese, with cubes of seared amberjack substituting for the sashimi specified by the menu. The succulent fish, combined with Maggie tomatoes, cherry tomatoes confit, Buffalo mozzarella, smoked eggplant cream, almonds and anchovies, drizzled with tamarind vinaigrette and olive oil and seasoned with cumin and basil, added up to a wonderful interplay of flavors and textures.
Our first main course was the intriguingly named Alleys of Akko: grilled sea bream on a bed of freekeh stewed with onions and almonds, eggplant cream, garlic and olive oil, tahini, green summer vegetables, yogurt and smoked vegetables. The white fish was cooked to perfection, but we had to be careful not to overwhelm the delicate fish with the strong overtones of the Arab cuisine.
The Sicily—another name that evokes an alluring destination—is a main course starring European sea bass grilled on citrus coals, on a mound of black linguine in tomato butter, fennel seeds, white wine, garlic and lemon. Here the dominant flavor belongs to a distinctive—and delicious—fennel marmalade; once again, great care had to be taken not to overwhelm the expertly grilled fish—but with judicious balancing of the fish with the robust pasta, it is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Not surprisingly, since the wines must be kosher, the wine list is exclusively Israeli. We enjoyed two very pleasant whites with our fish, a fruity Viognier from Psagot, and a crisp Sauvignon blanc from the Bat Shlomo winery.
There are five desserts on the menu, each one containing a multitude of ingredients that are barely familiar even to frequent restaurant-goers. Consider the New Middle East: cream of semolina and mascarpone, yogurt and tassos crumble, berry compote, sumac meringue, dry raspberry, olive oil vinaigrette and blood orange sorbet. Sumac and meringue are certainly two words I never imagined I would see as a pair. The presentation was as unusual as the flavors, which—I humbly confess—defy my powers of description.
The dessert called White Clouds takes no back seat to its predecessor in the exotic ingredients department: mango and bergamot semifreddo, olive oil sable, vanilla foam milk clouds, passion fruit sorbet, a tuile of tapioca pearls and coconut chips. This dish is a study in contrasts, balancing sweet and tart, and crunchiness with the frothy lightness of chiffon.
The use of so many ingredients in unconventional combinations is a trademark of Meir Adoni, making his restaurants a rather pricey proposition. The desserts in particular are perhaps the most expensive you will find in Israel. But both Lumina and Blue Sky are excellent candidates to keep in mind for a splurge that must be kosher.
Blue Sky @ Carlton TLV
Eliezer Peri 1, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 520-1830