The Norman boutique hotel in Tel Aviv has become known for its fine dining as well as its luxurious lodging. Dinings is one the country’s best Japanese restaurants, while the ground-floor brasserie, which originally bore the same name as the property, hosts a weekend brunch that is invariably sold out.
The brasserie has just been renamed Alena, after the wife of the legendary Norman for whom the hotel is named. As part of the rebranding, Executive Chef Barak Aharoni has updated and streamlined the menu, paring its original five sections to four, while retaining many of the dishes that have become customer favorites.
The elegant Alena décor boasts tables set with gleaming silverware and starched white tablecloths. There is aso an impressive al fresco area, set in The Norman’s beautifully manicured citrus garden.
There is an intriguing list of specialty cocktails, as well as Norman classics. Our knowledgeable waiter recommended a seasonal cocktail named Strawberry Fields—vodka, red wine and fresh strawberry mash, served neat in a martini glass and garnished with a beautiful basil bud and leaf—and we also ordered the Norman aperitivo—citrus Amaro, tonic and lemon, served on the rocks in a highball glass. Both drinks were refreshing, although the former was more complex, with a sweet finish.
A meal at Alena starts with a silver salver of thick brown bread, and a variation on baguette, served with excellent olive oil. Butter is available on request, but it is advisable not to fill up on the tempting fresh bread.
The four categories of the new food menu are Raw and Greens, comprising raw fish, salads and cooked vegetable appetizers; Pasta and Parcels (half-portions also available); Fish and Seafood; and Josper Grill, featuring poultry and beef main courses.
In addition, there is a separate menu of daily specials—eight, on the evening we visited—representing each of the categories on the main menu. Given the tough choices, we suggested that the chef prepare a tasting menu; without even having to consult the kitchen, the waiter did not hesitate to accede to our request.
From the first category, we were served Spanish mackerel sashimi on a bed of lime infused-yogurt with red chili, basil and kiwi. The juxtaposition of sweet fruit with tangy yogurt and hot pepper lent an extra dimension of flavor to the extremely fresh white fish.
From the same section of the menu, but a different classification altogether, came the cabbage parcels—three rolls of the leafy green vegetable stuffed with rice, on a bed of labaneh with raisins and tomato salsa. One of Chef Aharoni’s original creations, this dish, reminiscent of stuffed grape leaves, was another example of the charm of combining cultured milk with sweet dried fruit and mild tomato salsa.
Our pasta course was eggplant tortellini with asparagus—ricotta dough dumplings stuffed with grilled puréed eggplant, in a Parmesan-butter sauce gently seasoned with za’atar. The feathery light pasta—enhanced by the al dente asparagus in the delicate sauce—practically melted in the mouth.
Our first main course was beef tenderloin and broccoli, wherein morsels of choice meat and small stalks of cruciferous vegetables were both grilled on skewers. The succulent beef in rich jus was perked up nicely with dabs of accompanying horseradish sour cream and paired with delicious mashed potatoes the pleasing consistency of whipped.
Chicken may seem like a pedestrian food to order in a fancy restaurant, but as I had discovered on a previous visit—when I tasted the chicken breast in preserved lemon, Kalamata olives and rosemary—that is certainly not the case in Alena. This time it was our turn to try the organic spring chicken in pink pepper marinade with sage, lemon zest and palm sugar. The flattened, charcoal-grilled poultry was juicy and flavorful, while the pleasant heat of the spices was tempered by the caramelization of the sugar.
The extensive leather-bound wine list, curated by the hotel’s sommelier, is as comprehensive and detailed as one is likely to find in an Israeli restaurant. Showcasing vintages exclusively from Israel and Europe, it includes a reasonable selection of wines by the glass. We enjoyed the local wine recommended by our waiter—the full-bodied 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon by Amphora—as well as a crisp and fruity German Riesling.
Desserts are anything but an afterthought at Alena, whether you’re in the mood for something light or substantial. The distinctive goat cheese panna cotta, with seasonal fruit—in our instance, atop a raspberry coulis and topped with assorted fresh berries and shards of meringue—is the perfect example of a sweet finale to a meal, even if you thought you hadn’t left room for dessert.
The signature dessert here, meanwhile, is the bread and butter pudding. Served in its own crock pot, the delicacy is drenched in crême anglaise poured over the top tableside, the vanilla cream seeping through the golden brown crust and into the dense, toothsome pudding, making for a moist, rich dessert so decadent it banishes any guilt about calories.
The Norman Hotel, Nahmani St. 25, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 543-5444