The Mediterranean has seen some turmoil recently. Beside the gorgeous bodies of thousands of French men and women who hit our beaches in the past few months, the Mavi Marmara flotilla also passed through. I was fed up with Turkey for joining in (though not leading) that military demonstration. Our reserved, generous neighbour - blessed with attractive weather, wonderful walking and jeep-touring routes, pampering clubs, and of course the proud sister or at least the older sister, of the "all-included” deal that’s much loved here in Israel – now confronted us in a diplomatic crisis.
And what about the Turkish cuisine? Its fresh succulent meat, rich cheeses in an assortment of flavours and textures, and world-renowned pastries? Turkey has outstanding food, and now we can’t enjoy it. But have no fear – there’s a solution.
Since last weekend, waves of nostalgic affection are stirring in me for Turkey - country that’s so close but is not further away. It’s true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and Turkey with its fabulous cuisine found that familiar path, straight to my heart. And it wouldn't have happened without the new honorary ambassador – Pasha - the Turkish restaurant in Ha'Arba'a Street, Tel Aviv that’s responsible for my reborn emotions and longings.
My new roommate and I decided to visit Pasha for good reasons - a new apartment and new flatmate – fine reasons for celebrating. Arriving at the restaurant quite late in the day, we expected to find few diners, but were surprised to discover that Pasha was packed and throbbing.
Our table was on the restaurant’s upper level, and from there we could watch the whole restaurant, which is beautifully designed with charming faces looking at us from the photographs decorating the walls. The design, atmosphere and even the wait-staff all echoed an Istanbul restaurant.
A short acquaintance with the waitress and we were ready to roll. We chose two cocktails from the (excellent) cocktail list to accompany our starters. One of them is the Almond Istanbul (NIS 36) which has anise, mint leaves, guava and almond syrup - highly recommended. The other cocktail was Pasha – which showcases Martini, Campari and passionfruit juice (NIS 36).
Our starter courses were a traditional lahmajoun (NIS 26), almond and coriander salad (NIS 40), a refreshing, sourish kubbeh hamusta (NIS 26) and machshi hamoud (NIS 34) a traditional dish of stuffed courgettes and aubergine was also served to the table. We both loved the coriander salad, whose taste matched the meat dishes splendidly. As an admirer of stuffed vegetables, we were served outstanding stuffed vegetables and kubbeh. Melt-in-the-mouth tender, they were served in a rich sauce of celery and other vegetables, with the right sourness. I set high standards for stuffed vegetables (and anyone who’s tasted my mother's stuffed vegetables knows why) and these were outstanding, full of rice, and in a pool of thick orange garlicky sauce with perfect spices.
When we ended the first courses and the table was cleared, our waitress returned with recommendations for the main course. She was obviously familiar with the material, so we happily let her suggest the main course. It was a good idea. Two large and beautiful dishes arrived, with splendid aromas preceding them. Soft and succulent medallions of beef fillet (NIS 106) were placed on four corners of the plate, with side dishes of rice and vegetables, and a fan of lamb chop (NIS 103), with potatoes alongside. After some serious bargaining between the two of us, we both enjoyed these wonderful dishes – the succulent fillet was perfectly cooked and the lamb chops were so juicy that I abandoned my knife and fork and without some lack of elegance picked them up and munched away. And then we sat back, replete, and rested a little.
Desserts: a scoop of vanilla ice-cream covered with halvah threads and date syrup (NIS 34), kadaif baked in the brick oven (NIS 26), sprinkled with peanuts. Replete or not who could refuse these delights? The kadaif threads emerged from the oven, and set the ultimate seal of an authentic Turkish restaurant. Once we finished the dessert, we could really sit back and rest, and enjoyed tea served in traditional Turkish glasses - and with a friendly smile.
I understood from the restaurant staff and the faces in the photos an inherent understanding of what a restaurant is. "Pasha” in Turkish, means "respected”. And apparently the people who launched Pasha know something about respect - something that I discovered, and you have to discover too.