In honor of Israel’s 70 years of independence, the famed Herbert Samuel Restaurant, located in the Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya created a four part series celebrating Israel’s culinary achievements. The first of the series of dinners was titled: ‘The Tastes of the Judean Hills’, and highlighted the offerings of 3 acclaimed local wineries; Flam, Castel, and Tzora.
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The Herbert Samuel, renowned for promoting Israel’s culinary scene using locally-sourced ingredients (you haven’t really lived until you’ve tried their Catch of the Day, eaten with a full view of the very waters in which it was caught!), created the evening’s menu carefully designed by the restaurant’s head chef in tandem with the sommelier of the winery. Each dish was carefully guided by the features of the wine chosen, working to best accentuate that region and flavor.
Once seated in the quietly elegant restaurant, we were immediately poured glasses of Judean Hills Blanc 2017, while the chef, Mor Cohen welcomed us and introduced the evening’s concept of pairing local wines with complementary cuisine. We were served an appetizer of the cutest dim sum duo you ever did see- stuffed with a chestnut and pumpkin puree, gently nestled in a coconut milk. The result was a bold, nutty taste- a perfect introduction to an evening dedicated to delighting in the Judean region’s herbs, spices, and mushrooms that thrive in its cool and mineral-rich mountains.
The tart acidity of the white wine contrasted beautifully with the earthy flavor of the dim sum. There was plentiful French bread along the table to act as a palate cleanser before our next course: A Tartlet of Green Vegetables, with a Quail Yolk at 62 degrees. The soft yolk added a depth of creaminess to the dish, which was already decadent- a “buttery” crust filled with a green vegetable medley of Swiss Chard, peas, onion, garlic, and leeks in white wine.
Our plates were soon cleared away to present the following adventure- Grilled Offal Ballontine, which despite its name, was a delight. A symphony of Middle Eastern flavors punctuated this dish, comprised of chicken innards, “pargit” (boneless chicken thighs), and chicken mousse, and seasoned with paprika, cumin, turmeric, caraway, clove, and curry. The ballontine medallion rested over a coal-grilled pita atop Har Bracha Tchina (the best Tahini known to man), and garnished with a piping of bright red harissa and leafy herbs. A full-bodied glass of Flam Winery’s Merlot 2016 complemented the complexity of the dish.
The softest Navarin of lamb arrived before us, encased in emerald green Swiss Chard leaves and adorned with diced root vegetables and tomatoes, and sprinkled with Jerusalem artichoke chips. The lamb paired beautifully with the Shoresh Red 2016 which had a rich blend of dark fruit and spices, with a long velvety finish- perfect for this meal!
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Next came the star of the evening: A lamb Lolly of shredded lamb chop, pan- fried to a crisp, with basil, cilantro and hyssop, a pomme fondant, and the most succulent lamb entrecote you’ve ever had. The tender meat fell off the fork almost before I could lift it from the plate! They could not have chosen a more suitable wine pairing than the Castel Grand Vin 2011, with an intensity noticeable from the first nose. With ripe tannins it was able to support, this bold, cedar-esque wine was a great match for the full-flavored meats it shared the palate with.
For the finale: a quenelle of pistachio ice cream joined on the plate by a fried cigar, reminiscent of baklava, filled with hazelnut cream and almonds. Filled with delicious food, we made our way back to our home in the Judean Hills, enriched by the experience of tasting the region’s unique flavors, and savoring the memories created.