I wasn’t expecting Tel Aviv to be beautiful. Then again, it is a coastal city after all, with bright blue waters trimming its eastern front and the intense Mediterranean sunshine that bathes the white Bauhaus buildings in gold. The landscape is enchanting even in the dusk, when old Jaffa’s lighthouse is lit up, like a slim candle on a slice of cake.
Starved of sunshine and open waters throughout the frigid winter, we savored our strolls along Tel Aviv’s beachfront during the day. In the evening, we elected to have dinner at Manta Ray, a restaurant by the sea.
The restaurant is more elegant and chic compared to the various casual eateries dotting the beach from our hotel to Jaffa, the airy pavilion that opens onto the beach on warmer days more suited for a romantic dinner than a few beers with the lads. The predominantly seafood menu is of the contemporary, multinational genre (bouillabaise, coconut milk and curry paste etc) that is just as at home in Tel Aviv as in Sydney or San Francisco. No hummus was in sight. But the appetizer tray was unapologetically Mediterranean, the small plates (NIS 19/portion) laden with yogurt, eggplant, fresh salads and grilled seafood, ingredients one associates with this part of the world. Unsurprisingly, I polished off the grilled eggplant capped with unctuous labneh, but the broad beans accompanying the chewy grilled octopus were crunchy, bordering uncooked. We felt it was somewhat miserly to charge for bread, but the Balkan bread (which looks and tastes like olive oil soaked focaccia) was at least very tasty.
Our main courses were in comparison generous in both flavor and portion-sizes. I love my dish, the pan-fried sea bream fillets (NIS 105) moist and meaty, the al-dente red rice laced with a snappy mango and chili butter.
The husband’s risotto (NIS 98) will likely make purists balk, cheesy with pungent Manchego cheese. Chipotle peppers, toasted hazelnuts and sourish artichoke hearts make unlikely bedfellows but worked surprisingly well together, though the powerful flavors did divert attention from the lightly grilled shrimp. He washed the spicy rice with a decent glass of Israeli Chardonnay, happily dipping his toes into the arena of Israeli wine. Pricy but good food, friendly service, a magnificent view and the always charming presence of my husband. An auspicious start to our holiday indeed.
Address: Alma Beach, Tel Aviv, Israel