Friday, November 17, 2017

Touring Middle East 10: Dinner at Chakra

We were curious to check out the Jerusalem dining scene the moment we arrived, despite this legendary town is probably better known for its political and religious significance than being a culinary destination. Once we checked in to our hotel after a long bus ride from the north and dropped our luggage in our room, we hopped on the tram to Jerusalem's city center, where it was packed like Causeway Bay with Orthodox Jews celebrating the festival of Sukkot.

Chakra came highly recommended by a friend of mine so it's the first restaurant we checked out. The restaurant was a few blocks away from the tram stop but an easy walk down a main street to the spot right by a park. The decoration is chic and modern - with dining tables on one side with floor-to-ceiling window looking out to the green space of the park, and on the side was the well-stocked bar with counter seating, then the semi-open kitchen further back. Jazzy tunes were played in the background throughout the evening, adding to the relaxing atmosphere of the venue.

Without a reservation, we were told only counter seats were available, which was not a problem for us, especially from our seats we had a glimpse at the kitchen behind the semi-circular bar. The menu has clear Mediterranean influence with some local ingredients and cooking being used. The restaurant is non-kosher so there's also a good selection of seafood including shrimps, scallops and squids.

We began with the focaccia delivered to us oven-fresh and served simply with tomato and olive oil. That's all it's needed really with excellent taste and texture. Eggplant with tahini sauce seems to be a staple item in any fine-dining Israeli restaurants as we have experienced throughout our trip and I thought the version here was one of the best I had, with the exotic combination with spices.

And the calamari dish was the clear winner. The whole squid was grilled on open-fire giving it a smoky flavor, contrasting well with the goat labahne sauce made with Arab cheese, and was more creamy than pungent. The oven-dried tomatoes were also added for a hint of sweetness and acidity (along with capers and mint). It's a well-executed fusion dish with western style cooking and Middle-eastern ingredients.

The Golan Heights Beef was recommended to us by the staff so we decided to give it a try with their porterhouse cut shared among the two of us as our main course. Again, it's perfectly grilled to medium doneness with a good crust. The meat is on the firm side not like those super tender wagyu meat but with better flavor, I reckon, especially the tenderloin side of the bone. Two sides were served - broccoli and mash potatoes, and both were great.

Their cocktail menu is definitely more interesting than their wine selection so that's what we went for. I haven't had a proper cocktail for over a week and I think my Antica Negroni was spot on. We shared one dessert at the end, with tahini icecream topped with sesame crisp and pine nuts. It came with generous portion and I love that punchy nutty taste. I was eager to try as much tahini dishes as I possibly can during the trip and this definitely satisfied my crave for this signature ingredient in the region.

Not a bad way to start our exploration to this wonderful city of Jerusalem.

When? October 8 2017
Where? Chakra, 41 King George Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Menu Highlights? Purple Calamari on Goat Labahne, Tomatoes and Capers

(Touring Middle East - Part 10)

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