If you are in Jerusalem or coming during the Olympics, you can see the Olympics on a large screen, every evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or later and enjoy traditional fish and chips at La Cafeteria (definitely not a cafeteria!), the terraced restaurant in the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.
Sit under large umbrellas at wood tables with wicker chairs on the terrace, seating 65 with an additional 20 seats if necessary, according to Ricardo Aguilar, the restaurant manager and our host.
The tasty fish (from St. Peter’s Fish) are garnished with a touch of sumac and the chips (French fries) are crisp, brown and not greasy. Instead of tartar sauce, they are served with a aioli sauce. My companion donned a Heineken’s draft (since beer should accompany fish and chips) while I tried their ice cafe – truly special, made with cappuccino ice cream, a shot of espresso and blended with milk into almost a milk-shake.
If fish and chips are not your desire, the menu offers a breakfast corner with an English breakfast including bacon and eggs, and late afternoon tea.
Also available for breakfast is the cheese platter, varieties of eggs, salads and sandwiches. Other offerings on the menu are Mexican, Holy land, International, and Italian choices plus beverages, wines and liquors.
Fish and chips at La Cafeteria Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Mexican fare includes fajitas, tacos, nachos and more. The Nachos Notre Dame are covered in a melted white cheese with sides of guacamole, black beans and a red sauce.The special cheese adds great flavor to the nachos; the guacamole is just a tiny bit spicy but not overwhelming; and for a non-black-bean person, these were very tasty.
The club sandwich was part of the many international foods and was served with three layers of toasted whole wheat bread, cheese, chicken, ham, tomatoes, lettuce, and a side salad.
Other international foods include salmon on a bagel, Greek salad, American hamburgers and chicken schnitzel–each served with a choice of two side dishes including French fries, onion rings, vegetables or salad.
Aguilar on terrace in front of big screen for Olympics Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Minestrone, lasagne and pizza were just a few of the Italian selections.
St. Peter’s fish, shwarma, fattoush and hummus were on the Holy Land section. The hummus was especially good and is also available made with lamb meat. It was garnished with olive oil and sumac and served with a side of pickles, olives, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and pita.
Chef Khalel Abu Sbitan has been chef for 15 years at La Cafeteria and studied in Dublin and Spain and with French chefs at Bethlehem University. Working with him are three cooks.
Since his hiring in February, Aguilar has made many changes to La Cafeteria to give it a bistro feeling with three additional spaces besides the terrace. The long hall, coming from the lobby, with tables and chairs on both sides, ends with a round table in a “VIP” section with an ancient Roman column at one end. Making an l-shape, on one side is the glassed-in kitchen with a coffee bar in front and a regular bar opposite. Two blackboards advertise special events and the products of the bar. In between is the entrance to what was once a passageway and is now a TV room with an electric fireplace at one end for use in winter, small tables and chairs along one of the natural stone walls, a salad buffet and flowers in a vase on a large center table.
Wherever one sits, the service is excellent, the food varied and presented attractively in very large portions and the atmosphere relaxed and, as Aguilar is trying to achieve – “a home away from home.”
La Cafeteria – Chef Sbitan and a co-chef Photoby Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Mexican-born, Ricardo Aguilar, is only 25 years old but since he began his job as restaurant manager in February, he has shown his expertise in La Cafeteria. Raised in a Catholic family, he lived in Mexico until the age of 17, when he went to the U.S. to work. Returning to Mexico, he attended the Culinary Institute for four and a half years, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in gastronomy as a chef and working along the way in Mexico City and California. The next few years took him to Brazil; Lyon, France for six months; and to Monaco where he specialized in wine service. Finally, he was offered this job in January 2012. Aguilar speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese and English and is trying to learn Hebrew and Arabic.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem and leads walks in Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish produce market.