The restaurant Lara in Jerusalem is the place to go if you would like to eat at the restaurant whose chef-owner caters some of the Prime Minister’s luncheons and dinners! A gourmet restaurant serving large portions on large plates, at Lara, creative dishes by Lior Hafzadi are way above most other restaurants.
The letters for the name, Lara, come from 36-year-old Lior; his wife, Ofira; his 7-year-old daughter, Rotem; and his 5-year-old son, Itai. Ten-month-old Sagi completes his family. Lior acted as our host.
Set in at least a 100-year old house, close to where Jabotinski lived, the three rooms of the restaurant all have the original stone walls, arches and tile floors, enhanced by softly-lit chandeliers and wall lanterns. The white tablecloths, wine glasses and white china add to the elegant look.
Main room of the restaurant. Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
At the back of the main entry room, which seats six, is a bar with a stone front; beyond is a well-organized open kitchen, with bar stools in front, and three chefs moving rapidly around.
The main room, decorated with a large mural, seats 28; a small private room off the main room seats 10. On a warm afternoon or evening, the outdoor patio out front, seats 30.
There are 13 first courses including salads, fish, pasta and meat; many main courses are offered including fish, meat, chicken, duck and pasta.
As soon as we were seated, we were served warm sour dough bread and a creamy aioli butter on which we knew we should not fill up, but it was just too special not to keep eating.
We sampled four first courses: fish sashimi with caramelized figs, fresh chili, and cucumber curls topped with a honey-lemon vinaigrette. Each ingredient tasted distinctive, creating a light, elegant taste.
Fish sashimi in foreground; roasted eggplant behind. Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Next was roasted eggplant sitting in a tofu cream with tahini, pine nuts, tomato seeds and Aragon oil from Morocco. The eggplant, which I love, did not overpower the other ingredients; as for my companion, who does not care for eggplant, it was very enjoyable.
The market salad included tomatoes, chili, radishes, preserved lemons, herbs and toasted croutons. Each item here also was individual; the croutons absorbed a pleasant lemony flavor, and the cherry tomatoes had a delicate herbal taste.
Finally, we tried the beef fillet carpaccio with roasted mushrooms (which my companion adored), caramelized shallots, and quail yolk (which had a wonderful. special taste). The shallots were crispy, and the beef which, had been marinated in a simple olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar marinade, was exquisite.
For entrees, we tried the seared salmon and the grilled beef fillet. The salmon sat in a creamy, red-pepper sauce with herbs and a lemony flavor. It was garnished with a piece of cooked bok choy which fit perfectly.
The grilled beef fillet was medium rare, melted in your mouth and sat in a rich red wine sauce; the accompanying whipped mashed potatoes were light, and the asparagus was cooked just right.
Lara. In foreground, warm apple cobbler with mango. Photo by Barry A Kaplan, Jerusalem
Happily, only two desserts were available instead of the usual three or four. Warm apple cobbler cut in rectangles was served with mango sorbet; and warm chocolate souffle cake was muffin shaped and served with mango sorbet sitting on chocolate cookie crumbs. The flavor of the sorbet changes daily. Both desserts can best be described as–heavenly.
Approximately 90% of the menu is changed every four months which should give clients the opportunity to keep returning because once you have tasted these uniquely-styled Israeli dishes, you will want to return again and again.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem and leads walks in Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish produce market. The author and photographer were the guests of the restaurant.