Sometimes waiting weeks for a table at the infamous Mahneyooda, a stylish and modern restaurant in Jerusalem's classic shuk, can be worth the wait. Yonatan Sternberg explores some of their interesting dishes and fabulous selections, straight from the market.
This was one meal that I have been looking forward to. Over the past year, it seems that everybody has been talking about Mahneyooda; tourists, local Jerusalemites and foodies from all over the country have all made their way and even waited several weeks for a table at one of, if not the, trendiest restaurants in Israel. In the last few years the “Mahane Yehuda” shuk (Hebrew for market) has seen some major changes. If you really want to feel the Jerusalem vibe, the shuk is the place to be. From catholic nuns to ultra orthodox Hasidic Jews, in this market place you can see them all. Personally, I love the shuk, the vibrant energy, colors, scents, tremendous diversity and, most importantly, the people, make it the most intriguing market place in Israel. Situated a couple of blocks down from the market, Mahneyooda as the market is referred to by locals offers a unique and most importantly tasty culinary experience.
The menu includes a wide variety of vegetable, meat, fish and seafood based dishes; many change daily according to the products available at the market. We started off with the sashimi Uri-style and the Asian inspired sirloin tataki, both from the "small ones" section on the menu. The dishes were very tasty, my favorite being the sashimi consisting of slices of fresh amberjack fish, star fruit, crunchy pickled red onion and thin slices of cucumber and chili. Trying to decide what to order for the first course was rather difficult. From my last visit I recalled that Mahneyooda's rich truffle-infused polenta was one of the best I have ever had, so that was definitely on our list. Following the friendly bartender's recommendation, we then ordered the Calamari Moshiko Style and a dish for the brave, ox testicles with a spicy black pea stew. I am not sure how Moshiko, one of the regular cooks at Mahneyooda came up with the idea for the dish but let me tell you, it works. Fresh calamri is seared on a skillet and then sautéed with a pomegranate glaze; garlic confit and yougurtehina (a combination of yogurt and raw tehina) are placed on one end of the plate while on the other, a rich cream based Roquefort cheese and charred eggplant. The result is an excellent combination of textures, colors, flavors and aromas. But Mahneyooda is not only about food; the serving dishes, cutlery, menu, design, chairs, choice of music and overall vibe offers a sophisticated (though sometimes a bit loud…like a shuk perhaps), humoristic, witty and fun dinning experience.
For our main course we ordered the seared sea bream with buffalo yogurt and an assortment of colorful vegetables and the sirloin steak with wine sauce and roasted potatoes. The fish was cooked to perfection, crispy on one side and moist on the other. The dish also included several tasty dips including: pickled lemon, pesto, black olive tapenade and homemade piquant harisa. A few years ago, a good friend told me that if you are already going to order a sirloin steak, make sure you get one that came from a fat cow. After having the steak at Mahneyooda, I understood the reason why he made that suggestion. The sirloin is a cut of meat with a relatively low fat content, not the case when getting sirloin steaks that came from "fat cows." The fat helps to keep the steak moist and juicy after cooking and also adds plenty of flavors to the dish.
While we barely had enough room for dessert, after taking one look at the menu we could not resist the tempting Chocolate Poisoning – brownies, chocolate mouse, chocolate ice cream and, of course, chocolate fudge. Three spoonfuls and one espresso later, it was time to call it a night.
By the way, several months ago, the owners also opened a second venue situated just across the street, where diners can walk in without making a reservation, pull up a chair (if you could find one) by the bar and see what Mahneyooda is all about.