In order to draw pearls from the sea, it is sometimes necessary to go deep into the heart of the ocean. My own private ocean is located in the city of Ness Ziona, far away from home, in an industrial district filled with surplus stores, auto-shops, supermarkets, and kebab shops. In that place, windowless, and with no massive banners or signs, hides Tokopaya restaurant. Much like a pearl – an effort was needed to find this restaurant, and, like a pearl, it was so very worth it.
Tokopaya, which has been in business for 9 years now, underwent conversion to a kosher restaurant a year ago, and, as a testimony to its success, was filled to capacity when we visited on a Monday night. The restaurant was opened by Kobi Dalal, who is responsible for the elegant d?cor, which includes comfortable seating, screens which divide the restaurant into smaller spaces, and unique lights of his own design. The importance given to aesthetics is apparent in every aspect of the restaurant, from the interior to the courses served. In the past, the restaurant’s specialty was meat. Today it is classified as a chef restaurant, and the rich menu – including meats, fish, and vegetarian dishes – is mainly influenced by the creativity of Kobi’s, who frequently consults with the staff about new dishes and flavors. Five or six specials are offered nearly every day, depending on the day’s supplied goods and on Kobi’s whim.
Shani and I start off with cocktails: calvados, a warm apple drink, served hot with apples and cinnamon stick in wine. The taste of the alcohol is amplified by the warmth, and becomes less dominant as the drink cools. This is a good drink for the colder days. As a polar opposite to this drink, we also have a Greenday cocktail, served ice cold, and composed of Midori-sour and a tasty kiwi.
Our waitress, Shimrit, lists the specials in detail, going so far as to mention the clemente olives. Shani and I peruse the menu at length. Tokopaya has a business dinner which includes a variety of first courses (eight in all) and entr?es (ten on the menu and six specials on the night we were there), with prices ranging from 87 NIS (grilled hamburger on a focaccia, served with home-fries, and aioli chili) to 179 NIS (filet mignon – 250 grams – in a beef stock and red wine or smoked pepper). As usual, when one can’t decide, one gets a bit of everything.
We are served a long focaccia, baked in the taboon oven, polishes with olive oil and coarse salt, and served with phoenix aioli, a great mix of olives and garlic confit, with the shell crunching on the first bite to reveal a soft, sweet interior. This is followed by the first courses: beef sirloin carpaccio made to perfection; roasted balady eggplant with pepper salsa and raw tahini; richly-flavored liver p?t?, with a wonderful mousse texture; and a wonderful dish of hot and crispy meat sticks, wrapped in crunchy dough, and served with a sourish sauce. These starters are all wonderful, and Shani and I enjoy every bite. No wonder we needed a short break before going further.
Before moving on to the entr?es, we are treated to a small and velvety apricot sorbet, served in a shot glass. The house wine -a blend of merlot, Shiraz, and cabernet sauvignon, product of the Yatir winery - is poured. Then the entr?es arrive: a cut of entrecote, which Shani described as “excellent, grilled perfectly, just the way I like it.” I, who only had a bite of it, happily agreed. The entrecote was served with sweet potatoes and yams. I am served a round wooden tray, barely containing a giant veal chop, fatty, lightly-peppers, crunchy on the outside, yet chewy and juicy on the inside. This dish was served with avocado chimichurri, chili aioli, and a scoop of whipped potato, wrapped in roasted peppers. I ignored all the side items – I like to focus on the meat.
When we had our fill, the table was cleared, and the desserts proudly arrived: a cake of biscuits with chocolate syrup and a soft moc