Fine. Call us spoiled, but the fact of the matter was that Idan and I were in need of another vacation. Nothing elaborate - just a teensy little weekend out of the city – a couple days of R&R. Some greenery instead of the usual concrete jungle.
The thing is – we're not big campers, really. Idan flat out refuses and I'm partial to indoor, preferably clean, toilets. And cookouts, well, they're great for summer camp nostalgia and all, but frankly, what's a vacation without a fabulous meal.
A few recommendations, website viewing and some last minute luck later, we gassed up the rental car and headed north for a weekend at Pausa – a no-kiddies-allowed Galilee inn specializing in gourmet, communal meals comprised of home and locally grown ingredients.
After a 3 hour drive and few twists and turns, 10 000 square meters of fruit and vegetable gardens, a little hilltop Jacuzzi and a 400 year old oak tree appeared before us. Ah, serenity. Breathing in the fresh air, we decided to take a stroll around the garden after checking in. Kiwi on the vine, more than 5 varieties of grapes (for wine as well as one variety that tastes like a cross between mango and passion fruit), cherry tomatoes, stalks of corn, a huge variety of herbs, chili peppers, zucchini, squash, eggplant, beetroot, raspberries, blackberries, figs and the list goes on and on, changing seasonally. We strolled, we sniffed and we sampled. We listened to the silence and admired the breathtaking view of the Golan Heights beyond. The 'pause' that Pausa provides was getting to us and we were starting to question why on earth we considered ourselves 'city people'.
It was time for a Friday afternoon siesta. Following a couple of hours in the luxurious linens, and a brief sojourn under the world's largest shower head and we were ready for the main event – the evening meal. As we arrived at the outdoor dining table, the dozen or so other guests were congregating in the Oak Garden waiting for the gourmet adventure to begin.
We embarked with Chef Avigdor Rothem and his wife, co-owner and co-host Einat bringing out beer-battered sage leaves, stevia leaves and carrot – to whet the appetite. We were then gathered together for welcomes, introductions and a toast with a homemade aperitif. Sitting down at the large wood table, Avigdor poured the first glass of white (a Golan Heights produced Sauvignon Blanc) and the meal began in earnest.
Surimi salad topped with baby shrimp with a pickled lemon sauce. Then, escargot style oyster mushrooms – divinely garlicy, and with a much more appealing texture than snails. In addition to serving the courses, our hosts masterfully kept the conversation flowing and the wine glasses full.
More than an hour of food, wine and entertaining chatter with like-minded gourmands and it was time for course number three – the main. Out came a massive rosemary crusted leg of lamb and, lo and behold, there were the very squash and beetroot we had seen Einat picking earlier in the garden. With the lamb we moved on to a red – a full bodied merlot which we sampled as each plate was filled, served, and then savoured.
Dinner at Pausa is a truly unique experience. Not only was the food fresh, delicious and inventive, but like our fellow diners, an 'eaten everywhere' somewhat restaurant weary crowd, we had been searching for something special. And here at Pausa, we found it. "We plant it, we grow it, we pick it, we clean it, we cook it and then we serve it to you' explains Einat about the Pausa philosophy. Whatever isn't grown or produced on site is traded or bought from neighbors. As few ingredients as possible are brought from elsewhere.
Dessert was a red wine stewed fig on limoncello infused cream – a not only delicious, but appropriately dignified dessert for the sophisticated diners.
The next morning, we got to sleep in, as breakfast is served at a leisurely 10am. Even though it felt like we'd only just finished dinner, there was no way we could resist the eggs, cheeses, cold grilled eggplant and fresh vegetables (all from the garden, of course), homemade salami and prosciutto (traditional pork as well as lamb), a still warm plum cake, granola, dried fruits and yogurt.
Driving back to Tel Aviv I couldn't believe what a perfect place we'd found for our weekend retreat. 'Splendid indeed', declared Idan, his favourite way to describe anything of a distinguished European standard. Splendid is right - not just the meals, the room, or the location, but the down-to-earth, yet refined wholeness of the entire Pausa experience.
Pausa - Gourmet Galilee Inn
She'ar Yeshuv, Northern Galilee