We were searching for a good meal up north. And by ‘up north’ I don’t mean the suburban landscapes of north Tel Aviv just the other side of Rokach Street. I mean north. About as north as you can get in this little country. 3 full hours north, of Tel Aviv that is – in the Galilee, at the foot of the Golan Heights.
North we were and a good meal was on the horizon, just behind the setting sun at Nechalim (‘Rivers’) at the entrance to Kibbutz Hagoshrim. As we pulled out up front in what looks like a typical suburban plaza we wondered if all of this ‘northern-ness’ was just a crock – plazas do not a nature experience make.
We entered the restaurant. So far, so good. Clean lines, wood tables, elegant lighting. Through the picture window we see a patio and a hint of grass. Interesting. We exit through the back doors, and there we have it – the great green north: big old trees, a rolling but not overly manicured lawn, and, drum roll please, – the river. Two rivers, in fact. Despite its front door plaza disguise, Nechalim backs on to the point where the Dan River meets the Hatzbani River and combine to flow on into the Jordon.
We began our fine dining experience with the grilled shrimp skewers. A deceivingly simple dish, the 2 well-cooked skewers of 3 shrimp each were elevated to wow status by the fresh cilantro aioli accompaniment – so much so that once the shrimp had been gobbled I used it in place of the butter, liver pate and smoky eggplant dip the freshly baked bread had arrived with. We also enjoyed of the restaurant’s signature starts, the antipasti selection consisting of beets, grilled peppers, carrots and other fresh (and mainly local) veggies.
Sipping our glasses of the also local Carmel Winery’s Cabernet Franc, we interestedly perused the rest of the wine list, featuring all Israeli wines, organized by winery, with many of the smaller or boutique wineries impressively represented.
When it cam to our main dishes, selection was a challenge. First, the range of dishes – from fresh fish to lamb to beef to seafood, made just selecting a direction trying. So, as is our habit, one of us stuck to dry land (Veal Filet in champagne bordelaise with risotto), while the other took a dip in the sea (John Dory Filet in crab and seafood cream with basmati rice). Upon first impression, we were slightly wowed by the portion size. Not American standard enormous, but certainly bigger than one expects from gourmet cuisine. We eagerly dug in to our rich, creamy dishes. Less than halfway through we switched. Then switched back. Then switched again. Why make a decision when we could enjoy both. The ultra tender veal filet, cooked rare as we requested, melted in our mouths. The creamy flavour packed risotto was, frankly speaking, addictive, almost rendering the bordelaise unnecessary. That said, I don’t think we left any sauce on the plate. The fish had a rich fatty feel, dominant but not fishy flavour (more seafood like as one would expect from a deep sea fish) and somewhat scallop like texture. Served under a generous helping of crab crème sauce littered with shrimp and calamari, there was so much to taste that I must admit to neglecting the lovely and simple steamed basmati rice.
After such a rich meal, it was time to enjoy the grounds. A stroll by the river to aide the digestion and before we knew it, it was time for dessert – but just the one – for we had found the ultimate dessert which combines our diametrically opposed dessert preferences. The white and milk chocolate mousses, set alternating between layers of chocolate tuille biscuits, were more than enough to satiate the sweet tooth. And along with a couple of espressos, we had come to the end of our northern dining adventure.
But the true north adventure would only begin the next day, when we’d work off this decadent feast by hiking through some bits of nature far less civilized than the northern treat that is Nechalim.
Gan Ha'Zafon, Alon gas-station, near Maayan Baruch, Road 99 (Kiriat Shmona-Chorshat Tal)