The lunch I ate at Rosette’s Café with my friend Idit was of the non-conventional variety, in all that it entailed. First of all, because of Idit herself – her expertise on the equality of the sexes always makes for fascinating conversation. Second, because of the café’s amazing location - the Saraya building at the Clock Tower Square in Jaffa. The building, erected at the end of the 19th century with donations from the city’s wealthiest families, was by the Ottoman Empire headquarters and today, after a renovation restoring the Oriental architecture to its original glory, is one of the prettiest buildings in the area. And third, because of the dishes made by Rosette Hinawi, the cafe owner. Yes, this is Jaffa and the food has an Arab-Lebanese style, but here they didn’t take the obvious hummus-kebab route, but, surprise, surprise, a dairy kitchen featuring more unusual and lighter dishes, combining traditional cooking with modern flavours.
We sit out front, on Rosette’s patio overlooking the Clock Tower Square, abandoning ourselves to the nice spring sun and a lemon granita with berry sauce, virgin, but lovely nonetheless. From a culinary perspective, we decide to forget about the ‘northern dishes’ on the menu like quinoa or mushroom quiche, as well as those found on almost every menu in the country like baladi eggplant in tehina, and instead focus in on the house specialties. We whet our appetites with a plate of ‘meujant’ – small pastries made from crisp savoury dough, with various fillings, so that every bite offers a different flavour: parmesan, green olives, kalamata olives, spinach and onion. The yogurt sauce served with them is also different from the usual, containing chickpeas and chopped mint.
We request that our two mains be brought one after the other, so that we can give proper attention to each. The first was the vegetarian platter of stuffed vegetables – peppers, zucchini and cabbage. The filling was rich – made of rice with pine nuts and chickpeas in spiced tomato sauce, with dominant sumac and cinnamon flavours – delicious in my opinion, but a bit strong for Idit. Despite this difference of opinion, we both agreed on the second dish – the maschan. A dish from the Arab kitchen usually made of chicken baked in sumac and onions on a fried pita. Here, the fried pita remains, as does the sumac flavouring, but the chicken is replaced by an abundance of stir-fried vegetables – strips of pepper, carrot, red onion and fresh mushrooms, and with the vegetables, pieces of fried halumi cheese with pine nuts. A gorgeous dish – to the eyes and the palate.
Dessert was almost unnecessary, but the waiter insisted we try the house dessert – Beirut Nights. After the first bite we bless his stubbornness. The base was a semolina cake, but unlike the usual – soaked in sugar syrup – here the cake was coated in unsweetened whipped cream and a ton of slivered pistachios. The syrup traditional sugar syrup was balanced with lemon offered and drizzled around the plate so one could decide how much to top each bite with. With the cake, a finjan was brought holding black unsweetened coffee, providing the perfect balance for the cake, and a wonderful end to an excellent meal.
2 Mirzok Ve’ezer, Clock Tower Sqaure, Jaffa, Tel Aviv