As I have written in the past, Ein Karem is one of my favorite places in Jerusalem, if not in the entire country. Picturesque settings, beautiful churches, rich history, plenty of walking trails, impressive architecture with high ceilings and massive arches, and of course the fresh air coming from the Judean hills.
Ein Karem is also a very important Christian pilgrimage site, drawing tens of thousands of visitors per annum. According to tradition, Ein Karem is the birth place of John the Baptist and it was at a spring in the heart of the ancient village where Mary met with Elizabeth while pregnant with Jesus. Fast forward some 2050 years (give or take), I made my way to the Brasserie restaurant (no connection to the Brasserie in Tel Aviv) which is situated adjacent to the historical Mary’s spring. If the weather is nice, I would strongly recommend walking up the stairs and requesting a table on the balcony. During the winter months or if you simply don’t feel like walking up 20 stairs, diners can choose from two pleasant and nicely decorated sitting areas.
After changing hands about a year ago, couple Liraz and Eran Sadeh is currently at the helm with Eran, an experienced restaurateur managing the restaurant and Liraz, with plenty of experience in various kitchens, in charge of the food. The menu is not divided into the traditional - starters, main, dessert categories, but rather separates between the various elements that are key in the dish: meat, fish & sea food, bread, vegetables etc., most incorporating Mediterranean flavors and local raw materials. based on the pricing, one can usually tell is it is a small or full size dish. The wine menu at Brasserie is also well organized and reasonably priced with a clear bias towards wines and wineries from the Judean Hills.
Following the recommendation from our friendly waiter, we decided to order a variety of “smaller” dishes. We started off with two dishes from the vegetable section: the grilled eggplant with tahina was tasty and served atop frena (Moroccan bread) with plenty of cherry tomatoes and pine nuts. This dish has become rather mundane in Israeli cuisine with almost every restaurant offering their own take on the dish. The second dish was the “vegetable special” which changes based on the available produce and season. We enjoyed a cherry tomato salad with a generous dose of quality anchovy fillets in olive oil, adding both flavor and texture to the dish. The accompanying bruschetta served as a sponge, soaking up the olive oil and tasty dressing. Off to a pretty good start, our second round arrived: delicious drum fish ceviche with a melon “gazpacho” and plenty of surprises - good balance and seasoning with the melon adding a very refreshing kick.
While clearly not a dish for everyone, the surf & turf tartar was also very enjoyable - finely diced fresh beef with minced anchovy and quail yolk, aside focaccia, roasted peppers, caper berries & basil aioli were presented nicely; placed separately on a large round plate, the diner can mix and match similar to the way the traditional beef tartar is served.
Looking around, we noticed that the clientele at Brasserie is very diverse, local Jerusalemites, tourists from various countries, couples on a romantic evening out, students and more. While eavesdropping on the couple behind me (I was trying to figure what language they were speaking…Swedish perhaps?) we noticed our waiter walking up the stairs carrying the next round - shrimp with a papaya – Dijon salad turned out to be the star of the evening – perfectly prepared shrimp, just firm enough on the outside and nice and moist within while the papaya and Dijon completed the shell fish and accentuated the clean flavors of the shrimp. Also in this round was a dish bursting with Mediterranean flavors, comprising fresh calamari with grilled eggplant, labanaeh, olive oil and pine nuts – all you need is a shot of frozen arak and you are good to go.
Homemade plum crumble (the plums are cooked in red wine which give it an interesting and tasty twist), concentrated espresso and a small bottle of San Pelegrino were an excellent finale for the evening. One more look towards the view and it was time to call it a night.
It is also worth mentioning that the Brasserie offers good business lunches as well as wine and cheese tasting specials – don’t forget to ask the waiter.