A colleague from the US once told me that he only writes about a restaurant after visiting the place at least two, and preferably three times while on each visit he tries to order different dishes. This method allows him to have a true and well-rounded experience of the restaurant and the chef’s culinary offerings as well as ensure that the restaurant is consistent (assuming that the first impression was a positive one) or give the place a second chance.
This was probably my fifth or sixth visit at HaChatzer (two of which were for writing purposes) and after tasting a VERY wide variety of dishes and also evaluating the matter of consistency, I can definitely say that this is one of the best restaurants in town.
Situated in the old train station compound, HaChatzer’s decor (recently renovated) is warm and modern while maintaining a homey atmosphere. Additionally, the restaurant has a large event garden which can accommodate some 300 guests. The train station compound in Jerusalem is currently in the final phases of a large refurbishment project which will include several new restaurants, bars and other attraction. Now the question that still remains unanswered is, will it open on the Sabbath?
Back to HaChatzer (Hebrew for The Courtyard) - after completing his studies at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia and working in several restaurants around the world, Chef Moti Ochana decided to return to his homeland and demonstrate his cooking skills. Four years ago Ochana (and partners) opened up HaChatzer, offering an impressive selection of quality and kosher fresh salads, meat, fish, stews and even several pasta dishes. It is also important to note the HaChatzer’s wine menu offers a good selection of Israeli wine at some of the cheapest prices that I’ve seen on any wine menu.
Ochana’s cooking philosophy is quite admirable, he insists on using fresh local ingredients and emphasizes the importance of seasonality while never compromising on quality. We had a brief discussion about butchers, fruit and vegetable vendors and even fishermen and it was evident that he truly works with the best.
After browsing the menu we ordered HaChatzer’s tasting menu. Basically this puts us in the hands of the chef who selects an assortment of dishes which are brought gradually to the table. I have tried HaChatzer’s tasting menu in the past and was pleased to see that with the exception of a couple of dishes, all were either new on the menu or a-la-minute improvisations that don’t appear on the regular menu. We started off with an assortment of mezzes – our favorite being the delicious chopped liver with schmaltz and crispy fried onions and the facus – a crunchy Armenian cucumber sliced and served with a drizzle of olive oil.
Next to arrive were an assortment of fish based dishes, some raw and some cooked – deep fried grouper “short ribs” with a sweet and sour Asian glaze, ceviche and my favorite – tostini with delicious freshly cured anchovies. Firm, fresh, just enough salt and full of flavor, I could have easily eaten a whole plate of these anchovies. Another fish dish that was unique was a fish based tribute to the classic Jerusalem mixed grill – grilled and fried cubes of fish with a generous tahini and amba drizzle – not a very wine friendly dish but let me tell you, if you enjoy bold flavor, this one is a keeper.
Next to arrive was a platter with veal sweetbreads, sundried tomatoes, and other surprises – the sweetbreads were grilled to perfection – nice and firm on the outside while remaining moist and juicy within. We also enjoyed a decadent and tasty risotto dish comprising sweetbreads, smoked goose breast, mushrooms and foie gras – the flavors really complemented each other and came together in a dish with rich earthy aromas and flavors.
After resting for a few minutes, the next courses arrived – prime entrecote steak (rib-eye) followed by the veal asado in a homemade BBQ sauce. The melt in your mouth asado was also delicious (though a bit on the salty side), after the cut was roasted in the oven for over 8 hours, Ochana carved it, dividing it into generous individual portions.
Even the Parveh (non-dairy) dessert platter was tasty and presented beautifully – a chocolate – chestnut tart, marzipan, fresh fruit, macaroons – an espresso for me and mint tea for the lady and needless to say that we were content. Summing up this visit, HaChatzer’s tasting menu is definitely among the best meals in town – just make sure you come hungry.