A year has passed since I was last here at Modern restaurant at the Israel museum in Jerusalem, and here I am back again, this time to see a new exhibition presenting rare 9000 year old stone masks discovered in Israel. Luckily, the museum opens late on Tuesday nights, so this is a great opportunity to have dinner at Modern, which launches these days its new spring menu.
As a museum restaurant, Modern's design is influenced by Modernist artists of the start of the 20th century: clean geometrical lines taken from Mondrian; furniture inspired by artists Charles and Ray Eames; impressive lighting instruments recall the "floating lighting" by Italian artist Ingo Maurer. The food, on the other hand, is very local, treasuring the old Jerusalem cuisine, with plenty of vegetables, legumes, nuts and spice herbs. This cuisine relies on traditions brought to Israel by immigrants from Egypt, Greece and Morocco. These are given here a current twist by Chef Avi Peretz.
I should say something about Modern's wine. A wine wall, which is designed like a modernist library, consists of the largest wine collection in Israel, including local wineries, small boutique wines and unfamiliar wines. It turns out that Modern is one of the only restaurants serving the Israeli Malbec. Malbec is very popular in Argentina, and only recently has it been produced in Israel too. Tishbi winery's Malbec is an excellent example – it is full, rich, filling the palate with complex fruit flavors.
And now, to the seasonal spring menu: heavy stews are replaced these days by lighter dishes (expect for the Sofrito that you can't do without, and we shall get there). We start with a colorful parade of starters: beef Carpaccio flowers over black micro-lentils, raisins and balsamic vinaigrette; salmon Carpaccio over watercress salad, in an interesting dressing of Arak and honey; and one Sashimi which is called "Arabic" due to a combination between raw fish and a baladi eggplant heart in chili, black tahini, pine nuts and sumac. A Jerusalem tapas follows; it is considered here a must item, the restaurant has been serving since day 1. This is a market-styled round tin tray topped with small dip dishes: thick hummus; beets and nuts; untraditional tabouleh made of lentils instead of bulgur; crispy green falafel; sour vine leaves and a delicious cream of eggplants and pistachios. Together with Frena bread, this can be a vegetarian dish on its own.
Speaking of the vegetarian trend, Modern also serves dishes such as Cézanne's garden, which is composed of thin crispy bread with a variety of antipasti vegetables; a health salad is made of root vegetables julienne on a bed of black lentils with coriander and tahini; vegetarian filled vegetables; and a chestnut-mushroom risotto.
But we are here for the meat. The winter Pastia is replaced by a similar yet lighter dish called Jackson's Kadaif – this is a beautiful picturesque dish referring to Jackson Pollock's paintings. Kadaif noodles are filled with spring chicken and nuts, surrounded by color lines of black tahini, beet cream and golden aioli cream. But the Sofrito, as mentioned, as wintery as it may be, cannot be escaped. A steaming iron pan with slow cooked beef meat with Jerusalem artichoke, root vegetables and chestnuts that give this dish an "earthy" flavor is served with sweet potato fries covering the entire thing while giving this traditional dish a current touch.
Modern's desserts have their own regular hit: coconut ice cream with a filo dough cigar filled with almonds. We also taste the rich pralines and two kinds of sorbet that give this meal a refreshing ending.