A Great Alternative

“The roasted eggplant in garlic and herbs was one of the finest we have ever had – thick, sweet, juicy, and nearly seedless. It was like eating an eggplant steak…” Croissant Alternative rest-caf? in Tel Aviv, made for an excellent early Valentine’s celebration for Shiri Tov and her boyfriend.

Every year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the tension at home rises. This is not because Rotem doesn’t send me flowers or buys me chocolates, but rather because it falls on the same date as his father’s birthday. So, until today, ten years since we began dating, Rotem and I have not celebrated Valentine’s Day.

This year we came up with an ingenious plan: we will arrange a surprise romantic dinner for the parents, and free up the night for ourselves. We searched online and stumbled upon Croissant Alternative, a kosher-dairy rest-caf? in the heart of Tel Aviv – just what we were seeking. After quickly browsing the menu and the picture gallery, we decided to go do some early surveying of the place, as sort of an early Valentine’s celebration. Off we were.

From the outside, the caf? looked filled to capacity: families with kids, young couples, elderly couples, teenage groups, and we even pegged a couple on a first date. The d?cor is simple, well-lit, and relaxing, while lacking pretention. A polite waitress walked over to see what we would like to have. Since we were there sort of spur-of-the-moment, we kept up the spontaneity and told her we would have “whatever you recommend.” She chose well. We were served thick, warm artichoke soup, and roasted eggplant in garlic and herbs, which was served with tahini, bread, and olive-oil. The freshness of the artichoke was felt when sipping the soup, and the eggplant was one of the finest we have ever had – thick, sweet, juicy, and nearly seedless. It was like eating an eggplant steak.

For our main course, we were served a tilapia (St. Peter’s fish) fillet, grilled with olive oil and herbs in a garlic and lemon sauce; and potato gnocchi in a sauce of walnuts, cream, brandy, and pecans. My fish was excellent. The person who prepared it knew for exactly how long to leave it in the oven, how to properly season it, and the garlic-lemon sauce elevated this dish considerably. The fish was served with grilled vegetables and rice, which went perfectly with the fish, creating a memorable, rich, and worthwhile main dish.

The gnocchi’s flavor was the antithesis of the sourish-salty fish. The sugared pecans gave it a sweet flavor, and the brandy gave off that slight aroma of alcohol. Rotem’s expressions immediately revealed this to be a fine homemade gnocchi, prepared by professionals. I poked my fork in his plate in order to get a taste while the food was still hot. The gnocchi texture was, at first, a little sticky, only to slowly melt in the mouth. A good gnocchi will be bitten into and then crumble, and not adhere itself to the inside of the mouth. It is rare to find a gnocchi that is up to these standards, but this restaurant delivered. The sauce too was original. I have never had a sauce in which the flavor of sugared pecans was so dominant.

The background music was of the good Israeli variety, creating a pleasant atmosphere. When we glanced over at the first-date couple, we could tell that they were making a good connection. They had moved on from the introductions, and the need to make an impression, to softer looks, genuine smiles, and sweeter intonation, which reminded me that it was time for dessert. The dessert menu was not the most original one you could find, but it had what it takes: chocolate souffl?, fruit pie with ice cream, cheese cake, etc. I went for the time-honored cr?me br?l?e which, when done well, is in my opinion one of the best desserts there is, whereas when it is done poorly, is still worth the bite (but not the calories). In this case, the cr?me br?l?e was truly worth it – each and every bite.

As we made our way home, we had no doubt that Rotem’s parents would appreciate the Alternative we arranged for their Valentine’s/birthday celebration: the service is excellent, so Rotem’s dad won’t get mad; many of the dishes on the menu are listed with their caloric value, so that Rotem’s mom won’t complain about us ruining her diet;