"The delightfully seared baby calamari a la plancha had been removed from their plancha and placed in a bowl with sheep's yoghurt, olive oil and fresh za'atar (hyssop).'This dish alone is worth the drive', proclaimed Idan. I had to agree." Rachel Wagner hits the road to check out Helena, the best restaurant at the Old Ceasarea Port
When last week's cancelled dinner date said that he wanted to make it up to me, I promptly informed him that forgiveness could only be attained through penance – and this particular penance would come in the form a 45 minute long drive from Tel Aviv to the port town of Ceasarea and back.
Of course, Idan knew that the drive was exactly where his penance would begin and end, because awaiting him in Ceasarea was dinner at Helena, a gourmet seaside restaurant. So, off we went on a Sunday night, ready for an evening of culinary delight to help ease us into the week.
Despite the horrid July humidity, the breeze was balmy on Helena's patio, looking out over the sea to one side and ancient ruins to the other. Little fishing boats buoyed as the waves rolled in and we breathed in big breaths of sea air in between sips of San Pellegrino (I, in moral support of my driver.)
Helena is the ideal spot to enjoy a slow relaxed meal. It is favoured by tourists and business big wigs alike, and on any given night the clientele ranges from well off families to romance seeking couples. We, being the latter, situated ourselves far from the baby in a cozy corner of the wooden patio.
We started off with the sabra (prickly pear) salad of spicy greens, a divinely soft, salty sheep's cheese and generous slices of the fruit. The delightfully seared baby calamari a la plancha had been removed from their plancha and placed in a bowl with sheep's yoghurt, olive oil and fresh za'atar (hyssop). 'This dish alone is worth the drive', proclaimed Idan. I had to agree. But the fresh baked, olive oil, herb and sea salt saturated focaccia nevertheless competed for our attention.
Bacon wrapped scallops on a bed of bulgar wheat followed. Though the scallops were tender and tasty, and the blue cheese cream that accompanied them hit the spot, there was something about the bed of bulgur that I felt didn't quite work with the dish – but the budding ginger-haired gastronome opposite me begged to differ.
Then the main: a 400 gram entrecote atop roasted potatoes with truffle oil (can anyone tell if its really there?) and chimichurri. Though I prefer my meat still bleeding, Israeli tastes tend to run counter, and not having specified we received something around medium. Idan was nevertheless thrilled with this massive hunk of aged cow (men!) and so I picked at the bloodier bits while he handled the rest like a pro.
And finally, as my Uncle Paul has proven time and again – there really is a separate stomach for dessert. We ordered a couple espressos to aid digestion and then came face to face with Snickers Helena. Yes, I know. What is a dessert with the name of a candy bar doing at a gourmet restaurant? 2 thin slices of chocolate mousse cake with a nougat base accompanied by sinfully delicious peanut butter cream later, I was inclined to let snobbishness fall to the wayside and simply enjoy this heavenly creation.
After such a meal, it was a challenge keeping my driver awake. But, upon arriving home safe and sound, Idan declared that this was the best penance he'd ever done.
The Old Town, Ceasarea Port, CeasareaPhone: 04-6101018