Norma Jean

“While we tasted our way around the whiskey world, the couple to our left tucked into two enormous and fully loaded burgers. Down the bar to our right, homemade sausages were being dunked into spicy Dijon…we eyed them enviously…” Rachel Wagner finds a 3-page whiskey menu, impressive beer list and kitchen worth visiting for at Norma Jean, a bistro bar in Tel Aviv.

It was one of the first days of Tel Aviv ‘winter’ when Idan and I hopped on the scooter heading for the Jaffa border. Which means I got to wear a relatively new and hopelessly underused ¾ sleeve cotton trench and Idan chose to drive through the city, rather than along the sea, because of that ‘winter wind’. Ok, so it was 18C degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in sky – but for us winter starved Mediterranean types, this was a significant change of season.

A corner spot – the corner spot – had been reserved for us on the solid L-shaped bar. We’d chosen a great place for the almost-winter night. Norma Jean, located just off the western part of Salame Street where Tel Aviv meets Jaffa, is all exposed brick walls (or in this case, possibly created brick), dark wood furniture and offers the city’s (if not the country’s) most impressive beer and whiskey selection. So, while we didn’t end up making it to Amsterdam this November, Norma Jean certainly offers something of a European air.

To keep in tune with the cozy European feel we decided to start with one of the ‘Whiskey Paths’ – a tasting of 5 whiskeys in professional 20ml snifter glasses. As first time ‘tasters’, we selected the simplest path called ‘Around the World – which consists of one typical whiskey from each of the world’s leading whiskey producers: Scotland, Ireland, US, Canada and Japan. It was a fun, not to mention inebriating exercise on an empty stomach. And it also led to a question of loyalty when I (Canadian born) declared the Canadian Club the worst of the lot.

While we tasted our way around the whiskey world, the couple to our left tucked into two enormous and fully loaded burgers. Down the bar to our right, homemade sausages were being dunked into spicy Dijon. Waiting for our starters to arrive, we eyed them enviously.

The first dish we selected was the Herring Fillet in San Bernardus Wheat Beer. It’s true that Idan and I are lovers of just about any smoked, pickled or marinated fish – but this fillet was truly outstanding. Served wrapped around a mound of sour cream, with tomatoes, red onions and homemade beer rolls, we devoured every bite.

We then followed up our excellent starter with two more starters. The Calamari a la Grill consisted of tender properly cooked whole calamari surrounding a tasty rocket salad. This light and tangy dish, though still European, was most certainly taking us out of herring and sour cream country and down to the southern Mediterranean. And if we’re already hanging off the coast of Italy, why not hop, skip and jump it over to where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East. Hence starter number three: a whole char-grilled eggplant in tehina and date honey. This dish, though clearly not in keeping with the European theme, is one of Norma Jean’s most popular dishes (we are still in Tel Aviv after all). Looking forward to the main dish we’d already ordered and with each of us not particularly partial to one element or another (I’m not such a tehina fan, while Idan isn’t an eggplant lover), I’m sorry to say that we somewhat neglected this charming and admittedly tasty dish.

And finally we were back where we started – another beer infused homemade delicacy: Irish Sausages cooked in a dark beer with sauerkraut. With the sausages we ordered the beer tasting – 200ml glasses of six of Norma Jean’s featured beers including Maredsous, San Bernardus Prior, San Bernardus Wit, Samuel Adams, Staropramen Dark, and Lindemans Apple. Happily munching on our beer infused sausages (super rich and succulent), we sipped our way through the six small glasses of beer and declared our favourites. Not partial to carbonation, I went for the darker brews, particularly enjoying the Staropramen Dark, a 5% beer from the Czech Republic and the Maredsous, a 10% beer Belgian beer. For fear of embarrassing my beloved Idan, I won’t tell you what his favourite was. But I will say that there’s no need to be ashamed of a preference for sweet fruit beers.

By this point in the night, we had already decided that the scooter would spend the night near the bar while we got our tipsy selves home in a cab. So we toasted our complementary chasers with the bartender and fellow patrons before calling it a night.

“I like that place, I really like that place,” I said to Idan on the way home. “Ya, it’s great,” he agreed. “It’s the perfect Tel Aviv bar because there’s nothing Tel Avivy about it. Down to earth, reasonable prices, uncommonly found beer…” We liked it so much, in fact, that we found ourselves back there, the very next week, at a table for four celebrating our friend Lisa’s new job. This time we splurged on the whiskey tasting and went for the Scotch Whiskey Path. Oh, what a night…

Norma Jean
23 Elifelet St., Tel Aviv
Tel: 03-6837383