Summer at Babai

“The entrees at Babai are based on the fresh fish selection of the day, simply prepared and lacking unnecessary twists…” Shifra Tzach enjoys the summer with an evening at the restaurant Babai by the seashore in Jaffa: with a refreshing cold beverage and a bit of fresh idleness

The "dog days" of summer fall on us with a breath of fiery heat. After a full day of hiding ourselves in the air-conditioning, my eldest son, Dor, and I decided that instead of waging war against the summer, it would be easier to flow with what little this season does have to offer us: the sea, the evening breeze, light food, a fresh drink and a touch of laziness in the air. All these characteristics we found, in abundance, at Babai on the Jaffa shore. On Babai’s expansive white porch, the wood furniture and the Greek background music lend the feeling of a seaside tavern in Greece. The restaurant also reflects this vibe by its welcoming of guests, warm and heartfelt, by Natalie, the mythological Babai’s partner.

Luckily, we arrived early and did not have to worry about finding a spot to sit at the edge of Babai’s patio, overlooking the beach and the sea. The sunset accompanied us, providing suitable lighting, and Dennis, our friendly waiter, saw to all the rest: “With what can we pamper you this evening friends? Hummous works? I’ll also bring felafel. Shall we heat your pita bread on the grill? Drinks? Entrees?” Almost immediately, two glasses of Spanish San Miguel beer, very chilled, warm pita and a plate of salads appeared: eggplant salad with red peppers, eggplant in tomato sauce, zucchini in tehini, an original orange dip of zucchini and pumpkin, fried cauliflower, mildly-spicy tomato salsa with a strong taste of cilantro, Turkish salad that surprises with its delicate flavor, purple cabbage salad in mayonnaise and lightly-pickled green cabbage salad. We were still working on the salads here and there when Dennis arrived with a plate of crunchy felafel (“our secret recipe”) and fantastic smooth hummous. On the sly he threw in an offer to refill our salad plate that we had emptied, but indeed the entrees were still on the way.

Babai’s entrees are based on the fresh catch of the day, simply prepared and without any unnecessary excesses. Despite this, however, we still had to make decisions: fish or seafood? What type? Fried or baked? A bit more consulting and explanation from Dennis and we committed to our selections: for me, European sea bass baked “half and half,” meaning half on the grill and half in the oven. Natalie explained that first they give the fish a light searing on the grill, in order to give it a flaky exterior, then they put it in the oven, to preserve the fish’s juiciness. This comes with grilled potatoes, simple and tasty. Dor, in contrast to me, has no problem with seafood and decided to try them all with the mixed platter of mussels, shrimp and calamari. A large colorful dish arrived, its edges paved with light pink mussels on their silvery shells and concentrated in the center a mix of shrimp and calamari, all in a velvety sauce made from wine, butter and garlic and garnished with snippets of parsley. Dor concentrated with enjoyment on his plate and reported that the combination of tastes was appealing and well balanced with the delicate taste of the sauce.

Our time at Babai lulled by pleasantly. The orange of the sunset began to turn to the dark blue of evening. Natalie came to offer us dessert, not surprised that we lengthened our stay to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. “That’s nothing,” she said, “On Shabbat a couple that arrived at noon hung around until the sun set.” In any case, we had to leave, just one more bit of something sweet. Natalie unequivocally recommended their malabi – “our recipe with real cream.” We satisfied ourselves by splitting only one portion of this deliciousness between us. Somehow, from our spot on the balcony of Babai, the hot lingering summer already seemed much more tolerable.