Already after the appetizers, Rachel Wagner decided that a meal at Canela is delicious. The former sous-chef has stepped up to take the reins, updating the menu while preserving the classics. This kosher Jerusalem establishment is worth even a special trip to the holy city.

The news at Canela this summer, a gourmet kosher restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, is that long-time sous-chef Udi Epstein has stepped up to the plate. With years of experience in the Canela kitchen behind him, Epstein promises to maintain the best of Canela’s classic dishes, such as duck breast with bok choy and the popular vegetarian tofu cream ravioli, while infusing the menu with his personal inspiration.

A recent tasting of Epstein’s Canela proves that all is well in this bastion of kosher haute-cuisine! The chic, elegant and modern space received us warmly, with the young staff welcoming us with big smiles and delicious fresh bread.

After a lovely chat with Chef Epstein, John and I decided to let him take over and host us for a meal of his choosing. Following baskets of still warm bread baked on premises and served with 3 tasty dips in place of butter – charred eggplant cream, pumpkin and sweet pepper harissa, and zucchini and cumin - the starters arrived.

First, we sampled a goose liver terrine with brioche and plum marmalade. Liver, even goose liver, is not especially my thing, but the small slices of toasted brioche were lovely and creamy (oh, the miracles of modern kitchen science – a tasty butterless brioche!). The goose liver was perfectly cooked and evidently popular with fans of the genre. Much more to my personal taste was the amberjack tartar with flavorful beetroot carpaccio marinated in the sweet, and ever popular Israeli ingredient, silan (date honey). Our favorite starter was the pan-seared sea bream served on a bed of garlic cream. The crispy skin of the filet was a lovely contrast to the tender succulent fish and rested beautifully on the garlic cream.

Already at this point we decided that this was a delicious meal. With a short break before mains, John and I sipped our red wine and curiously wondered what Chef Epstein had in store for the entrees.

The first main dish to hit our elegantly laid out table was the aforementioned duck breast in berry sauce with cream of sweet potato and bok choy. The dish was lovely – truly a dish after my own heart with the perfectly cooked, red in the centre, breast, and two of my very favorite vegetables. The sea fish fillet on diced Jerusalem artichoke with sweet white wine sauce was more balanced in flavor than it was sweet – the fresh, gorgeous and perfectly cooked fish was complimented by the Jerusalem artichoke – a fitting ingredient for the restaurant’s location.

We were also much impressed with the vegetarian (vegan in fact) main: leek and tofu cream ravioli with roasted red beets. Tofu you say aloud, with the raise of an eyebrow? Tofu indeed! This refreshing and modern dish offered a hint of lemon zest, tender pasta, a filling you would swear was dairy and the intensely colored and flavored zing of beets.

After a strong coffee to aid with digestion it was time to leave the chic confines of Canela and head out into the breezy night. All in all, John and I agreed that Canela is a delicious culinary experience and worth it even for non-Jerusalemites like ourselves to drive in just for a visit.