Dinner and a Movie

“The entrecote was prepared just right, pink on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside, with each bite providing additional flavors…” Shai Vaknin enjoyed a romantic meal at El Gaucho restaurant in Haifa, complete with a great view, plentiful meats, and surprisingly good desserts.

Dinner and a movie – the official menu for an Israeli date. Being the conservative type that I am, and in spite of the fact that we are soon to celebrate two years together, I took my girlfriend on a night out, which included a visit to the Haifa film festival, and a meal to top it off. Romantic and classic, without being too much of a pain to organize – what could go wrong?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. The night got off on the wrong foot – literally. As we were walking to the movie theater which was screening our documentary of choice, my girlfriend’s sandal strap tore and we had to go the rest of the way with her stumbling behind me. The mishaps continued when the screening started 20 minutes late, an odd occurrence for a festival which is good at keeping the pre-screening ads to a bare minimum. We were told of all the people who worked on the movie and there were a lot of them. The film was a documentary on travelers in India by Yoav Shamir. It was excellent, but between the torn sandal and the delayed screening, we arrived at El Gaucho, which is located a mere 10 minute walk from the theater, nearly 30 minutes late.

From this point, things took a turn for the better. We were greeted at the entrance to El Gaucho in Haifa (which is a strictly kosher restaurant) by the charming Rotem, who led us to a spacious table by a large window. The restaurant overlooks Haifa and the seaport, and so it is highly advisable to reserve a table with a view. The view alone is worth a visit. And what of the food? The food, as it turns out, makes for a wonderful bonus.

We opened with juicy and tasty chorizos, each bite filled with new flavors; meat empanadas, containing ground beef, well seasoned, and wrapped in dough and baked in a hot stone oven. The result is a dish crunchy and delicious on the outside, and hot and supreme on the inside. Needless to say, a dinner of fine meats calls for alcohol. The owner, Sagiv, surprised us with a refreshing alcoholic beverage consisting of orange juice, mixed spirits, and some herbs. We drank it down in one gulp. The second glass we made to last through to the end of the meal.

Then the entr?es arrived: a hissing charcoal grill was placed on our table and on top of it were placed entrecote steaks, sirloin, pullet steak, and veal asado. We began with the pullet steak which was juicy and delicious, and gone within seconds. Then we turned to the main event: the beef. For beginners, there is the entrecote which was prepared just right, pink on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside, seasoned with coarse black pepper. On the first bite we could already savor the juices mixing in the mouth, with each bite providing additional flavors. For the more advanced meat-eater, there is the sirloin, which is a bit more difficult to chew but worth every effort. For the real experts, a large cut of asado, hot off the rib, cuts like butter, and with the fat still on it (and grilled itself).

To accompany the meat, we were served side dishes, which were nudged to the edge of the table. Fried and spiced wedges of potatoes and yams; finely chopped salad, which can serve as an entr?e if your date is a vegetarian, and which in our case sat off to the side and kept the potatoes and yams company, and chimichurri sauce, prepared by the chef and into which my date happily dipped her meats.

With great sorrow, due to being fully stuffed, we parted with the remainder of the meat, and said goodbye to Rotem, who managed to surprise us with desserts she selected herself, both kosher parve (neither meat nor dairy), and based on caramel. One was a rolled caramel crepe, covered with chocolate syrup and sugar powder, and filled to just the right amount – delightfully sweet. The other dessert was a rotund caramel flan in sugar syrup, with a texture that lies someplace between gel and mousse, and a delicate flavor. Also on the table was a fruit salad in a tall glass, which was snatched from un