Unless you count Nechalim, the restaurant that resides on the bank of Hatzbani River

The north area of the country does not have many gourmet restaurants. Although recent years have seen some sort of culinary prosperity - some of which even reached the Galilee area - finding a really good restaurant would require an exhausting search. Unless you count Nechalim, the restaurant that resides on the bank of Hatzbani River.

Nechalim has been here for 15 years, and is probably one of the very few restaurants that remained on top. It has recently gone through some renovations – and so we checked it out.

The bright vast delicately designed space welcomes its visitors, presenting a clear raging river and thick green tree view. We sat near a round table covered with a white map, underneath a Pistacia tree that was saying last goodbye to its leaves.

Smiling waiter Shy presented us with menus, explained about the business deals and left us to decide. A quick look revealed fusion dishes with French, Italian, Mediterranean and even Asian influences, still the list was not long and confusing. Next to a variety of salads with an Asian twist (teriyaki, sesame and soy sauce), we found some Italian dishes (linguini, tortellini, gnocchi and penne), French (Rossini fillet, Mullard duck breast) and Mediterranean (grilled eggplant and others).

Owner Eitan, who has been running this show for the past 7 years together with Chef Anat Bonen, tells us that in order to reach the local crowd they updated the menu, lowered prices and set up business deals. The menu was added with new, complicated dishes, such as stuffed calamari with chopped lamb meat and basmati rice in bordelaise and champignon mushrooms (we loved this dish), seafood cocktail, Chateaubriand and others.

Following Eitan's recommendation, we started with an Asian salad and shrimp skewers, which included 2 kinds of cabbage, carrots, sprouts, sweet teriyaki sauce and beautiful grilled shrimp, seasoned with salt and pepper. A colorful health salad opened our appetite with an abundance of green leaf and lettuce, strawberries, apples and pears, fresh granola and passion fruit flavored vinaigrette sauce.

We happily accepted the calamari bordelaise with fragrances of beef and red wine stock. A small cut of the calamari exposed chopped lab meat and rice, which we dipped inside the rich bordelaise sauce (beef stock, red wine, cream and champignon mushrooms). The flavor was incredibly rich. The house bread that came with dips – grilled spicy peppers, fried eggplants with balsamic vinegar and pepper-tomato Harissa in olive oil and balsamic vinegar – we dipped in the bordelaise sauce and rudely wiped the plate.

We had some San Pellegrino with our first courses, while looking at the beautiful river. Other diners sat on the grass overlooking the water, holding a glass of wine. We then had some shots of strawberry and passion fruit sorbets that cleared our palates.

Next to come was a fresh salmon on a bed of basil puree with goat cheese and onion confiture that really deserved every sweet word Eitan and Shy had said about it. The salmon that is flown twice a week from Scandinavia was grilled with a sweet touch of onion confiture. The velvety puree surprised us with a rich taste of goat cheese and basil. We then got to the Shpondra stew, big and appetizing. The meat cut was cooked in soy sauce, ginger and honey, soft with a touch of spiciness, served with rich sauce to be poured on that perfect puree.

We already had enough, but could not refuse desserts. Slowly but persistently, we nibbled on bitter chocolate tart that was decorated with fresh strawberry and served with vanilla ice cream. A nice closure to a wonderful meal. Chef Anat Bonen reads her audience well. Hopefully, the local crowd as well as visitors will see the great potential in Nechalim.