I arrived at the "Salon" while on a work assignment from the "Washington Post". Did I mention that was my first international assignment?! Full of motivation and hunger I arrived at the restaurant with Oded, my husband, without knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Yet as soon as the door opened, a large smile landed on both of our faces. This was not just another swanky, quiet place with Norah Jones buzzing in the background, but a live, loud, crowded, one man cooking show.
Once I went with Oded to a famous chef's restaurant, and when we left the place Oded mentioned that there's nothing like the Sabih (eggplant, tahini, and hardboiled egg in a pita-type of Israeli fast food). I was obviously upset by the fact that my husband could not appreciate creative, quality dining. I had told myself then that was the last time he'd come with me to that type of restaurant and at that moment also realized that I was in the market for a new food buddy. Now I realized that Oded and Eyal Shani actually think alike- there is nothing like Sabih or more like there is nothing like a 100 shekel (27 $US) pita sandwich!
The Salon is an exclusive restaurant only by a price based factor, because everything but the price is rugged, sensual, dirty and street-food inspired. The entire night we felt like it was shame that I was documenting the experience only by still frame; a video camera would have conveyed the experience – people singing at the top of their lungs, breaking plates and pounding on the table while Shani pounds the Carpaccio on the table-in a more meaningful way.
I know that most people in Israel think that Shani is a conceited weariless foodie, and personally I do not connect with his culinary philosophy, but I must say that he loves food, and respects its raw materials- and for me that's a recipe for success. Last night, we sat on the bar and watched Shani tirelessly cook, cutting tomatoes, seasoning, laying out fish carpaccio, drizzling tomato sauce; all done with total concentration and the upmost seriousness. It was a spectacular, real-life, sensual, cooking show.
Once we sat down, we were served warm foccacia bread with a soft white cheese topped with tomato seeds and chili pepper- Shani's favorite products. We opened a bottle of wine, and began to enjoy the experience. I love good bread at a restaurant, it gives you rose colored glasses for the rest of the meal. After a few minutes we were served the first course of grouper in a spicy tomato sauce (see the pattern?) which was delicious, and once the fish was gone, we were left with a great dipping sauce for our foccacia.
The two main courses that we ate arrived without plates. The first arrived on a gold colored cardboard and was called: (I took the menu home otherwise I would never have remembered) "Lesson for Tunisians: wide open potato, its flaming flesh dizzy with Aioli and crème fraiche, and olive oil preserved tuna resting inside. Hardboiled egg, eggplant, chili pepper and fresh tomatoes". What a dish! So many flavors and so unpretentious. It was the complete opposite of pompous- everything was dripping, coming apart and falling straight onto our table. We literally licked our fingers. The next main course had the shortest name on the menu: "Lamb ragu in a pita". We had to try one of the pita dishes, even if it was 30$ US!!! The dish arrived inside of a brown paper bag and inside we found a warm a la minute pita (we were sitting next to the oven) filled with lusciously tasty meat, literally inspired by a falafel stand, but price inspired by Catit (one of Israel's most luxurious restaurants). It was a good dish, packed with really good meat, tehini and chili. It was a bit heavy for us and so we decided to close shop on the main courses.
The fact that I was there as a photographer for the Washington Post didn't make an impression on Shani, who didn’t shower us with on the house goodies- maybe because Hugh Jackman was sitting next to us? And I am no competition for Hugh. At the end of the meal we received from our host a sampling of all of the desserts which included decadent chocolate mousse, scrumptious scones served with strawberry jam and sour cream, a pleasant (but nothing more) chocolate cake and a dried out banana cake. We ate about a quarter of what was given to us and then we said "cut"- inspired by our actor friend sitting next to us.
We finished the evening with many photos, a bit tipsy from the wine, happy and content. It's been awhile since I had such a pleasurable restaurant experience!
To sum up- the restaurant is suitable first and foremost for those who are ready to spend a lot of money on food; it's expensive, very expensive. It should also be taken into account that this is not the place for intimate conversations- this is a crowded, noisy place. On the other hand, there is so much energy in the air here, that I think it's a great place to come with a significant other or another couple, to drink a lot, move with the music, and leave with the desire to continue to night elsewhere…Danya.
Here is a link to the Washington Post article I was on assignment for: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/01/AR2010040103382.html