24 Hours in Jerusalem: A Culinary Tour

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Too much for lunch? Make Machneyuda a dinner destination instead, and grab a counter seat at downtown’s excellent P2 Pizza (36 Keren Hayesod St.; 02-563-5555) for your midday meal. The thin crisp pie is made with Italian flour and tomatoes, but Israeli whole-milk mozzarella seals the deal. Smoked-goose pizza is a hot seller, as is any pizza with basil, which perfumes the room.

Time to caffeine-it-up at one of the Aroma espresso bars located throughout the city. This premium chain delivers a mean cappuccino, foamy to the last sip with bracing coffee notes that never quit.

Eucalyptus, another excellent dinner option, enthralls with biblical-inspired cuisine. Its celebrated chef, Moshe Basson, resembles Willie Nelson, with a long gray braid and soulful eyes. Basson’s knowledge of ancient Israeli food is as bountiful as his gardens; he grows herbs and vegetables (like sage and grapes) in the mountains and on the restaurant’s rooftop. Ask to peek at the roof garden; smell the Yemeni basil, see the vine that sacrificed a squash for your dinner.

Basson is no one-trick-pony. His chef know-how transforms his Iraqi mom’s homey recipes (like a dish of chicken legs, eggplant, and rice, simmered and served in the pot) into scrape-your-plate feasts. Then he does a 180, creating dainty Michelin-star-worthy dazzlers, such as smoked eggplant with tahini and pomegranate sauce, Jerusalem artichoke soup with almond milk, or chicken-stuffed roasted figs in tamarind sauce. Count Israel’s president Shimon Peres as one of Basson’s many VIP fans.

Or, find romance and ravishing food at Arcadia (10 Agrippas St.; 02-624-9138), a beautiful Mediterranean restaurant of brick, stone, and candlelight down a narrow alleyway. I don’t have to sell the stunning flavors of chef Ezra Kedem: Let the perfect pairings of ultra-fresh ingredients, like skinny focaccia from the olive and citrus wood-burning oven, with house-made turmeric oil-scented yogurt dip; velvety gnocchi with seafood and bottarga; and gray grouper with hyssop butter and cured lemons do the work. (Tip: Start with the Israeli farm-raised osetra caviar.)

You could just get your buzz on at Chakra. If Mick Jagger were a chef he’d be Ilan Garousi, a wiry, intense, high-energy guy who plays loud music late at night and gets his kicks from buying the freshest produce and seafood, inspiring a dozen or more nightly specials.

Sometimes Garousi prepares small-plate tasting menus, presented in waves. They could be Italian, Greek, Spanish—whatever sparks Garousi’s Med-inclined fancy. His secrets sound small but are transformative: hand-squeezing juice from the ripest tomato over fire-grilled eggplant just before serving; blending fig or chestnut confiture into his voluptuous chicken liver pâté.

Some Israeli wineries (like Flam, SeaHorse, and Bazelet ha Golan, all of which demand their own article) have made giant leaps in quality, and their bottles are special enough for Chakra’s and other top restaurants’ menus. So lift a glass this holiday season, and know that whether you worship (or not) in a mosque, church, or synagogue, the one place in Jerusalem always deserving of reverence is the table.

Janice Wald Henderson first traveled to Jerusalem decades ago, when fancy French and hole-in-the wall ethnic dives were the only food scene. This regular contributor to Epicurious, among many other publications, can’t wait to revisit Jerusalem and dreams daily of za’atar flatbread. To learn more about Henderson, go to JaniceWaldHenderson.com.

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