Many eLuna folk will remember Racha Restaurant when it was in Jerusalem. This popular meat restaurant serving Georgian cuisine moved to Tel Aviv some years ago. Going with the flow of Neve Tzedek, the restaurant was open on shabbat, so did not have a teudat kashrut. Just before Pesach we got an excited call from owner Lili, telling us that the restaurant will now be closed on Shabbat and will have a teudat kashrut. So here we are.
Racha is the name of the Jewish area in former Soviet Georgia where the owners were born and raised. The restaurant is a testament to this part of the Balkans, from the elegant decor to the authentic Georgian menu. The chefs themselves are from Racha, and all of the foods are Jewish Georgian cuisine, which differs from the foods of the non-Jews. A visit to this restaurant is an ethnic culinary experience.
A Word about the Restaurant Architecture and decor
Racha Restaurant is one of the unique properties in Neve Tzedek. This is a spacious restaurant with a large dining area, a bar, and two private rooms. The decor is elegant, eclectic with Eastern European touches in the decorative porcelain dishes and the art work. The restaurant has received several well-deserved awards for design and architecture. Despite its 220 seats, the unique decor achieves the personal feeling of a homey dining room. This is something to see.
The Party Atmosphere
Racha is a lively and happy restaurant. As the night wears on there is likely to be dancing and partying. Groups are treated to the traditional Georgian toasting ceremony where guests toast one another. This is complete with a shofar that I hope they do not blow. This ceremony does break the ice and kick off the party atmosphere.
The Georgian kitchen is rich in colors and flavors. Some may be new to you but you will delight in the unexpected mix of ingredients. We found that mangold is a dominant ingredient in several dishes, and walnuts are used where oils might be prevalent in other styles of cooking.
It is customary to start the meal with a variety of salads and Georgian pastries (shown in the photo above). The salads, mostly vegetarian. have unpronounceable names but enticing descriptions. They are served with specialty crusty Georgian rolls that tasted just like the rolls that my bubi used to make, though she had no connection to Gruzia. "Everyone finds their grandmother here." we were told. "No matter where she came from."
The salads are Authentic Georgian dishes. The Ispanahi is a spinach tapenade with walnuts in wine and vinegar. Badrijani is described as layers of eggplant in a nut and herb mixture meant to be eaten on the rolls. Patrijani is fried eggplant slices rolled around a filling of nuts, herbs and pomegranate seeds. There is also a simpler version with eggplant rolls with nuts inside. I was impressed by two more exotic appetizers: Wazis tolma, a mangold leaf stuffed with rice and pomegranate seeds (reminiscent of Moroccan stuffed grape leaves, but different), and the Chrhali (pronounce that!), cubes of beets with nuts and herbs, including a small amount of shata chili pepper for those who like some zing in their food.
After the salads came a sample of Georgian pastries. The Hinkali are dumplings, that look like dim sum, but are filled with beef and served with aioli. Something like Georgian kreplach, the dumplings are not at all spicy. The Chiburiaki are crescents of crispy dough filled with beef and served with tujemali, a tart sauce made of green plums. The Hovli is a vegetarian cousin, a bit more like a knish, filled with onions, mushrooms and mangold leaves. And the Blini are crispy fried blintzes filled with meat. A favorite condiment served with many dishes is tujemali sauce, a tart sauce made from green plums, and the house side salad of cherry tomatoes, scallions and strips of sweet red pepper.
Racha has a menu of main courses which we didnít get to since we had made our meal of appetizers and pastries. This category on the menu lists veal stews with vegetables, pomegranate sauce or plum sauce.
The very non-adventuresome diners can choose from the restaurant's grill menu, including the standard entrecote steak, lamb kebab, and lamb chops, as well as spring chicken with an authentic Georgian sauce.
We were eager to try an authentic Georgian desert, and were very pleased with the Lelah. This was two crispy, sweet blintzes filled with dark chocolate and a secret recipe that enhances the cholocate. The blintzes are cut in halfs and stacked on top of a scoop of homemade raspberry sorbet. We couldn’t actually finish this, even though we shared one serving for the two of us, but it was unique, sweet and very chocolatey.
Groups and Parties at Racha
In addition to the main dining area, Racha restaurant has two private rooms: one for under 20 guests and one larger room for many more guests (see picture below). These are beautifully appointed rooms with fine architectural elements in addition to great decor. Call owner Lili in advance and plan your menu and program for your party.
Parking in Neve Tzedek:
This is the only place in Tel Aviv with plenty of parking. The Rothchild parking lot is just steps from the restaurant. There is another smaller lot across the street from the restaurant and you can park at the Shalom Tower. When we arrived in the early evening we miraculously found street parking alongside the restaurant. Miracles do happen.
Neve Tzedek is a delightful section of old Tel Aviv. Small shops and winding streets make it a great place to explore. Most of the shops close by 8pm so if you can come to the area a bit early, wander around before dinner, you can make an event of it.