Neve Tzedek is one of the original neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. This is a charming part of the city with quaint streets and beautifully preserved buildings. Lilienblum runs right through the heart of Neve Tzedek. This is a quiet street with beautifully restored original buildings which now appear to be residential apartment buildings. The oldest kiosk in Tel Aviv still operating, is at 3 Lilienblum, and is now updated to a yuppy kiosk/coffee bar.
Restaurant is near the corner of Lilienblum just off Herzl Street. The indoor area has a pleasant modern design that uses bright primary colors. There is outdoor seating in a courtyard in the center of the restaurant. The low-volume soft-rock music might have been chosen for us and another table of Americans, which speaks well for the rrestaurant's sensitivity to its customers. The art work has Spanish themes: the bull, guitar and the flamenco dancers say Spain but like the opera, Carmen Restaurant is distinctively French. French chef Maurice Avitan brings his French Moraccan traditions to the kitchen, complemented by Spanish dishes and flavors from the Far East.
eLuna Visits Carmen Restaurant
We started our meal with a bread basket with slices of baguette, grainy bread and dark bread served with a small sampling of olives, a hot pepper in oil, a bit of eggplant spread and a dark tahina, which was almost black. It is dangerous to start a gourmet meal with bread, and desperate effots were made to go easy on the tempting bread.
If the only cold soups in your lexicon are borscht and gazpacho, Carmen will introduce you to something new. At Carmen the cold soup is Almond with Grapes. This soup, also called Ajoblanco, or white gazpacho. hails from the south of Spain, At Carmen this soup is served authentically: cold and non-dairy, made with almond milk and sliced grapes Just a taste, we asked for, and finished the bowl. This rich white soup was topped with sliced almond crunchies and had grapes swimming at the bottom of the bowl. Now that is different.
My companion started her meal with a salad.
I often wonder why folks order fresh salad in a restaurant. Vegetables, we have at home. And the price of a salad in a restaurant is half of our vegetable bill for the week. But the starter labeled "Fantastic Salad" piqued our curiosity, and with the first bite we knew why it was so called. This is indeed a fantastic salad, crunchy, tart and sweet at the same time, with flavors from the Far East. The base is lettuce, but endive is the overpowering green. Very small sweet peas are punctuated with peanuts. But the killer is the dressing made with apple vinaigrette touched with ginger. Wow. If you have nothing else at Carmen, you must have the Fantastic Salad.
You can take the chef out of France, but you can't take France out of the chef. Most of my choices were from the French kitchen. I started with the Foie Gras “torchon” style. This is an elegantly presented slice of liver pate accompanied by a two small spring rolls stuffed with goose confit. The plate was decorated with two wedges of fresh fig and red fruit jam. An almond and pistachio foam rounds out the dish. The term torchon style refers to the cooking process, which involves slow preparation of the liver over several days. Jam is frequently paired with liver balancing it with a sweet taste.
For my main course, I chose the Confit Goose Leg. Confit means slow cooked, a cooking method originally intended to preserve meat. The large goose leg is cooked with Szechuan sauce, so it had a tasty dark skin on the outside, with moist dark meat on the inside. The flavor is closer to duck than to chicken. While the centerpiece of the dish was the large goose leg, a large stalk of bok choy (Chinese cabbage) was placed across the plate. This was a nice and satisfying dish together with beets, sweet potato and onion.
My companion had the whole sea bass with roasted fennel and Romescu, brought to the table on a massive slate slab. The whole fish was presented on its stomach, as if it were swimming across the table, on top of streaks of the red Romesco sauce. Romesco is a Catalonian nut and tomato-based sauce that originated with Spanish fishermen. It is typically made from a mixture of nuts, roasted garlic, oil and peppers, adding flavor to the fish without being spicy. The fish was grilled and the meat was light and fluffy, and very pleasant to eat. If you peel the meat off parallel to the skeleton, most of the bones can be avoided. The fish was served with roasted fennel (shumar in Hebrew), roasted potato, string beans and okra. Here too, the fish was the main focus of the dish, with the Romesco providing color and extra flavor.
Together with our coffee and tea, we shared a Crème Brule for desert. This is a coconut cream burnt to a crispy crust on top. It was a sweet way to end the evening. One portion was big enough for us to share.
Our meal was accompanied by a glass of Maia White for each of us. This has been one of our favorite wines for a while now, offered it by the glass.
Business Lunch: From 12 noon till 5pm. The eLuna discount does not apply to the business lunch.
Parking: The Rothchild parking lot at 1 Rothchild St is about 150 meters from the restaurant. No need to waste your time searching for street parking. This is it.
From the menu: Bread basket: NIS 14. Cold almond soup NIS 32. Fantastic Salad: NIS 44. Fois Gras torchon style nis 64. Whole sea bass NIS 119. Ctrene Brulee NIS 44 MAIA wine by the glass NIS 43.