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Nice Restaurant – Shame about the Food!

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Last week I found a dead fly in a bag of loose pecan nuts.

A couple of months ago I threw out a tub of blanched almonds where a family of caterpillar chrysalises had set up home.

Before them came a mysterious colony of ants in a sealed pack of pearl barley.

I could go on to write of the fresh items which go rotten after a few days even when kept refrigerated, and the transparently-thin-white-shelled eggs which rarely arrive home from the supermarket without a crack.

Chocolate Selection from Art de Coco

This is Israel—the land where Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) is king. This is Karmiel in the heart of the Galilee where before my arrival in March last year I was convinced that I’d find the land so full and fat that the food would fairly fall off the vine and plop itself juicily in my lap.

Thirty seconds after we landed in Karmiel, I woke up and smelt the coffee—the best and cheapest of which comes from Turkey.

I keep moaning that Israelis can’t cook and most of what I see, hear, and taste bears me out. Everything is produced on a massive scale, with one eye on large Orthodox families—and the other on their rabbis.

Certainly no one argued with me at a recent meeting where we discussed observance of the Jewish dietary laws and I suggested that Israeli supermarkets emphasise rabbinical approval rather than quality and taste.

The same applies to local eateries where we’ve had more fun noshing falafel and pita and oversized pizzas at casual bars than eating full dinners with waitress service at ‘proper’ restaurants.

Typical was my birthday treat last month when we visited what is considered one of the best places in town.

I understand that Michal Lahav, the owner of The Art de Coco Restaurant, is a chocolatier by background and first started her restaurant in Rosh Pina 12 years ago before moving to Karmiel. Her premises are spacious and attractive and the ‘cocoa’ ambience is underscored by a fetching cream-and-brown decor.

But Lahav needs to concentrate on what she does best, as I found the hot food to be unmemorable, even poor, and her young, energetic staff pleasant and helpful but woefully out of their depth.

On the night of our visit there were menus available in Hebrew and English but their contents did not match. The English version had not been updated so bore lower prices for some dishes and a markedly different wine list. We began to feel uncomfortable well before the food was served.

The service was speedy—but one waitress had to show another how to open our bottle of wine.

A jug of water was provided—with tumblers still warm from the dishwasher.

I ordered zucchini (courgette) quiche. It was unavailable so I chose the spinach alternative but found it to be barely lukewarm and utterly tasteless. Local spinach is hard and gritty and needs to be treated with generous dollops of salt, black pepper, and nutmeg.

My husband’s multi-layer cheese pastries looked pretty but again tasted of very little as did the accompanying salads whose dressings bore no resemblance to what the English menu had promised.

So on to the celebrated chocolate desserts—which looked enchanting and were big enough for two to share. But we were overcharged for the privilege and had the embarrassment of requesting a revised bill.

But the final disaster was the Rombout coffee. The filters had been overfilled with water, causing that famously rich, dark taste to trickle out in shame—watery, insipid—a waste of their time and our money, and a damper on my birthday.

The Art de Coco Restaurant at Hatzot Karmiel is kosher but does not have a rabbinical supervision certificate.

Tel: (04) 908-2002

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About Natalie Wood

Born in Birmingham, England, U.K., I began working in journalism a month before the 1973 Yom Kippur War began. I emigrated from Manchester to Israel in March 2010 and live in Karmiel, Galilee where I concentrate on creative writing, running several blogs and composing micro-fiction. I feature in Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs On Jewish Life and contribute to Technorati, Blogcritics and Live Encounters magazine.
  • I agree with Jeanette and Laurina. I’ve eaten there several times and the food and service has been very good and their cappuccino is excellent.

    I strongly disagree with your other comments about Israeli food, but you don’t need my personal opinion. Israel today is known for its good cuisine in international culinary circles, and we win many awards for our food and wine at food fares around the world. Take a look at this article from Ha’aretz, for example.

    If you’re new in the country, maybe you just don’t know where to eat!

  • Laurina

    I was disappointed to read this article. I’ve been to this restaurant twice in the last three months and on both occasions the food was excellent, the staff friendly and helpful, and the desserts absolutely decadent. My party of four all ordered different meals and all were completely satisfied. Popping in at Art deCoco when in the Galilee area, is a real treat!

  • Jeanette

    We seem to have eaten at different restaurants! Our party found the food tasty and nicely served, the service a delight and the chocolate desserts worth every calorie.

    If your Rombout coffee filter was over-filled with water resulting in coffee that was “watery, insipid”, why didn’t you send it back and ask for a replacement. Besides, with such a variety of great coffee available, why bother with Rombout??

  • It’s very kind of you to drop by Neil. But as a fellow journo you know that the truth is not libellous and that my remarks are ‘fair comment’. If you care to read the piece again, you’ll see I reserve my most scathing criticism for Israeli produce in general. Of Art de Coco, I suggest that they’d be best sticking to their chocolate products and hot drinks – which is what they know best.

  • Great yarn mate! But…Wow! I respect your right to be unhappy and would do so in any normal circumstances in Israel, for you know your patch. Or I guess you do, Sounds like the place sucks. Awful in the correct meaning of the word.

    However,last time I was in Australia (my homeland) a prominent journalist, who wrote restaurant reviews, had to answer in Court for his criticism of a well-known eatery. The Judge’s words were: “found to be ‘substantially detrimental and to affect the financial viabilty and reputation of this well-known and respected place of business.” (my paraphrase) The fine was about $1000 and Costs plus a warning.

    Did someone sub this story? It is after all, a nominally international website. BC might well scream and wave a disclaimer in its terms of reference, but maybe not worth a hill of beans in,say, UK or Australia (or Israel???) They BC might be liable (to my knowledge and belief) in some countries,if not the USA.

    I just have to imagine the penalty you might have faced had you written the review at an unsuspecting eating house across your border. Wow!

    Is BC Critics aware of its liablity in regions where they are unaware of libel and slander laws? Wow.

    Let’s hope that not too many litigious folk (or “Religious” for that matter)read the piece before it’s pulled. Pity, because it is fine invective – of the “old school”.

    Good luck,

    Neil McPherson

    former Australian broadcaster and journalist

    PS I once (1997)wanted to write about a rat infestation in an well-known Australian place in Bali but did not dare.