I've just returned from a whirlwind trip that spanned the Negev Desert to the Swiss Alps to the Sunshine State. Anyone see the classic John Hughes film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Considering the amount of mileage traveled, it was relatively easy. In addition to my journal (thank you Bonjournal), what I bring home from these trips (besides lots of dirty clothes) are lasting sensory memories. Thus, in this week's Loupe, I explore the cultural nuances of my travels vís a vís two of the five senses: taste and sight.
If you want to experience the best of Switzerland, you need to hike or ski over to El Paradiso. It sits on a commanding perch overlooking the Alps in all of its splendor. On a sunny day, the view from the stylish deck (can you say fur shrugs) compares favorably to most views in the world. I would recommend coming towards the end of the ski day as you won't have many runs in you after (all that alcohol), other than just getting to the bottom. When we arrived there was a DJ, who was soon accompanied by a live saxophonist. Everything was delicious from the simple salad popping with fresh produce to the bruschetta with ripe tomatoes to the fondue! Make sure you save room for dessert, which is a plate full of whipped cream in a sweet crust. I would say this is as close to heaven as their name suggests!
NY has the McNally's, Paris has the Costes Brothers, and Israel has Eval Shani. He is the celebrity-chef with many locals favorite roster of restaurants in Tel Aviv. He has three reservation-only restaurants: Abraxas North, Salon Romano, and HaSalon, as well as the uber popular street food restaurant Miznon, which serves stuffed pitas. Miznon took Tel Aviv by storm and has since expanded to Paris. Rumors are NY (Brooklyn?) is next. Don't miss Shani's signature dish of roasted cauliflower which blows your mind! We had the amazing experience of discovering Shani's love of fresh produce when we dined at Abraxas North, a foodie's paradise. All food is served family style (on butcher paper), and utensils and plates are discouraged. Use your hands and dig in! HaSalon (the Living Room) is Shani's hippest venture and is only open on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Here, you can watch him do his chef thing live. The music gets louder and louder and it starts to feel like a house party (with exquisite food).
The Jerusalem Atelier
If you want to bear witness to the vibrancy of Israel, particularly its food, then you must allow Tali Friedman be your hostess. She, or her brother, will take you on an incredible tour through the Mahane Yehuda (my favorite Shuk) market. In this market, there are delights that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere; the passion and detail that you will find among these purveyors are truly magical. Whether it is the granola (from Yosi Mizrahi’s shop), the burekas (from Chokmat Haburekas Mehaifa), Tahini or all flavors of halva from the Halva Kingdom, you are sure to have sensory overload. The most remarkable, to me, however, was the cheese monger of cheese mongers, Eli Basher from Basher Fromagerie. I could have spent forever there sampling from the over 850 kinds of cheese and drinking the best offering of Israeli wine, but Tali's Kitchen was calling. So, after whetting your appetite, you will take the very produce found in the market and enter Tali Friedman's kitchen. Here you and your group will prepare dinner, drink wine, listen to music, and then hand it off to the professionals who will finish the meal. You will be delighted with the food, the music, and mostly the company of Tali and her talented staff; This is not to be missed and feels like coming home (not mine, but someone else's).
Muottos Muragl's Philosopher's Trail
Switzerland is about the Alps. Sure there are its secretive banks, but its real vaults are the Alps that reach to the sky. To experience the Alps is to experience Switzerland. There is no better way to experience the magic of the Alps than to take a hike through these mountains. Philosopher's Trail is groomed and not particularly rigorous (thus suitable for the young and old), allowing careful contemplation rather than focusing on the workout. They have even provided markers with quotes from great philosophers along the way. For example ... "Freedom of thought we have, now we just need the thoughts," or my personal favorite, "He who has found himself can no longer lose anything in this world." So even if you don't come upon your own deep thoughts while hiking, you can borrow them from the great philosophers as you take in the epic vistas of the Alps.
If you are skiing at Corvatsch, you should consider going to this peculiar restaurant. During the Summer it is a cow pasture (the meaning of Kunstall) and during the Winter it is a gourmet restaurant. It is a perfect spot nestled in a secluded valley that you must ski to. Sit out on the porch, enjoy the sun, and watch the proprietor (Freddy) work the grill with enticing offerings of sausage and other delicacies. Again, I would recommend coming towards the end of your ski day, as the wine menu is excellent, the music is great, and the atmosphere is festive. They are occasionally open for dinners, but typically do special events or don't open at all.
Mitspe Ramon Crater
While I have been to Israel number of times, I haven't been South to visit the Negev desert. There is a fantastic hotel there called the Beresheet Hotel, which sits on the Mitspe Ramon Crater (picture the Grand Canyon, ok not quite the Grand Canyon). The sights from this land are truly stunning, and the crater is evidence of the ocean that was there and how the land is eroding away. From above the crater, it provides magnificent and expansive vistas, but you must also explore the ground below. It is quite arid and wonderful to explore with a guide. While the hike is not rigorous, you will enjoy the geology, the natural rock formations, and learning how this crater and surrounding area formed over millions of years. The reality is that this desert is what Israel was -- a bridge between Africa, Asia, and Europe. Here you can ATV, repel, hike, sand surf, star gaze, lay by the pool, spa and more.