Very good vegan

Goodness is an eatery that calls itself a “street diner,” whatever that is. Moreover, it insists it is the “first of its kind in Israel.” Judging from its actual appearance, it resembles more of a hole in the wall than a classic American diner. Regardless, it is surprisingly bright and airy inside for a tiny place on Tel Aviv’s busy King George Street, very close to Dizengoff Center.

It pays to know the exact address of your destination because the only visible sign, over the entrance, is in Hebrew only. However, there is an English menu, recently updated to mark the restaurant’s one-year anniversary.

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The title at the top of the one-page menu says “Winter Menu,” even though it is a warm day in May. And indeed, an item marked as “new” was clearly designed with summer in mind: grilled sweet pepper gazpacho with cherry tomatoes, almond cheese, Kalamata olives, pesto cream and a touch of hot pepper (NIS 42). The cold soup, accompanied by toasted baguette, was thick and satisfying, with just the right amount of heat.

Another menu item, with the designation “recommended,” was the buckwheat crepe filled with cashew cream, cauliflower, tomatoes and rocket (NIS 36). While cauliflower was the dominant ingredient in the filling, the real star of the dish was the crispy crepe itself.

The dish recommended by the manager, meanwhile, was the cheeseburger (NIS 49), one of five sandwiches listed in the Burger section. The patty consisted of a mixture of soy, onions, porcini mushrooms and garlic confit, while the cheese sauce was made of soy and coconut. My companion, who is not easily impressed, said it tasted like “a real burger.”

We wanted to sample one of the salads, so we chose the intriguingly named Iron Salad (NIS 36): parsley, beet, dried cranberry and slivered almonds, tossed with a pomegranate dressing and drizzled with tahini. The generous serving of green parsley, hearty beets, sweet fruit and crunchy nuts added up to the perfect warm-weather salad.

We had a glass of the house’s homemade lemonade, which was not only refreshing, but it was also not too sweet, not too tart and, best of all, free of any chemical aftertaste.

There was a whole page of desserts on a separate menu. Listed as a “favorite” was the banana lotti (NIS 46) – hot puff pastry wrapped in sugar and cinnamon, filled with creme patissiere and caramelized bananas, topped with Oreo ice cream and toffee sauce and sprinkled with pralined pecans and sliced banana. The dessert’s beautiful presentation was matched by its delectable taste.

The cold drink that concluded our meal was practically a dessert in itself: half-and-half ice coffee and ice vanilla (NIS 16) – a sweet slushy that tasted like a milkshake, and one you would never guess contained no dairy.

Goodness
Vegan (not certified kosher)
41 King George St., Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 938-4499

Meshek Barzilay hosts Indian night every Sunday

Neveh Tzedek’s venerable Meshek Barzilay has been a fixture of Tel Aviv’s organic vegan culinary scene since 2002, but that does not mean that it has ceased to innovate. Just in the past year, it launched a new deli in a separate wing, while also inaugurating a night devoted entirely to Indian food, every Sunday evening from 7 p.m.

Indian night is characterized not only by wholesome food, but it also includes the closest thing to a guarantee that you will not leave Meshek Barzilay hungry. The fixed price of NIS 100 per person covers the cost of the set three-course dinner, plus unlimited refills of all dishes and tea.

There is no written menu on Sundays; the wait staff will explain the various dishes on the tray of appetizers, the thali, and dessert. Diners may sit in the restaurant’s indoor dining space (where the smell of incense wafts), the glass-enclosed patio or the al fresco garden. Appropriately, Indian music plays in the background.

There are no special cocktails for Indian night, but plenty of bottles of Kingfisher beer imported from India are on ice for the evening. The restaurant’s four regular specialty cocktails (which include sangria) are available, however, and there are two worth checking out: Purple Rain – a healthy smoothie of beet, apple, carrot and ginger, fortified with a slug of gin; and the Captain Hook – rum, lime and a bottle of ginger beer as mixer.

There were two main appetizers on the evening of our visit: round chickpea fritters, a kind of Indian falafel, in tomato sauce, and pickled vegetables. These were served with two chutneys – coconut and pumpkin – and two kinds of whole-grain Indian bread: chapati and naan. Although meant to be mere condiments, the sweet pumpkin chutney and refreshing coconut chutney stole the show.

The main event every Sunday is the thali: four cooked vegetables (which rotate each week) served with brown rice on a traditional metal salver. The creamy palak paneer (aka saag paneer), the aloo gobi, the zucchini masala with tehina and the green and black dal – of which we gladly requested seconds – were all seasoned bountifully yet subtly, with nothing venturing into spicy territory.

Everything was as good as one might expect from any reasonably priced ethnic Indian restaurant in Israel.

Dessert was a version of gulab jamun unlike I have ever seen. Instead of sticky spheres, it was in the form of squares of cake. It was filling and satisfying, accompanied by warm masala chai – the one instance where the nondairy milk substitute imparted a taste different from the norm.

More Indian foods are available to take home from the deli, where it is worthwhile to browse the steam table, bakery, shake counter and organic grocery.

Meshek Barzilay
Vegan (not certified kosher)
6 Ahad Ha’am St., Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 516-6329

The writer was a guest of the restaurants.