It is not very common to visit a restaurant at the beginning of its operation, when it is still in its infancy. On the other hand, nothing in the new Gan Sychemim restaurant is out of the ordinary. Not the chef and owner Dana-Lee Berman, who had the courage to open her own place at the beginning of the ninth month of her pregnancy; Not the unusual food, which emphasizes the Italian cuisine, mainly on its lesser-known aspects in Israel, with touches of the South African cuisine, which is hardly familiar to us at all; And not the location of the restaurant – the kind that a trip to a European city automatically draws you in, central on the one hand, a bit hidden to the dishes and not too prominent on the other hand, half open to the hidden garden next to the Bhima theater and half overlooking the street. In short, a quite romantic and charming corner in the heart of the big city.
Dana-Lee Berman is a young chef who joins the wave of cooks with a long professional background in restaurant kitchens in Tel Aviv, who decided in recent months that it was time to get out from under the wings of their mentors and break out independently. Unlike many young people in the restaurant industry, who often jump over the navel when it comes to opening new places and taking risks, Dana-Lee Berman did things slowly and confidently. She always knew she wanted to cook. In her early twenties, she studied at the Cordon Bleu in Australia, after which she led the large kitchens of well-known restaurants such as David Frankel’s Pronto and Einab Azgouri’s Bar a Vin.
The sycamore garden operates in a place where a cafe used to hide. The place itself is not large, and you can take advantage of the comfortable weather in the meantime and sit at one of the tables outside, right in the heart of the green, in an informal and very Tel Aviv atmosphere, or sit inside, on bar stools overlooking the cold bar and the dessert stand, which is decorated with a large orange cake that you will look at Look at you with a seductive look all evening and pale pavlovas that have not yet been decorated with fruit. There is something very hipster about the sense of liberation and fluidity here, but on the other hand the place is managed with a high hand and the service is fast and attentive enough so that you feel that it is a professional establishment.
A date that everyone benefits from
The Sycamore Garden’s menu is not large, and currently focuses on Italian cuisine with touches of classic French cuisine. Later, the South African wing will be expanded, representing the heritage of Berman, who was born to a family from Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the cuisine on which she grew up. Among other things, brunch is expected here with dishes such as pickled brisket – marinated beef breast served with piclili (South African pickles with mustard); biltong made by Berman’s mother; And a South African lava dessert that is a masterpiece of pleasure that must be known. At the moment you will find here classics such as Vitalo Tonato – slices of veal with tuna sauce; Caponta – Sicilian-style eggplant dish; and pasta terrine – which is commonly eaten in the Piedmont region, and is made by hand in the restaurant, but also the bartender’s personal twists in dishes such as brioche with feta mortadella, a summer variation of a cucumber salad that here became a chilled cucumber soup and a schnitzel of veal almonds with capers and black pepper.
We started the meal with the cucumber soup, which is served with crème fraîche mixed with chives and dill, chili oil and croutons. How fun that restaurants in Israel have finally started to understand how necessary, delicious and refreshing cold soup can be on hot spring and summer days. Such was the vichysoise we had recently at the new Artel Formal, which is also not afraid of European classics, and such is the excellent cucumber soup in the sycamore garden. A fun starter dish that includes everything that is fun about a green and fresh cucumber salad, only without the effort of chewing – an intensely flavored and chilled soup, with subtle touches of spiciness from the chili oil and crisp croutons.
Then came a modest portion of green tomatoes sliced carpaccio style and topped with pistachios, aged goat cheese and shallots. A simple and clean appetizer that leaves the stage for the raw ingredients – sour green tomatoes that provide a counterpoint to the good goat cheese and intense flavors. The next dish was bruschetta with a remould of celery root and apples and pickled fish – a bit like a sweet and sour Waldorf salad with a twist of pickled barbonia rich in sea flavors and saltiness, and all this on a delicious bruschetta. A dose of new meets old, in a way that both benefit from the date and in a beautiful and delicate design.
All the dishes at the Sycamore Garden are small, as is the best tradition of the moment, which means that here you don’t order three or four plates, but taste more and more of everything the menu has to offer. If the selection leaves you confused, in our opinion, parmesan flan and mortadella brioche – the undisputed stars of our meal – is highly recommended not to give up. Both are dishes that you will not come across anywhere else in Tel Aviv and maybe not in Israel, special, interesting and above all very tasty.
The sandwich that became feta
As I already mentioned, Dana-Lee Berman is a brave woman. Another proof of this is the fact that she took a famous northern Italian sandwich and turned it into a spread. Anyone who has traveled in Bologna and the region must have come across the mortadella sandwich; In the sycamore garden, Berman transforms the noble mortadella into feta, when she pairs the magical Italian sausage-based spread with a lot of ricotta cheese that is made in the restaurant and is responsible for the amazing texture, and before serving she drizzles a little balsamic vinegar that is aged for a decade. The appearance of this dish is a little strange – the kind of pink marshmallow that you want to caress more than put in your mouth. But the taste, oh the taste: creamy feta that you can’t stop eating, and as if condensing the Italian mortadella experience into a unique and different bite. One of the original and best dishes we have come across recently.
And what about the plan? For those who like combinations between sweetness and saltiness, between airiness and crispness and between depth of flavors and lightness, this is an appetizer worth trying. The flan is served in a mesmerizing way with a deep purple grape jam, accompanied by a kind of crunchy cracker that allows you to engineer slightly different bites each time. The texture of the flan is airy and the presence of the abundance of parmesan gives it the depth of flavors and umami. This time too – a classic dish, which can be routinely found in a French bistro in Paris, but so pleasant and refreshing to find in the heart of a young restaurant in Tel Aviv.
We continued the meal with a dish that was the least good that evening: a crispy lamb salad with black garlic cream, which was promising on paper but in practice suffered from a lack of coherence and an intense and unbalanced spiciness. It is important to note that this is the first night that the dish was served, and there is no doubt that a lot of improvements can bring it to much better places. Last was another dish from Italian cuisine, pasta terrine – a pasta rich in yolks that is thinly sliced and served here with alio olio sauce and cima di rapa (bitter sour turnip leaves) and bread crumbs. The sauce was excellent and the fresh pasta was also very good, proving once again that Dana-Lee Berman knows what Italian cuisine is. Only the form of serving, in a tiny bowl, did not do the dish any favors, making it a little too homely in appearance and style. Anyway, we went to a restaurant.
A battle of giants in the sweets sector
The dessert section in the sycamore garden is a never-ending battle between giants, for those who love sweets. If I could, I would try them all: Grandma’s inspired orange cake with South African sugar syrup; Pavlova with roasted nectarines; tiramisu; Saturation-based panna cotta with lemon granita; and pistachio granita. We settled for the last two this time, but there is no doubt that we will return to sample more. The filling panna cotta was delicate and good and the sour granita made it a very light and satisfying summer dessert, but there is no doubt that the one who stole the show was the pistachio granita – a dish that there isn’t a day in the Israeli summer that you don’t want to eat it, over and over again. In general, a well-made granita is heaven. Lighter than ice cream, insanely refreshing and very enjoyable to devour. The pistachio granita here is based solely on pistachios, it is vegan, not too sweet and combines a precise saltiness that compliments the rich pistachios and means that there is no chance of putting the spoon down until the glass is empty. An addictive dessert not to be missed.
During her journey, Dana-Lee Berman acquired a lot of wisdom, professional knowledge and experience, and with great humility formulated her personal language, which is reflected in elegant Italian food, and in the future also in South African cuisine that I personally long to taste. Usually new and popular places provide – at least in the first meals – many disappointments and a reality that does not match the expectations. This place, on the other hand, just opened at the beginning of the month and already looks like a real gem, and it’s very intriguing to see how it will develop. I have no doubt that you will hear a lot more about the new sycamore garden, this summer and in general.
The sycamore garden. 4 Sderot 1579, Tel Aviv
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