Where Oil Meets Waterby Tallie Lieberman | 23.01.19
Set in a stone building jutting straight into the Mediterranean Sea, chef Amos Sion’s elegant seafood eatery Helena feels like the dining cabin of a stately ship. Like an experienced cook out at sea, Sion scours the waters and landscape around Caesarea, the ancient Roman port north of Tel Aviv, for his bracingly original, fresh fare.
“I am surrounded by everything I need to create the best food I know how to make, food that is truly representative of this area,” says Sion, who recently took up with the neighboring Ets HaSadeh olive-oil producers, a family-run operation known for producing some of the country’s highest quality olive oil, to pen a special seasonal tasting menu.
“The taste of olive oil, like wine, differs with acidity, with age, and is really incredibly complex,” explains Sion. “We want to pay homage to that complexity.”
Since opening Helena nearly two decades ago, Sion has made a name for himself drawing extraordinary subtlety out of “simple,” locally-sourced ingredients. True to form, Helena’s new tasting menu, on offer until the end of February, is a studiously put together representation of what’s swimming around and growing nearby.
Each of the new courses was painstakingly curated with a particular olive in mind: from the gentle Arbequina and herbal Koroneiki to the acidic Picual, pungent Syrian and bitter Cortina.
Set to the tune of crashing waves, our meal opened with fingertip-singeing, rewardingly-chewy focaccia served alongside an addictively tangy dip of olive oil, pomegranate syrup and Egyptian spices. A plate of fresh shrimp carpaccio, sliced feather thin and dotted with heat-packing strawberries, pine nuts, tarragon leaves, followed closely. Soon after, calamari, which could neither have been fresher nor more skilfully browned and perched on a bed of creamy labneh and chickpeas toasted in olive oil, arrived a beat before the star attraction: the crab ravioli. Anything but a pasta pocket, these two tender, thin-skinned parcels of crab and parsley pesto, were perfectly seasoned, airy mouthfuls, delectably complemented by chunks of salty sheep’s cheese, finely grated tomatoes, velvety olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. The ensuing entree, a fillet of drumfish, grilled until just flakey and served atop charred asparagus and chilli peppers, a generous spoon of creme fraiche and a drizzle of the requisite olive oil, was a satisfying hybrid of delicacy and decadence.
While surprises awaited in most dishes, the featured dessert–two scoops of fresh guava sorbet awash in luscious olive oil and peppered with chopped pistachios–exemplified Sion’s expert ability to employ restraint in the interest of celebrating a particular ingredient to great fanfare.
Helena’s olive olive tasting menu extends only until the end of next month, so–friends, foodies, olive oil aficionados–it may be time to journey to Caesarea.
Old Port Caesarea, 04.610.1018.
Photos by Afik Gabay