Israel's Hottest Chefs: Levinsky Market's "Dalida"

 "Mom's Pasta" at Dalida. Photo by Eliran Dahan for FT&V. 

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

Recently we journeyed to the heart of Tel Aviv’s Levinsky market to Dalida, on Zebulun Street. This two-year-old restaurant is the creation of Dan Zoaretz — one of the new chefs leading the race for Israeli fusion food.

Dalida is set behind a chic, glass door in a row of otherwise traditional market stalls selling spices and fresh fruit. Zoaretz, who for the better part of his young career worked in Asian cuisine restaurants, decided to break out and embrace his mixed, exotic heritage:

“My grandmother was from Yemen, my father from Libya. There is a lot of European in there too,” Zoaretz told me as we sat at a front table in the restaurant one recent morning, just as the day was getting started.  Delivery men passed back and forth hauling crates of fresh vegetables while outside I could hear the grates opening on neighboring stalls.  Zoaretz said he chose the name Dalida after the Egyptian-born singer  who  sang in more than 10 languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, English and even Japanese. 

“She was from Egypt but her father was Italian and she lived in France,” Zoaretz said. “I wanted to base my kitchen on this concept. So I took the Arabic thing, the Italian, the French … and a lot of other immigrant food, and did a culture fusion."

Chef Dan Zoaretz and Dalida. Photos courtesy of Dalida.

Remarkably, this fusion doesn’t just work, it’s delicious, and so creative, like nothing I’ve tasted before. I  returned to the restaurant that evening: now it was packed and thriving, with dots of melting candles casting an intimate light. I sampled a number of dishes whose national origins were mixed happily together in a way that would make a UN committee proud. There was, for appetizers, a Spicy Feta Brûlée (Greco-French?), Raw Kohlrabi with Cress Pesto and Almonds (If a German married and Italian…?), and an Arabian Caprese, among others. For main courses, there was a Fish Carpaccio with a multi-ethnic dust-up of flavors, everything from chile to roasted frike and Egyptian spices; French Toast and Bone Marrow in Beef and Hibiscus Stock with Jerusalem Artichoke Cream and Chestnuts;  Baked Crab in Schug and Arak. 

I asked Zoaretz which, of all of these, did he consider his most exotic? He pointed to an item on the menu simply listed as “Mom’s Pasta.”  This, he explained, was a traditional fresh pasta in pomodoro sauce, but with a Lebanese twist — including cumin and chili. He serves it on a brown glass plate — a tribute to the surrounding, less glamorous ethnic restaurants where, at lunchtime, old men crouch over Persian and Yemenite dishes served up on the same type of standard-issue market glass plate. Indeed Dalida is a tribute to the Levinsky market as a whole— bringing, as Ben-Zion David does, old methods to completely modern creations.

You'll find the recipe for Zoaretz’s “Mom’s Pasta” here.

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