A recent dining experience at Jerusalem's renovated train station left me wondering if any of the new restaurants popping up all over the city were capable of serving a tasty meal accompanied by courteous service. I didn't have to wait too long to discover a gem on the Jerusalem culinary scene.
During the day, the Mahane Yehuda market is packed with shoppers, shoving their way up the crowded passageways past stalls offering fruits, vegetables, boutique cheeses, spices, fresh fish, household goods, delectable varieties of halvah, meat products, candies, toys, clothing, wines, alcoholic and soft drinks, pickled goods, coffees, teas, ethnic fare, nuts, pitot, bread, and other baked goods. The merchants shout out the going price for watermelon, tomatoes, cherries, peaches, plums, mangos, melons, and cucumbers, competing against each other for audio supremacy. Bags of produce are selected, packed, weighed, and paid for. The stream of customers continues unabated, from morning to night, with peaks of activity ahead of Shabbat and holidays.
Walking through the shuk is the ultimate sensory experience - the smells, sounds, and tastes are memorable, putting Jerusalem's marketplace on the list of must-see sites for every visitor to the city.
At night, the merchants pull down the metal shutters to close their small stores, hiding their produce until the next shopping day. In the past, nightfall would signal the end of the day for the shuk. Pedestrians would hurry through the deserted market as if danger awaited them behind every abandoned vegetable cart.
The shuk now has new life after dark. A variety of trendy eateries have opened their doors alongside the shuttered produce stalls, with tables placed on pathways that were crowded with shoppers just hours before. Some of the pubs offer live entertainment; music and laughter fill the night.
A chef's restaurant in the shuk
On a side street just off one of the shuk's central passageways is a gourmet Kosher meat restaurant called Jacko's Street. This is known as a chef's restaurant, for chef Zakai Hodja makes his way through the shuk every morning to choose the freshest and tastiest produce that he will serve that evening to his diners. And the word 'street' in the restaurant's name is appropriate. One wall inside the restaurant is covered with authentic blue Jerusalem street signs.
There are very few tables inside Jacko's Street and reservations are a must. The main attraction is eating at a high wooden bar, overlooking the open kitchen and watching the chefs prepare the food. The décor and ambiance of the restaurant make the dining experience very enjoyable, but the best is yet to come.
Free shots of Arak get off every meal to a good start. The extensive wine selection has some unusual listings, allowing diners to choose a bottle based on the area in Israel where the grapes were grown. Alcoholic drinks and cocktails are also available.
Dining at Jacko's with my wife and two good friends, we split the Grilled Fish Kebabs dressed with a Teriyaki Sauce. For my entrée, I chose the melt-in-the-mouth Chicken Breast with Ratatouille Gratin, while my wife selected the Seared Salmon Fillet served over a Leek Risotto. Our friends had the Fish & Chips and the Smoked Breast of Duck sautéed in Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms. There were many other interesting items on the menu that will be tasted on future visits.
Although the music was a bit loud, we managed to have an enjoyable conversation. The waitresses were friendly, efficient and courteous, but the best thing about them was the fact that they seemed to enjoy serving us. How can you not help but like a restaurant where the waitresses dance gleefully between the tables, and the bartender matches the beat as he prepares drinks for the people sitting at the bar?
Everyone, diners and restaurant staff as well, seemed to be having a good time.
We split a delectable dessert between the four of us and knocked off a bottle of wine (red, from the Judean Hills). The bill came out to 550 shekels ($154). And we left a very nice tip.
We'll be back to Jerusalem's shuk in the near future. If not for daytime shopping, it will be for nighttime dining.
Originally published on The Times of Israel.