Turning the World Upside Down at the Israel Museum
Getting a table at Machneyuda in Jerusalem, Israel’s restaurant of the moment, is no easy feat. But, as luck would have it, a friend tells me he knows one of the owners. Two days later, I’m sitting at the bar in front of the open kitchen where chef Asaf Granit hands me a cocktail made with grapefruit and arak, an anis-flavoured liqueur. The “fish tartare shackin’ up in a Baladi Zucchini” practically jumps off the menu and onto my plate. The fish is so fresh and artistically presented, it looks almost like it could have been plated by Pablo Picasso. Chef Asaf then offers me crispy egg yolk, mushrooms and spicy cream and makes me guess what spices he’s used.
There’s a lot to take in at Machneyuda besides culinary creativity. The restaurant, originally a carpenter’s shop, is decorated with eye-catching colourful ceramic tiles and filled with equally beautiful people. Two early thirtysomethings from Tel Aviv tell me, almost conspiratorially, that they drove here just for dinner. That people, hip young people, come from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to eat, is news. As the Holy City of the three monotheistic religions embraces a cool new vibe, that old chestnut about how Tel Aviv plays while Jerusalem prays might no longer be so apt. Though the city’s new frisky attitude hardly compares to Tel Aviv’s in-your-face party vibe, Jerusalem stands up on its own as a secular cultural destination in an ancient-meets-modern way.
A case in point is the new Mamilla hotel. Designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, it’s full of contemporary design hijinks. Here again, old and new combine in exciting ways. Jerusalem stone is used on the exterior and interior walls. In one corner, a round table is surrounded by 12 iconic modernist chairs – one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And at the hotel’s rooftop bar, clients drink sunset cocktails as they look out over spectacular views of the Old City.
At the century-old Machane Yehuda market, there’s a cornucopia of sounds, colours, aromas and cultures. Old Kurdish Jews hawk pickled vegetables to Armenian monks. Second-generation Ethiopian soldiers and South African newcomers fight over the last rugelach (a kind of Jewish pain au chocolat) at Marzipan. Brazilian yeshiva students stop in for freshly squeezed pomegranate juice served by a dreadlocked blond German. French expats head to the excellent Basher’s fromagerie. And everyone, it seems, ends up at Ima for homestyle kube (meatball) soup. The sprawling market’s reach has grown, thanks to the recently launched Machne.co.il website, which offers themed tours for different types of food lovers (wine and cheese or baked goods, to name a few).
Another iconic Jerusalem establishment, the Israel Museum, is welcoming the new era with changes of its own. Israel’s premier art draw and home of the Dead Sea scrolls is feeling fresh, courtesy of a spectacular refurbishment led by museum director James Snyder, formerly with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Included are several new commissions, like the alfresco installation by Anglo-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, called Turning the World Upside Down. The curved steel form captures the earth and sky in its reflections, but the shape reverses them; the concept, fittingly enough, is meant to represent earthly and celestial Jerusalem.
I leave Jerusalem by crossing the elegant Chords Bridge, built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and supposedly inspired by King David’s harp. Unveiled amid controversy (what else?) in 2008, it was the first large-scale monument to debut in the city in more than a millennium. Dubbed Jerusalem’s “first shrine of modern design” by Time magazine, it’s a bridge both literally and figuratively. As a new wave of current style settles in among thousand-year-old streets, it offers something for travellers looking for both old and new in this most storied of cities.
Jerusalem: Air Canada offers daily nonstop service from Toronto to Tel Aviv.