The test for Tike (restaurant review)

Jerusalem Post, Weekend Magazine; May 24, 2007

When I used to live near Kikar Rabin, I’d pass by Ibn Gvirol between David Hamelekh and Bloch streets almost daily and witness the slow rise and quick fall of any restaurant that dared to open on the same block as the ever-popular, ever-packed Brasserie. Any restaurant which opens up in what is jokingly referred to as the “cursed spot” always runs the risk of constantly being mentioned in the same sentence as its dominating neighbor.

First there was soccer-legend Itzik Zohar’s “Oliver K” bistro, which was DOA (Dead On Arrival), lasting only about six months. Then there was the valorous attempt of the seafood restaurant, Frank Fish. It stood empty for much of its year-long career, while Brasserie continued to boast a waiting list at any given hour.

Now Tike (pronounced tea-keh), the second Israel branch of this international Turkish chain, is attempting to bring blessing to this high-rent, high-profile locale. Recently, many restaurants have branches on or branched off from Ibn Gvirol: the Eastern fusion Minna Tomei, the seafood giant Goocha and the nightlife hotspot Silon are just some examples.

Tike, however, is following its own lead.

It has already made its mark in the Fertile Crescent as a gourmet Turkish restaurant offering the best and finest of Turkish cuisine in a modern, Westernized setting. Its 11 branches in Turkey and one in Greece generally serve businesspeople and high society. This made the Herzliya business district the natural location for its first Israel branch, introduced into the country last year.

Tike’s Tel Aviv design is definitely inviting. It blends Turkish motifs with New York style and clean lines. The restaurant is split into small enclaves, smoking and non-smoking, which lend themselves to privacy among the diners. Watch the Turkish pitot come out in a hearth in the center of the restaurant.

That Tike offers a new concept for Tel Avivians already gives it an edge over its failed predecessors. The appetizers, presented artistically and professionally, perfectly demonstrate Tike’s culinary objective: to concoct authentic Turkish dishes using the finest raw materials.

We started off with the flavorful Lahmacun (NIS 18), a thin pastry topped with tomatoes and herbed lamb, which already hinted at the high standards of preparation of Tike’s Turkish chefs.

The creativity and attention to detail was evident in the two stuffed appetizers, Yaprak Dolmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and Cig Kofta (“kibbeh,” or stuffed bulgar). The ground lamb of both dishes delicately absorbed the unexpected spices, among them cinnamon, pine nuts and red currants. The Mutebbel (NIS 20), a grilled eggplant dish, is poised to be a favorite among eggplant and yogurt lovers.

The main dishes that arrived at our table, however, didn’t live up to the expectations set up by the appetizers. The lamb kebab of the flagship dish, Adane Kebop, was a little on the dry side, and I could not pinpoint any specific feature or flavor that would distinguish it from other kebabs I’ve tried. The side serving of rice was plain and small, making me wonder if the dish justified its price of NIS 69. The Iskender Kebap, with its leaf cut of “doner” meat, looked promising, but the sauce tasted a bit like tomato paste. Hidden under the thin slivers of meat were bread crumbs, which didn’t add much to the dish and actually detracted from its generosity.

Any misgivings about the main dishes, however, were immediately rectified when we took a bit of the mouth-watering helva, a mound of sweet-flavored semolina and cheese over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Talk about a Turkish delight! The Kunefe was excellent as well.

Spirits are the specialty of the manager and co-owner, Dudi Zats, a former bar manager, and he does an excellent job adapting the popular Turkish anise liquor to create cocktails that blend the old with the new. The Southern Sabres, a blend of South Comfort and the Israeli sabra, and the Kosmo Raki, a Turkish take on the Cosmopolitan, were both superb. By virtue of the cocktails, Tike’s bar has the potential to become the center of the restaurant during prime nightlife hours.

The menus of the two Israeli branches are exactly the same, so one test for Tel Aviv’s Tike will be location, location, location. Given the prestige of Brasserie among the Tel Aviv branja (in crowd), it’s likely that young, stylish locals who dine to see and be seen may yet prefer to spend their money on Tike’s neighbor. Those looking for a unique, quieter and more specialized dining experience may opt for this Turkish delight.

Tike could very well be the restaurant to exorcize the Bloch/ Hamelekh curse. If it can’t, didn’t any one ever think of trying something totally new there – like a clothing store, perhaps?

Tike, Rehov Ibn Gvirol 74, 12 noon to 2 a.m., (03) 696-5315. Not kosher.