I am so excited to kick off my Israel series by introducing you to Pergamon in downtown Jerusalem.
I had arrived in Israel on a Friday afternoon. My cousin and her fiancé picked me up at the airport in Tel Aviv and we drove straight to Jerusalem for Shabbat with with aunt, uncle and cousins. After a very restful 24 hours, when the sun set on Saturday night, we headed into the heart of the city for dinner.
Pergamon was recommended to us by a cousin who works in Israel as a tour guide, specializing in food and wine. The restaurant is know for two things: (1) its incredible vegetarian food and (2) its gin and tonics. I mean, sign me up!
The restaurant is on Heleni HaMalka Street (Queen Heleni Street), near a few of my other Jerusalem favorites: Cafe Bezalel, Kadosh and Ben Sira Hummus Bar. The night we went it was pouring rain. You can see in the photo how slick the sidewalk was.
As we walked through the front door, it felt like we'd been transported to Brooklyn, New York.
As I mentioned, Pergamon is known for their cocktail program, specifically their gin and tonics. They offer nine versions of the signature drink, each with a different kind of gin.
My cousin and I both decided, "When in Rome!" and I ordered the gin and tonic #1, she ordered the #4. Mine was Gordon's gin infused with cucumber, basil, mint, lemon and green chili and hers was Drumshanbo Gunpower gin with chamomile, all spice and lime.
When our waitress started to walk towards our table with the drinks, I turned to my cousin and asked (with glee), "They come in goblets?!"
We felt like queens drinking from our chalices! I found mine to be very refreshing, while she found hers a bit bitter tasting.
My aunt decided on one of the house cocktails called Miss Kitten. It was Gordon's gin with cucumber, basil, mint, green chili, lemon, sake, green tea syrup and soda.
After a few sips, she commented, "It's definitely a tropical drink, but the green chili helps to cut through the sweetness."
When it came time to order the food, we decided to share five of small plates. The first to arrive was the polenta fries, topped with parmesan cheese and served with a side of tartar sauce.
I was absolutely addicted to these! They had a crispy exterior, while keeping the center soft and warm. The cheese and tartar sauce made every bite feel decadent.
Next came the fried cauliflower over labne cheese and matbucha. Matbucha is roasted tomatoes and red peppers with garlic and chili pepper.
I eat a lot of cauliflower and this was one of my favorite preparations. The tartness from the labne paired with the juicy, roasted tomatoes was heavenly.
The steamed vegetables with ginger vinaigrette turned out to be broccoli, zucchini and green beans, with very little ginger flavor. This dish was the only bland one we had all night.
The green herbs salad with persimmon, cheese and hazelnuts was a major standout. From the menu description alone I wasn't expecting much, but the very first bite blew me away. Each forkful was so flavorful.
Our last dish was the Parisian gnocchi with za'atar butter, charred eggplant, feta cheese and tomato seeds. You had me at za'atar butter.
The gnocchi was clearly hand cut. The smoky flavor from the eggplant was fantastic. This dish warms you from the inside out.
Throughout the meal, our waitress would check on us, but she never rushed us. She allowed us to sit, chat and nosh for as long as we wanted, which I really appreciated.
When I was looking up Pergamon's website in preparation to write this post, I discovered a tweet from celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi in which he shares that his niece is dating the head chef at Pergamon. How cool!
If you are planning a trip to Israel, a meal at Pergamon is an absolute must. This is vegetarian food that even meat eaters will love!