Trying to keep up with Tel Aviv's changing food landscape can be a costly endeavor. I find myself eating out probably more than the average eater outer, and still I am finding myself less and less enthused about spending big bucks to eat in "trendy" places because Time Out Tel Aviv has told me it is the new hotspot. As Tel Aviv feels so tiny, I am weary about hotspots. And I also recognize in this sexy, trend-filled city that sometimes there is value in the hotspot. Santa Katarina is one of those places that you just hear a bit too much about. I had eaten a few appetizers about 2 years ago, sitting at the bar, when they just opened. I was underwhelmed. I remember thinking, oh, another Eyal Shani wannabe with their grilled veggies on tehina. Not what Tel Aviv needed.
So after avoiding this "hotspot" for two years, I finally re-visited and it is with great relief that I invite you openly to put Santa Katarina on your "to eat" list while you are in Tel Aviv. One of our Delicious Guides, Merav, whose food opinion I trust, was really happy with her meal, so when our mutual friends Marion and Michael were in town, I took the chance to give it my Delicious Israel approval stamp (or not).
Tomer Agay, whose wife manages the kitchen, is the chef behind the taboon. He came over to chat and took out his phone with pride to show us Ottolenghi's post from the week before before praising his Basbousa (semolina with syrup) cake. Once we got him going, Agay was happy to share with us tidbits of his journey, being sure to name-drop some of the top chefs he has worked with around the world.
With a mixture of Syrian and Egyptian heritage, he explains that his upbringing was filled with incredible fusion from the two kitchens. The influence is evident in the dishes, from the doah (dukkah/duqqah) and oil served with the breads, to the ..... This is one great example of something we speak about often on our tours - how young chefs look to reinvent their grandmothers dishes, both respecting the tradition as well as innovating to fit the modern palette.
And where does the name come from? Santa Katarina is a monastery that the chef remembers visiting with his father at a young age while in the Sinai. He shares that he has dreamt of this visit since he was a kid. When he chose the location - on Har Sinai Street, Mount Sinai, in English - the name was clear to him. According to Agay, he has stopped dreaming of it ever since.
2 Har Sinai St