Orna and Ella: Another Tel Aviv Classic To Close Its Doors

Israelis and international Tel Aviv food enthusiasts alike awoke recently to the semi-shocking, but also not that shocking news that the iconic Orna and Ella restaurant (opened in 1992) would be closing in March. This culinary darling was, for a time, emblematic of the fashionable Sheinkin area in which the café resided; its simple and classic dishes, charming waitstaff, and airy décor was emblematic of a certain New Tel Aviv Cuisine. Surely, if you visited Israel in this time, you were nudged urgently by locals and guidebooks alike to taste their iconic sweet potato pancakes. 

Yet, like so many other products of the 90’s, time had its way with Orna and Ella. Restaurants emerged that were way more hip, more local, and, most importantly, more identifiably Tel Aviv-y while still being mainstream (ex, the Eyal Shani restaurant empire). Orna and Ella is, in so many ways, a relic of a bygone Tel Aviv era, and that’s for the better. However, one mustn’t put the blame for this closing only upon the restaurant itself…

Israel will always have a vibrant culinary scene; what is changing, however, is the mediums through which its food culture is expressed. Ha’aretz reports that 2016 and 2017 saw the number of restaurants in Israel decrease by 1.6%, according to the country's restaurant and cafe association. The same paper released similar trend reports in both 2014 and 2015, however, suggesting that this restaurant shift will likely continue in the near future. One theory behind this number of closings is that increased restaurant employee wages and a new tax on foreign workers are making restaurant profitability more difficult. Israel’s high concentration of restaurants in city regions is laudable, but ultimately that over-saturation hinders the ongoing success of businesses, with both new ventures and long running restaurants feeling the brunt.

An Optimist’s Hot Takes:

  • While high end restaurants have been the latest victims of these new economic strictures, more casual and market-based eateries seem to be thriving.
  • Small scale food kiosks with lower rent overhead and local workers will presumably thrive despite the downturn.
  • Using New York’s restaurant scene as a comparative model puts this news in perspective. NYC’s notoriously constant high turnover rate aside, that city has also experienced years of disproportionate restaurant closings. It has nonetheless remained the food capital of the world; Israel’s food scene, no doubt, will similarly weather the storm.
  • Better working conditions for restaurant employees is always a step in the right direction!
  • Restaurant closings are just part of the food-world “circle of life” (*insert The Lion King soundtrack here*). 2018 has some seriously impressive openings  in store (keep your eyes on this blog for the latest news!), so Israel food lovers can look forward to some innovative and spectacular eats in their future…

Shalom Orna and Ella, your impact was great and we thank you for your 25 years of service. 

Orna and Ella's Famous Sweet Potato Pancake Recipe

(Makes 30 small pancakes)
1¼ kilo sweet potato (750 g after peeling and boiling)
2 tbsp soy sauce
¾ cup (100 g) flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Butter for frying

For chive sauce:
¾ cup chopped chive stalks
250g sour cream
1/3 cup (80ml) mayonnaise
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Preparing the latkes:
Peel the sweet potato and chop into large pieces. Cook sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water (or steam) until they are completely soft. Place the sweet potatoes in a strainer for an hour or two until they are drained of all water (they can also be left overnight in the fridge to drain).

Transfer sweet potatoes to a bowl and add the soy sauce. Knead using hands. Add flour, sugar, salt and pepper, and continue gently mixing by hand until a dough is formed (remove hard or black pieces along the way). The dough will be soft, united and slightly sticky. If it is runny, add a small amount of flour. Refrain from excessive mixing, which would lead to the dough becoming too sticky.

Preparing the sauce:
Combine all sauce ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste. If mayonnaise is not homemade, it is preferable to add a touch of mustard and lemon to the sauce.

On a medium flame, heat butter in a Teflon pan. There should be enough butter to properly grease the pan. Using a pastry bag, tablespoon or wet hands, place latkes in the pan. It may take a few latkes until you become familiar with how to work with this unique, sticky dough. Fry the latkes on both sides until they are golden, but not burnt, ensuring they are firm enough to retrieve with a spatula. Rest latkes on paper towel and serve with the sauce on the side.

If pancakes are not eaten immediately, cover them with cling wrap and store in the fridge for a maximum of two days. Reheat in a preheated oven at medium heat (180 degrees Celsius), being careful not to dry them out. Do not reheat in a microwave.