By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Jerusalemites can hold their heads a bit higher now. Sure, the high-speed rail to Tel Aviv seems to be delayed indefinitely, mother nature has yet to see fit to provide us with a single beach and our newest landmark is fast becoming known for its “Taliban” opening ceremony.
But it’s OK, because at least in one key sector, we’re keeping up with the rest of the country. We now have an Avazi.
Avazi, for the unaware, is the daddy of the genre of “shipudiot” – a term that one could best translate as “skeweries.” Meat on a stick, marinated, spiced and grilled, is served alongside a wide selection of mezze-type salads as the restaurant chain’s specialty. First established as a neighborhood kebab joint in south Tel Aviv’s legendary working-class Hatikva neighborhood, the chain has slowly opened a handful of franchises across the country – from Haifa in the North to Beersheba in the South.
And now, it’s come to Jerusalem, launching what it terms its “flagship branch” deep among neighborhood competitors in the Talpiot industrial district, where local skeweries already draw wall-to-wall crowds.
But Avazi is not put off by the competition, and weeks after its opening already has a steady flow of customers.
Unlike many of the local shipudiot, the chain has invested heavily in design and decor, with a modern-themed seating area that sparkles with newness – a far cry from the majority of the neighborhood drags. Avazi also boasts late-night hours and a full bar (blenders were already up and running in the early afternoon hours on the Thursday I stopped by).
The menu extends slightly beyond the meat-on-a-stick format, encompassing grilled fish, steaks, schnitzel and the now seemingly omnipresent chicken wings in sweet chili sauce. This is probably not the place, however, to take your vegetarian friends, unless they are content with a series of carb-heavy side dishes like majadara (rice and lentils) or a series of mezze salads.
The salads are nice, with a wide range available at a minimal cost (NIS 14) if ordered alongside a meal. Accompanied by fresh, soft, dinner-plate-sized laffa bread, they run the standard salad gamut from eggplant in tehina to egg salad to tabbouleh to Turkish salad. They’re all good – not fabulous – but a nice way to start a meal, and also a welcome respite between skewers.
The hot appetizers are tasty – and the fried ones are the tastiest of all. Although the felafel was nothing to write home about, I have a feeling that the elementary- schooler in all of us cannot help but enjoy the somewhat dubiously-billed (in English) puree balls. If you can put your Atkins diet aside for five minutes, these golf-ball- sized spheres of mashed potatoes, rolled in breading and deep-fried, are a tasty alternative to French fries and seemed to disappear quickly among my dining partners.
On to the meat. When all is said and done, the skewers are the restaurant’s main attraction – and rightly so. Chain or not, Avazi raises the simple concept of meat on a stick to an art form. Every skewer I sampled was perfectly done, none of the meat was dry or underdone, and two skewers alongside salads were definitely enough for a solid lunch. Within the category of “special skewers,” more daring diners can find traditional favorites from the original Hatikva-neighborhood branch, including sheep fat, veal tonsils and turkey testicles.
Among the best were the spring chicken, kebab and entrecote. When Avazi employees recommended the chicken, my initial reaction was a yawn – but after one bite, I was licking my lips. The chicken, which easily can be dried out on a grill, was anything but. It was delicately and – dare I say it – even elegantly spiced, adding an extra dimension to the perfectly done meat.
The kebab did not fall short of the high expectations that I held after tasting the chicken, and the entrecote skewer was generous and tasty as well, reminding me of an idealized Yom Ha’atzmaut backyard grillE but far better than any I’ve actually been to.
And, of course, it is impossible to discuss the restaurant without mentioning its eponymous goose-liver skewers (NIS 49). Many diners have complained that goose liver has become an increasingly rare sight in the less- than-gourmet Israeli restaurant scene, but at Avazi, the goose-liver skewer is still a hot-ticket item. Fans of goose liver will not be disappointed at the quantity and the quality of the liver presented. Like the other skewers, the liver is perfectly cooked, still soft and moist throughout and lightly braised on the outside.
If you have somehow managed to polish off the salads, skewers and potato balls without quite filling your stomach, Avazi has a surprisingly large and rather decadent assortment of parve desserts ranging from malabi to creamy concoctions mostly involving chocolate and mousse.
Although the prices may be a bit higher than your neighborhood kebab shop, the Jerusalem diner can now at least be comforted by the fact that with rising gas prices, a trip to the legendary Avazi is now a good deal closer than Tel Aviv.
Children’s menu available. Most skewers range in price from NIS 20 to NIS 30 per item, other entrees NIS 30-65. Take-away available. Kosher. Open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – midnight, Friday 11 – 4 p.m. and Saturday
9 p.m. – midnight. Rehov Yad Harutzim 14, Jerusalem. (02) 672- 6067.
Originally published by REBECCA ANNA STOIL.
(c) 2008 The Jerusalem Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.