Friday, October 27, 2006


Last night I went to Benny HaDayag for dinner.

I've been there once before on a very un-hot blind date. There was almost nothing in common between the pair of us and it was a very uncomfortable evening and I seem to have supressed all memory of the food - I think that we ended up just having the salads and then going our separate ways. So last night was kindof like the first time there for me.

This time I went with Cactus and Sassy, and all the way to the new Tel Aviv port I was kicking myself for forgetting my camera at home. I have been so good about carrying it around with me, but I am only human and yesterday morning was more concerned with raingear than photogear. We had made reservations for 20h00, which in Israel is very early. We are not quite as extreme as Spain, but pretty close.

The only other people at the restaurant were tourists, which meant we were seated immediately and didn't have to fight any lineups or loud groups. Benny's doesn't go in for menus - there is a chalkboard inside that stays there - if you want to know what there is to eat you need to get up and check it out. That is also the only place where prices are posted - and that is only the per kilo price of the more esoteric aquatic denizens. We wanted to take advantage of the still warm weather and opted for an outside table - at the end of October! Now who can complain about that?

Our waitress was asking for our drink orders even before we had finished sitting down, and by the time we had got ourselves sorted our table had been covered (quite literally) with a vast assortment of salads and a huge basket of warm rolls. C & I split a half bottle of Mt. Hermon Chardonnay - a nice, eminently drinkable little number, light and refreshing and not a la California and so oaky you spit out splinters.

I knew I had made a BIG mistake in forgetting my camera when I surveyed the goodies loading down our table. First off was a bowl containing a piece of grey mullet swimming in a very spicy Tripolitan (Libya) red sauce. I have friends whose background is Libyan and have come to the conclusion that there is only one sauce in Libya and this is it. You have mafroum, fish, couscous, chicken and everything else in between, served with this sauce. When red sauce (honestly, that is what they call it) is homemade the spice level is at least twice as hot as Benny's, well beyond the pain threshold of unsuspecting tourists. The sauce at Benny's is very conducive to being mopped up with bread.

There was a nice humous with a thick ful paste on top, eggplant - in mayonnaise, with vinegar, and with tomatoe sauce, there was a Turkish salad (tomatoes and peppers stewed), pickled lemons in a turmeric/curry sauce (that is great with falafels), there was cauliflower in the the same bright yellow sauce, there was a moderately spicy green s'hug (chilis and coriander), chopped tomatoes with green chilis and a bit of lemon, there was green tehina, white coleslaw, and red coleslaw, and if that wasn't enough, a really big bowl with chopped tomatoes and onions on one half and shredded lettuce on the other, both lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

When we had made some inroads into all of this bounty, a plate with a beautifully grilled eggplant, split and draped with tehina arrived and a couple of the empty plates were taken away and replenished at C's request.

After we had been eating for at least half an hour, our waitress arrived to take our order. This wasn't laxness on her part, this is SOP for Benny's, relax, take your time, fress!

Now the whole point in coming here was to try their mixed seafood platter, as seen by C+S earlier this week, and lusted after ever since. So they confidently told the waitress that we would have a platter for three. We then continued noshing and a some lovely crispy-melty deepfried eggplant appeared, just to add a bit of variety. Now admittedly, the little salads are not served in large portions, but there are so many of them that you manage to unwittingly eat much more than you thought you would, just in having a bite or two here, a taste and then another one there...

Benny's is not known for stinginess when it comes to portion control, but the only word that C, S and I could come up with to describe the seafood platter when it arrived steaming to our table was appalling. Imagine a shallow triangular serving bowl, now imagine it 45cm on each side (18 inches for the metrically challenged), and now imagine it filled almost to overflowing with fat juicy shrimps, calamari, mussels and crabs. OMG.

We sat and stared, open mouthed, for at least 30 seconds, and then we all tentatively reached out and took something from this overwhelming dish. After that we set to with gusto, but no matter what we did we just couldn't seem to put a dent in it, and every once in a while one or the other of us would shake our heads and say how ridiculous this was. There was enough there for at least 6 people. And I mean 6 people who are serious about their seafood.

The crabs and mussels had been done in butter, white wine and garlic and the shrimp and calamari had been dusted in flour and deepfried. This was the ultimate fingerfood dinner, but not greasy or gooey or gluey. The calamari were meltingly soft, not a rubbery bit in the lot, and the shrimp exploded when you bit into them. The mussels were big and juicy and full of flavour, and the crab was delicious and worth every bit of effort put into them in order to get at the sweet white meat.

45 minutes later I sat back and couldn't contemplate another bite. C+S continued on for a bit, picking out choice morsels, trying to find the perfect last bite, but they soon followed suit and pushed their chairs back replete. By the end of this we were drunk with food, unable to think about even a cup of mint tea, convinced that nothing would pass our lips until the next evening, maybe... For all that, the meal, including wine, soft drinks and mineral water, cost about USD100 for the 3 of us. Now that was ridiculous

We left Benny's after almost 2 solid hours of eating, walking along the boardwalk feeling like our stomachs were arriving at the corner at least five minutes before the rest of our bodies. But satisfied? Oh yes...

On the way out of the port we noticed a newish jewellery store, so we stuck our heads in to see what was on display. Shouldn't have done that. I saw a ring that I really liked and decided that, having inherited a little bit of money from my grandmother Jeannie, enough for a very modest piece of jewellery, I would buy it so that I could wear something that would remind me of her every time I wore it.

But then I decided to try on a lovely silver necklace and tried it on. Usually I try and coerce people into buying things that I think look gorgeous on them, but this time the situation was reversed. C+S both started exclaiming and convinced me that this was a "me" piece and that it would be much more unusual than the ring, which, though lovely, wasn't nearly as special.

Besides, it was in keeping with our seafood dinner. 8^)

So what do all of these pictures of risotto milanese con frutti di mari have to do with anything? Well that is what I did with the leftovers.

Basic Risotto Milanese

  • Arborio Rice 220gr / 1 cup
  • Onion, finely minced 50 gr / 1/4 cup
  • Saffron generous pinch
  • White vermouth 50ml 1/4 cup
  • Wite wine 100ml / 1/2 cup
  • Water or chicken stock 4 cups
  • Butter 20 gr / 1 tablespoon
  • Parmesan, finely grated 75-100 gr / 2-3 ounces
  • Salt + white pepper to taste
  • Parsley, finely chopped small handful

Make sure you use a pot that is large enough. Risotto is deceptive and always needs more space than you think it will.

Over medium heat sweat the onions in the butter until translucent.

Turn the heat up and add the rice, stirring occasionally until the rice goes a bit translucent with a spot of white showing in the center.

Toss in the saffron and the vermouth and stir until absorbed.

Add the wine and stir 'til absorbed.

Add some salt and 1/2 cup of water/stock and stir 'til absorbed.

Continue adding the water/stock by the 1/2 cup full stirring well between additions.

Start testing for doneness after cup 3 by trying a grain of rice for doneness. The rice is done when it is firm but not gritty and there should be a creamy sauce swaddling the rice in the pan.

Add water/stock as needed until al dente.

Stir in the parmesan and check for seasoning.

If it has thickened up too much add some more liquid until it is creamy again {don't forget to check again for seasoning}.

At that point I added my leftover seafood, hence con Frutti di Mari, covered the pot for 5 minutes with the heat turned off and kept warm under a tea towel.

Just before serving stir in most of the parsley, saving some for garnish.

Eat, drink and thank goodness for leftovers.


paz said...

I wish I were there eating with you!


burekaboy said...

my, my. u described it well enough with words alone that pictures weren't necessary to imagine your evening. i was getting dizzy just reading what u ate for appetizers. LOL.

wear your new piece of jewellery with good health and happy memories of ur grandmother.

aja said...

Hey Paz,
Come visit 8^}

Hey BB,
Dizzy is right - I couldn't bear thinking about food. Actually, I couldn't bear thinking 8^P

So was your reno finished in time for the weekend?

burekaboy said...


arrgggh. i have been breathing in paint fumes and have a HUGE headache. i closed the bathroom door and left the window open but it still doesn't help much.

they still need to come back next week. it's like it never ends.

one or two more days, they said. only thing is my bathroom tiles are now a hodgepodge and i don't like that. can't do anything about as i am not the homeowner. i had no say.

could be worse right? could have a salmon or avocado coloured 70s bathroom. HA.

thanx for asking. ;p

oh yes, that RED SAUCE. i love it! i sometimes make mafroum and hraime but i don't make it as hot as my friend's family does or it would blow a hole through my head. i don't know what the allure is of eating fire-y foods. all u taste is the heat. spicy yes, incendiary no.

aja said...

Und vat is rong mit salmon und avocado??? Didn't you know that retro is back (again). (and just be glad you aren't the owner and have to pay for the work). It will be over soon, really!

Red Sauce - I do love it, but my friends mom would serve everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING with it - the whole meal was red, fish, chicken, couscous, mafroum, stuffed peppers, everything. And forget any tempering for a new immigrant, this was full fledged Libyan heat. The coolest thing, and the only non-red thing at table, was the carrot and hot peppers in lemon water.