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Culinary Cloister in the Hills: Rama’s Kitchen

Culinary Cloister in the Hills: Rama’s Kitchen
Rama’s Kitchen © Yael Ilan

The farm-to-table open air eatery provides a delectable respite from all the city noise

Just a short hour’s drive on Routes 1 and 425 through the heart-stopping Judean Hills plants one as far as possible from the grit and agitation of a city in heat: balmy, verdant Rama’s Kitchen in the hilltop village of Nataf. Rama’s Kitchen is not a restaurant. Well, it is a restaurant, but it’s not only a restaurant. Rama’s Kitchen is a decades-old regional landmark that introduced the farm-to-table concept well before millennials got hip to it.

After going up in smoke in a dramatic forest fire in 2016, the Kitchen reopened in April of this year under the direction of founder and owner Rama Ben-Zvi, her daughter Ella Ben-Zvi and new head chef Tal Bardugo, formerly of Mona and Satya. In its new incarnation, the countryside escape – a lofty, wooden gazebo fitted with a taboon, a victory garden and sublime views of the surrounding wildlife – is open for fixed-price meals on Thursday evening and Friday morning; the Kitchen is closed for private events the rest of the week. “Our idea was to create a local cuisine, a cuisine that speaks the language of strictly local ingredients,” explains Bardugo. “You won’t see pasta here for the most part, and you won’t taste French or Italian dishes here. Our menu changes weekly, because we are passionate about being seasonal. “If I can’t find apricots, I’ll use figs. Everything we serve is either grown in our own garden or purchased from neighboring suppliers. Rama, Ella and I sit together almost every morning, brainstorming new dishes, new ideas for our menu, which is in constant flux. You will rarely eat the same exact dish twice.”

A meal at Rama’s Kitchen is as relaxing as it is exclusive (dinner costs NIS 288 a head): For three glorious hours, a scrupulous kitchen team of four led by Bardugo curate every delectable bite and determine the languid pace at which it is eaten. So check all prior commitments at the makeshift door, take a slug of the welcome tamarind-arak cocktail and savor the smooth and gratifying ride. As the sun sets, appetizers glide in on the shoulders of friendly, efficient wait staff: cold, clear tomato consommé dotted with fragrant zatar oil; homemade, chewy whole-wheat bread served with sour amba-flavored young green olives, seasoned toma potato spread, charred eggplant puree and “Raja’s” explosive chili paste; the catch-of-the day ceviche with mint leaves and sliced figs and fakus, Armenian cucumber that is far crunchier and less watery than its hothouse counterpart, and, finally, a sandwich-salad of watermelon, feta cheese, tomato and grilled pepper slices dressed in salty, garlicky gazpacho.

As evening falls and the stars come out, dinner guests periodically get up for a smoke, wander the property and mingle with neighbors. Time feels inconsequential in this culinary cloister in the hills. A bell heralds the second half of the evening – the main courses, each more impressive and exquisite than the last: salt-baked, flakey red drum fish; glossy lamb and meloukhia leaf stew with herb-flavored yogurt, and tender, juicy roast beef served rare with a spicy, olive-oil forward chimichurri. With the wine – from exclusively family-owned area wineries – flowing, conversation humming and the darkness closing in, it would be easy to overlook dessert. Don’t. The hand-rolled truffles, fragrant and soft financiers, fresh eclairs and homemade ice cream and sorbet are the final stop on this brief but exquisite journey.

Rama’s Kitchen, Nataf, 050-3700954, ramakitchen.co.il/en . Reservations must be made in advance

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