I've been wining and dining (mostly dining) more than usual these last few weeks in various Tel Aviv restaurants, often with my own wines. Here are some of my impressions:
RDB - Ronen Dovrat-Bloch's new restaurant on Montefiore St. A very elegant setting, quite detached from a sense of place, but comfortable nonetheless, well-lit and romantic. I brought my own bottle of 1999 La Fleur-Petrus, corkage was the now standard 40NIS and the wine service and stems were good. On to the food - I found the dishes quite excellent, though my risotto was a tad undercooked. The cooking is of a very high standard and I think that by ironing a few things, it will propel RDB to a comfortable place among the top 5 restaurants in Tel Aviv. The staff, while friendly, was overbearing (I don't need to be asked 4 times if everything is OK, especially not with my mouth full). I liked Ronen's previous restaurants and I hope this one will last.
Zepra - My first visit here. The occasion was a tasting dinner organized by Giaconda and Boutique de Champagne. I found the food to be very good, ranging from the well-executed but standard Asian fare to some truly superb fusion dishes. My gripe with the place is the noisy environment that attacks both the auditory as well as visual senses. Despite the food, it's not really a place to enjoy a relaxing/romantic dinner. For a quick dinner at the bar, yes, or for lunch. Of course there's also the option of takeaway, and serendipitously I had a delivery menu waiting in my mailbox the next day. The Champagnes ranged from the refreshing to the intellectually stimulating - all much better than your standard Moet/Veuve.
Carmella BaNachala - Incredibly, I've never been to this establishment until last week. The setting is very pleasant, and very much "Tel Aviv" in its vibe. I brought my own Champagne (Ruinart Blanc de Blancs) but also ordered wine off the wine list (which is heavily biased towards Israeli wines - not that there's anything wrong with that). The service was OK, not a lot better than that, and I found the food to be a bit boring. In particular, a salmon dish that we had as part of the tasting menu was completely uninspiring. The seafood starters were good, but not excellent. The desserts were a notch above, with some interesting combinations. Overall it left me feeling the place is a little overhyped and overpriced. I would like to go back for one of their famous brunches though.
Adora - This is one of the restaurants I frequent the most, since it's a 5 minute walk from my house. This time I gathered with some friends and brought a few wines to celebrate (2000 Cristal, 2004 Matrot Meursault-Charmes, 2000 JM Millot Echezeaux and a 2005 Heymann-Loewenstein Schieferterassen Auslese Goldkapsel). Consistently, the food here is great - flavorful, original and not overly convoluted. The crab crumble was fantastic as was the poppy-seed mousse dessert. Service was unobtrusive and friendly, and very accommodating with my wines. The 45NIS corkage fee was waived for some of the bottles (I didn't ask for it - it was pure courtesy which was rewarded with a larger than usual tip). For me, Adora is one of the underrated places in Tel Aviv, perhaps due to its unglamorous location, and reasonably priced to boot.
Orna & Ella - Not so much a planned dinner as a quick get together with an Israeli friend visiting from Boston. We were both hungry after a long day and came there around 10PM. We still had to wait a few minutes for a table... however it was worth it. Everything we ordered, including the sweet potato pancakes, was as it's always been and delicious. Desserts were yummy, and the coffee was excellent. It's nice to know that some places can maintain such a consistency over such a long time. This is as close as it gets to a true Tel Aviv establishment.
As an aside, I called up Yoezer Wine Bar to inquire about their corkage policy for BYO. I was curtly informed by the young woman who answered the phone that "they don't allow that sort of thing". I know that Yoezer has an larger than usual (for Israel) wine list, but I have to question the wisdom of a strict no-BYO policy. Their wine list, as extensive as it may seem, lacks wines that are at their drinking peak (most are from recent vintages), and while it offers the standard Israeli wines and imported quaffers alongside with very pricey Burgundies, there's a gaping hole in the middle for someone willing to spend 300-400 NIS on a bottle that's worth that kind of money. If I find myself going there it will probably be only after resigning myself to having less than optimal wine matches with my meal, since I have no intention of spending 1500NIS on a bottle the likes of which I already have in my cellar and paid a lot less for.