Mon-Thurs 12-last customer, Happy Hour 17-19; Fri 10-15
I can’t seem to explain why, but there’s something about Gedera 26 that makes you want to savor the day in Tel Aviv no matter what kind of day it may be. Whether it’s rainy, cloudy, sunny, humid, cold, or hot, somehow when you’re sitting inside this rustic Bohemian restaurant on a restored, tarnished bench, looking out to the grungy yet enchanting exterior, you begin to romanticize Tel Aviv. Today it happens to be a breathtaking sunny day. It’s the kind of day in Tel Aviv where the heat is not torturous and a gentle breeze swifts by each minute, lightly sifting past my skin and blowing the strands of hair. Today, as I sit in this blissful space, I fantasize Tel Aviv as the city where you stroll on the beach in the morning, shop at the open-air market with a brown wicker basket in the day, and sip wine on a rooftop garden in the evening. On a rainy day I would sit here, look out, and see Tel Aviv as a romantic, dark city, where heaven’s joyful tears are splashing against the grubby streets, bringing in a fresh air while renewing our city’s spirits.
With a medley of pots boiling over with some sort of stock or stew, a small open kitchen, and a young, bright staff of chefs, line cooks, managers, and servers busily working about, the atmosphere feels warm and exciting. The aromas of fresh spices, unrecognizable herbs, and honey-sweet and subtle honey, waft through the air. I take a deep breath and relax, knowing and deeply understanding that here, at Gedera 26, I’m in good hands.
Much like his restaurant, Chef Amir Kronberg, is calm, practical, and elegant. Yet beneath this gentle exterior he’s sprinkled with an undeniable, quiet sweetness. When he speaks about his experience, his food, and his background, he’s humble and a bit reserved. His culinary journey began as a child when he had to cook for himself and his sister, while his single mother was working hard to pay the bills. Being the man in charge of the kitchen came naturally to him because he had witnessed his grandfather take the role as family chef, responsible for preparing every meal. At this tender young age he began to feed himself with sandwiches and before he knew it he was experimenting with food, making dishes that were more satisfying and exciting. When his mother asked him what he would do upon graduating high school, Amir had no doubts about pursuing a culinary path.
In his logical way, Kronberg decided to learn about all the aspects of the food industry, from bartending to catering. Eventually he worked at Coffee Bar, where he began as a prep cook and was quickly promoted to top line cook. There he learned the basics of food preparation and cooking techniques. He then rose to working in the elite, high-society catering company with Han Shmueli, where he learned advanced techniques and developed a stronger comprehension of flavor profiles and food combinations. He spent the final two years, before opening Gedera 26, as the head chef of Mendelbaum and as a private chef for high-end clients.
When he felt he was ready, and only then, did the practical and sensible Kronberg open his very own restaurant. As soon as he found the location right around the corner from Shuk HaCarmel, it took him one day to sign the contract and begin working on the place. Kronberg, along with his life and business partner, his wife Moran, took what was literally a dump and transformed it into a treasure.
Gedera 26 is like opening a little box filled with jewels – it’s whimsical, understated, glowing, refined, and majestic. There are elements of the past that fuse in perfect unison with modern touches. The exposed brick walls date back to the early 1900’s. Moran and Amir worked closely with architect Karney Horesh to create an atmosphere that fit their vision and taste. Karney had the task of planning the structure of the restaurant and her skill shines through in the magnificence of the place and the clever use of space. The modern shape of the tables and chairs, designed by Artan design (http://www.artan.co.il/) are made out of recycled wood and old windowpanes. The past blends with the present and we witness a perfect cycle, reintroduced and reinterpreted. Pictures of Amir’s grandfather, old family portraits, and pictures of the Shuk HaCarmel in it’s earliest days adorn the walls. Small knick-knacks from travels are placed effortlessly around the restaurant, giving diners a taste of Amir and Moran’s personalities and backgrounds.
Kronberg’s culinary perspective is unique in Tel Aviv because of his half-Swedish, half-Iraqi background. His cooking has a methodical restraint, producing dishes that have a clean edge, one that is often missing in traditional Iraqi or Middle Eastern cuisine, where the food is often over spiced and lose their elemental flavors. His culinary philosophy is centered on three major cornerstones: fresh market ingredients, minimum technique, and precise execution. Food, like many things in life, is best when not overworked; a place where you can see, taste, and feel it at its core.
In this environment, a variety of common dishes such as chicken, wild mushroom risotto, Swedish meatballs, or kubbeh soup can prove to be simultaneously intricate and uncomplicated. The taste of a simple baked sweet potato is heightened with a sprinkle of date honey and a dash of sliced almonds. It’s only sweet potato, but somehow the taste of it has never been so pronounced or fresh.
Kronberg’s dishes remind me of minimalist art, where work is stripped down to its fundamental features. An art form where three strokes can produce a woman’s figure. It seems so basic, yet somehow it’s so profound. Again, I sense this as I dive into the wild mushroom with fresh polenta, tonight’s special. The dish screams with a deep, unrestricted corn flavor that plays ever so strategically with the earthy, pan-seared mushrooms. Flavors don’t compete, the tastes do not fight, and everything blends in a place where Nordic meets the Middle East, where passion meets prudence.
The marriage of East and West is apparent in many dishes on the menu and extends to Gedera 26’s festivities. Twice a year, at the beginning of November and the end of April, Kronberg holds a biannual kubbeh festival. He makes 6 kinds of kubbeh to showcase his love for his Iraqi background and his skill intertwining ingredients from around the world in this classic Iraqi dish. Kubbeh flavors in the past include: classic beets, okra, mangol leaves, kubbeh filled with seafood on crab bisque, sweet kubbeh with mascoporne cheese in a berry soup, and fried kubbehs.
Whether it’s trying an assortment of dishes or enjoying the tapas specials and 20NIS cocktails served during happy hour, Kronberg provides copious reasons to frequent his restaurant and observe this capricious neighborhood and it’s many colors. A visit on a Friday for lunch can energize you with the hectic pre Shabbat buzz. A weekday evening gives you a totally different scene with young hipsters floating around to visit their favorite neighborhood pub or restaurant, and a Saturday morning at Gedera 26, complete with a breakfast sabich, an Iraqi patty called aruk, and roasted coffee will fill you with peace and serenity like a warm blanket on a cold night.
When I push Kronberg to give me hints of plans for the future he hesitates to answer. He says he’s focused on today, on the here and now. He’s focused on making Gedera 26 a staple in the city, a place where diners can really get to know him and his cooking style. But before I can tell him that I imagine him in a restaurant next to a farm where he grows his own ingredients, he begins to tell me that, if he were going to think about the future, he would develop a restaurant with a farm.
Whatever may come, I have no doubt that Kronberg will execute with meticulous perfection. But for now, I’m happy to sit back and allow Gedera 26 to do what it does best: provide me the ideal atmosphere to appreciate this lovely city with a plateful of beautiful food.
Photos: Judith Goldstein