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Restaurant Review: Between the Arches (Jerusalem 2000)

So there we were, three ravenous, petite Virtual Jerusalem Inc. lasses on our way to the Old City for special dinner at the "Between the Arches" restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. Entering the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we wound our way along the Armenian Quarter, to the Cardo, not realizing that our destination was a three-minute walk from the Kotel Plaza, a lot nearer to the Dung Gate. Anyway, by the time we got through all the security checks adjacent to the Western Wall (no mean feat for three women with laptops on their backs), we arrived at the restaurant.

We were greeted warmly by our waiter Ali, and led down a winding staircase, befitting Scarlet O' Hara, to our table. The interior of the restaurant is quite amazing - a converted, 2,000 year old Crusader cavern with an extraordinary high ceiling, ancient wall carving and tightly packed brickwork. To sit in there and gaze at the surroundings is to be transported back to another time. However, the décor itself is a marriage of the austere past and the post modern. The glass tabletops, inlaid with an interesting assortment of archeological artifacts and adorned with a menorah, rests on a solid stone base, while the straight-backed chairs are transparent. There is a definite sonorous, archaic charm to the place coupled with the comforts of modern living such as whirring fans and a Coke machine nestled incongruously in an ancient alcove.

With Ali hovering over us, we eagerly studied the menu. The restaurant is open all day, even offering a sumptuous breakfast menu at only 33 NIS (Note: $1=4 NIS). For starters the three of us ordered a big Galilee salad to share described on the menu as comprising chalomi cheese, mushrooms, avocado and fresh vegetables. The salad was tasty but the avocados had somehow gone AWOL. We particularly enjoyed the tangy house salad dressing and ended up dipping our bread roles in it like uncouth Philistines. Mother would not have been impressed.

Deciding on our main course was rather difficult as everything on the menu sounded delicious. There was a choice of various sandwiches (Salmon, Tuna, Italian, Balkan cheese etc.); stuffed baked potatoes, quiches, pastas and pizzas. Amanda, the vegan (soon to be lapsed vegan due to all the tempting non-veganesque offerings) amongst us ordered the Thai Surprise (32 NIS) after assurances from Ali that it had no cream or fish in its ingredients. The VJ webmaster Elly ordered the salmon pasta (44 NIS) and I opted for the vegetable lasagne (42 NIS). Throughout the meal Ali was extremely attentive, offering us advice on what to order, imparting the history of the cavern and generally making sure that we were eating enough. At one point Elly whipped out her cell-phone to check whether there was reception in the cavern (there wasn't), and sweet Ali came running with the restaurant's portable phone for our usage.

The main courses arrived very quickly, and all were tasty and hearty portions. My lasagne was crisp around the edges, creamy and truly delicious. It was accompanied by a generous helping of salad and bean sprouts. Amanda tucked into her Thai surprise of noodles and veggies flavored with delicate amounts of soy sauce, with gay abandon, while Elly twirled her pasta with delirious delight. Half way through our meals, we began to feel rather full, but the concerned look on Ali's face as we sat staring at the remaining food, kept us plowing on.

With scarcely a minute to sit back and marvel at our extended bellies, Ali appeared in a flourish with menus offering us dessert. After deliberating about how we were going to explain that we were all too stuffed to eat another morsel, Ali announced that he would bring us a selection of all the items on the menu. These included watermelon, ice cream, apple strudel, and rich cakes. A tidal wave of panic washed over me - but Ali had vanished before I could react. Less than five minutes later, dessert descended to our collective gasps. Before us were large goblets of chocolate ice cream, three different cakes including black forest, chocolate mousse and lemon sorbet chocolate cake, and half a watermelon accompanied by the customary Bulgarian cheese. It all looked and smelled wonderful! And indeed it was!

"Between the Arches" is more than just a dairy restaurant. It is a unique dining experience! Despite its opulent and unusual interior and prime location, the prices are exceptionally reasonable. I definitely intend visiting it again. This time, I'll leave more room for the desserts!

"Between the Arches" Dairy Restaurant (Kosher Lemahadrin)
Open: 8:30-22:30 daily
Fridays: 8:30-13:30
Tel: (02) 627 7761
E-mail: tonys@netvision.net.il