Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Notes from Tel Aviv: Lool

(Ed.: When not in lab, Middle East Bureau Chief Andrew continues his gastronomical escapades around Rehovot, Israel.  Today he shares with us his rather irreverent impressions of Lool, where he seems to have become a regular.)

Situated at the corner of Rehov Weizmann and Herzl is a cafe called Lool (לוּל).  One cannot help but wonder if the cafe was placed at that specific intersection, at the intersection of streets named after the two most famous champions of Zionism, as support for their visionary ideology.

Lool offers its patrons three choices of seating areas, equivalently considered as three degrees of protection from the unavoidable cigarette smoke.  You can sit outside on the sidewalk, where a light wind will make the air tolerable.  Or, if you're feeling indulgent, you can sit in the covered porch, where your health really depends on your proximity and wind conditions.  Finally, you can choose to sit inside the establishment, which is non-smoking but deprives you of part of the Lool experience.

One benefit to sitting outside is that you have a front-row seat to watch some spectacular driving maneuvers.  A handicapped parking spot across the street has its sign obscured by tree branches, and every few minutes someone will congratulate themselves for finding a parking spot so close to Herzl St. before realizing their blunder and backing out without looking.  In the absence of stimulating conversation, the schadenfreude is as refreshing as Lool's limonana—lemonade, served with mint leaves.  (Ed.: "nana" is Hebrew for "mint.")

Finally, no restaurant review worth its salt would forget to mention the food itself.  The menu is extensive, including homemade hummus and shakshouka; a variety of salads (pictured above), pastas, and sandwiches; a drink menu that takes up more than a page of small type; and even Yemenite cuisine such as mallawekh.  If the Yemeni people can overthrow a government as well as they can make a flaky pastry filled with egg, then I think we're about to see a new democracy in the Middle East.  Disclaimer: mallawekh is actually a staple of Yemenite Jews, not Arabs.

You can usually count on seeing something you missed the last time through the menu, and the present visit was no exception.  Pictured above is the "drink" sachlab, which is traditionally made from the flour of dried orchid tubers and best consumed with a spoon.  In Lool's case, they may just use cornflower, but after a long day at Weizmann, the substitution scarcely matters.   Sachlab is served hot and topped with cinnamon, peanuts, and coconut, and is somehow pudding-like in consistency.  It is quite delicious, and I recommend it to anybody who finds themselves stuck in central Israel.