A JAUNT IN JAFFA
from Travel + Leisure, July 1991

 
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Four-thousand-year-old Jaffa is part of 82-year-old Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city and chief center of commerce and entertainment. The Tayelet (promenade), stretching along the Mediterranean shore from Jaffa to the heart of Tel Aviv, has been developed in recent years into a walkway of patterned paving stones, flanked with flower gardens, cafés, restaurants and sitting areas, all leading to an excellent beach. In this respect Tel Aviv mimics Rio de Janeiro, a city that’s also a seaside resort. Old Jaffa, restored in the 1970s, is alive, especially at night with restaurants, galleries, boutiques and crowds—and is only occasionally a little precious.

 

Visitors to Jaffa are unlikely to see any of the damage caused by the Iraqi Scud missiles that slammed into Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. Most missile damage was in residential neighborhoods, wreaking substantial havoc but mercifully causing little injury. Since then, life in Israel has returned to normal.

 

GETTING THERE: Daily flights operate from the United States to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, a 20-minute cab ride from Tel Aviv’s center or from Jaffa. El Al Israel Airlines flies from Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Miami, and runs daily nonstops from New York (except Friday night and Jewish holidays). Trans World Airlines also has daily flights to Tel Aviv via Paris (nonstop on Friday), and Pan American flies daily except Tuesday and Sunday, also via Paris. Tower Air makes five nonstop flights a week from New York to Tel Aviv.

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At Jaffa's flea market: Baubles, old and new, and a wealth of other bric-a-brac

GETTING AROUND: A taxi from the airport into Tel Aviv costs around $16. Cabs abound in Tel Aviv. The ride into Jaffa costs $3-$4. Most visitors take cabs, walk the shortfront Tayelet or hop a bus. A pleasure alternative is the Hofit boat, which runs from Tel Aviv’s marina to Jaffa’s port. The fare is $2.50; telephone 817187 for schedules.

WHERE TO STAY: There are no hotels in Jaffa itself, although Tel Aviv’s hotel strip is just five minutes away by cab—or a 20-minute walk. Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel (90 Hayarkon St.; telephone 212-752-6120; in Israel 972-3-524-1111; fax 972-3-524-9755), the city’s first luxury hotel, opened in 1954. Almost 40 years later, its ocean façade geometrically and somewhat garishly daubed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, the Dan is once again Tel Aviv’s top hotel. Doubles run from $190 to $225, the latter for rooms in the more desirable King David wing overlooking the Tayelet (fifth floor suites have big sea-view terraces). Room rates include a lavish breakfast buffet. The beachfront Sheraton Tel Aviv (overlooking the Tayelet) and the Tel Aviv Hilton (in Independence Park) are excellent too. All rooms of the Hilton have views of the Mediterranean. Doubles at the Sheraton (115 Hayarkon St.; 800-325-3525; in Israel 972-3-528-6222; fax 972-3-528-0805) cost $165-$185 without breakfast; at the Hilton (Independence Park; 800-445-8667; in Israel 972-3-520-2222; fax 972-3-527-2711), $215-$230, also without breakfast. A little off the regular tourist beat and closer to Jaffa, is the Dan Panorama (10 Kaufman St.; 972-3-519-0190; fax 972-3-658-599). Convenient to Tel Aviv’s World Trade Center, the Dan Panorama isn’t as fancy as the other Dan, its corporate sister, but it’s a brisk 10-minute walk along the Tayelet from Jaffa. Doubles here cost $199-$131, including breakfast.

WHERE TO EAT: Almost all Israeli hotel dining rooms are kosher. Most Israeli restaurants, however, are not—and, particularly in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, shellfish and port are readily available. Jaffa abounds with restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall havens for couscous of falafel to trendier spots serving freshly caught Mediterranean seafood. As you sit down at Sukka Levana (72 Kedem St.; 830044), you’re immediately served large quantities of excellent Middle Eastern hors d’œuvres (some spicy, others mild; the fragrantly fried eggplant slices are sublime), followed by fish, shrimp or calamari. Tables are indoors or (better) on a patio, where some of Tel Aviv’s glitterati dine beneath spotlit palm trees. There are no menus. Dinner for two runs $55-$65 without wine. Less well-known Abu Nassar (130 Kedem St.; 875539) specializes in Arab dishes: meze appetizers, grilled lamb chops, kabobs and shashlik. Dinner for two costs about $50 without wine. Both Sukka Levana (which means White Pergola) and Abu Nassar are near the beach, south of Old Jaffa. In the heart of Old Jaffa’s Kedumim Square, try Yamit (16 Kedumim Squarel 825353; $50) for seafood, including grouper, Sant Peter’s fish (from the Sea of Galilee) and shellfish, or, an old favorite Toutoun (1 Mazal Dagim St.; $45-$65; 820693), a Moroccan-French restaurant with haute cuisine and some pretensions. Down at the wharf of Jaffa’s ancient port are a series of restaurants whose tables and chairs are arranged adkacent to boats, fishing nets and piles of ropes, including Benni Hadayag, which means Benny the Fishman (Hangar No. 4; 813894; $60), where the appetizers and dishes of grilled shellfish are excellent.

 

Since you’re staying in Tel Aviv, note that two of Israel’s finest restaurants are not in Jaffa at all, but nearby in Tel Aviv. Keren (located so close to Jaffa that its address is 12 Eilat St., Jaffa-Tel Aviv; 816565; $75-$100) is set in a magnificently restored turn-of-the-century house, once part of Jaffa’s American Colony, a hostel for American Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Opened in the fall of 1990, it has elegant, understated pastel surroundings. Dine upstairs in the main dining room or on its veranda overlooking the floodlit American Colony. Start with mushrooms cappuccino or foie gras salad, then move on to sea bass in Pernod sauce of foie gras and red mullet in red wine. To try Israel’s most surprising gastronomic treat, head for Avazzi (54 Etzel St.; 379918), in Tel Aviv’s working-class neighborhood of Schunat Hatikvah. This is where Tel Avivians come in droves to sample Israel’s spectacular foie gras—barbecued simply on skewers and served with French fries. Much of France’s foie gras is made from livers of Israeli geese—and at Avazzi you may sample this delicacy deliciously and inexpensively: One skewer of barbecued foie gras (few diners can eat more than one) costs $7.50, so dinner rarely exceeds $20 a person. Avazzi (translation: Goosey) is not ornate (wooden tables, paper napkins), it’s kosher and it’s not to be missed.

 

WHERE TO SHOP: Stores in Old Jaffa close late Friday afternoon for the Sabbath, but are otherwise open until 11 P.M. At the Shuk Ha Pishpeshim (flea market), open daily except Saturday in the heart of the town (behind Old Jaffa), bargain hunters find a gamut of goods, from old ropes, bath plugs, used shoes and rickety chairs to near-Tiffany lamps, copper and brass antiques, Damascene boxes and a wealth of bric-a-brac. Few tourists come here, and bargaining is in order. Counter with one third of the offering price and, after haggling, you and the shop owner will probably agree to meet halfway. In tourist-oriented Old Jaffa, visit Rachel Gera’s jewelry gallery (9 Mazal Dagim St.; 813269), where eccentric, often oversize rings, bracelets and necklaces are fashioned from sterling silver, gold and, an Israeli specialty, pieces of excavated Roman glass. The Richter Gallery (24 Simtat Mazal Arie; 825842) has a fine collection of prints, oils, ceramics and glass—perhaps Jaffa’s most imaginative. Frank Meisler’s gallery (25 Simtat Mazal Arie; 824098) displays the artist’s pewter, silver and gold-plated sculptures. And at Didya Antiques (15 Mazal Dagin St.; 826169) you’ll find 1920s flapper dresses, early Zionist souvenirs and such pre-World War II campy “Palestiniana” as art deco Hebrew posters and modern cigarette boxes.

A view of ancient flood-lit roofs enhances late-night drinks on a Jaffa pub's balcony

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TO SEE AND DO: Just walking through Old Jaffa, especially in the evenings, is a treat. A visit to the Antiquities Museum of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (10 Mirafratz Shlomo St.; 825375; admission $1.50), located in the heart of Old Jaffa and specializing in the port’s archeology, is fascinating; its 4,000 years of artifacts are labeled in English and in Hebrew. Jaffa’s Arms Museum (35 Batei Haosef; 652913) has an intriguing display of antique guns and assorted military hardware. For some visitors, a highlight of Old Jaffa at night is the Omar Khayyam nightclub (5 Metiv Hamazalot; 827800), where owner-performer Yoel Sharr, a singer and comedian best described as Israel’s Don Rickles, gives nightly shows—often off-color, caustic and to some, charmingly disparaging. Since the barbs are tossed around in both Hebrew and English, Americans face no language barrier.

PLAYING IT SAFE: At press time, the U.S. Department of State was advising Americans not to travel to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem—but it offered no advisories regarding Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

 

Still, most first-time visitors to Israel are startled by the number of soldiers everywhere. In Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the soldiers are not on patrol—just strolling, shopping, relaxing, going about their daily business, often in civvies with an Uzi slung over a shoulder. After a day or so though, tourists seldom look twice. A second surprise is the vast numbers of people everywhere speaking Russian; Soviet Jews are flocking to Israel, and Russian speakers and signs abound.

 

It’s safe to drink the water throughout Israel and street food is general okay—but cast the same critical eye you would in the United States: Is a food stand looks unappealing, pass it by. When you book a restaurant table more than 24 hours in advance, it is wise to reconfirm on the appointed day. If you dine outside Tel Aviv or Old Jaffa, ask the restaurant to call a cab for your ride home: There are no cruising taxis at Jaffa’s port or south of Old Jaffa. A 10-15 percent service charge is almost always added to your restaurant check; leave a shekel or two extra but don’t fall into the common trap of adding yet another tip in the empty gratuity box on the credit card slip. If you’re recent a car, the easiest and safest parking is in Old Jaffa; there is a $2.50 admission fee per car, which also includes parking.

 

Finally, be sure to change all your shekels back to U.S. currency before leaving Israel. They cannot be converted legally into other currencies outside the country anywhere in the world.