This week I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the Inbal Hotel for a private tasting of Sofia Restaurant’s completely revamped menu, created by new executive chef Moti Buchbut. Having little idea of what to expect, I put on one of my foodie girl-about-town outfits and set out excitedly. Once there I met up with three of the hotel’s executives and four other food & culture bloggers, and we were led to a beautifully set round table with a view of the hotel’s gardens, where the bright flowers lent a pleasing accent to the subdued gray, silver and natural wood tones of the room. No detail is accidental in this five star establishment -- everything from the napkins to the floral arrangements indicates someone (or a team of someones) with a fine eye for cohesion and atmosphere has been there first.
Chef Moti, who looks exactly as you would expect -- a classically Sephardi-Israeli with a sweet smile but a manner that is all business -- greeted the table and explained that today’s tasting would be a demonstration of how the new menu was “still Italian but more right-now.” The first example was the homemade brioche with three different tapenades, in which the combination of sweet and savory was meant to arouse the appetite before the meal. The enormous brioche were unexpectedly light, just sweet enough, and went very well with all three spreads: black olive, green olive, and red pepper. Although I had needed little convincing, I could tell we were in capable hands.
The next course was the star of the menu: a tuna ceviche that was so beautiful it looked as though it had been arranged by a florist. Iridescent tuna dotted the plate along with radish, jewel-colored beets, sunflower sprouts, and fresh citrus. This dish tasted like summer and was accentuated with sea salt crystals and notes of white wine. All the things I love about food were present here, the use of local produce, simple preparation, flavors that are familiar yet surprising when combined, each ingredient distinct but complementary to the whole.... If I were to come back to Sofia, this would be my order.
After the ceviche came a couple of rather forgettable courses, which isn’t to say they were not tasty, just un-special. The first was a baked mushroom plate. Attractive, but unexciting, the mushrooms were filled with cheese and fresh herbs, each atop a bed of Swiss chard -- which, I will say, was cooked to bright green perfection. The next was a cream of broccoli soup with mushrooms and garlic crostini which, as another blogger pointed out, was something easily made at home. The presentation, though, did win my heart: it was served in a white mug and topped with a dollop of steamed milk, and anything reminiscent of a cup of coffee is a winner with me.
The next course (if you can believe the food was still coming), was linguine made by hand in-house, with a creamy herb sauce, snow peas and magda squash. The pasta had a great texture, just thick enough, and the sauce was not too heavy, allowing the flavors of the herbs to come through noticeably. I loved this dish, a great one to share with your dining companion along with a glass of crisp white wine.
Although pasta on top of pasta seemed a a little redundant, I was also happy to taste the canalone with spinach, Roquefort, mozzarella, bulgarian and french cheeses, served with coulis of red pepper and tomato, a bit of cream, and a small sunflower sprout salad. This plate was another example of the chef’s attention to elegance of composition, and when the hotel manager revealed that Chef Moti had first trained as a pastry chef it was evident that he had brought his pastry-eye for beauty and color to his plating style.
Sadly, it was time for me to leave as the tuna course was served, but I did manage to get a glimpse of a healthy portion of red tuna beside a delicate parmesan crisp. I understand there was a salmon dish as well and, though I don’t think I could have manged it, I was a little sad to miss out on dessert. From what I heard meringue, passion fruit, and berry coulis were involved...and that it was all quite delicious.
Thank you to the Inbal Hotel and to Chef Moti Buchbut. Your new menu is certainly recommendable, sophisticated, and does our beautiful city justice as a culinary hot spot.
(By Ariella Amshalem)
For more information and bookings, Inbal Hotel.
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