24 Hours Eating, Drinking, and Being Merry in Tel Aviv

With only a couple days in Tel Aviv, I barely scratched the surface of what this 100-year-old Israeli city has to offer. From innovative chefs meshing Israeli food with worldly flavors, wine bars that feature the country’s vino, more types of hummus than you could imagine, and a whole culture of craft beer, there is enough culinary happenings going on in this city to warrant it a food-focused destination, among other things. And, in just 24 hours I ate, drank, and partied plenty in this fabulous city.

8am: Each day starts with an Israeli-style breakfast, which includes anything you could imagine from fresh pastries, three kinds of yogurt with dozens of fruits, grains, and nuts to put on top it, various cheeses, boiled eggs, you name it. I indulged in the Dan Panorama’s complimentary breakfast buffet before heading out into the city, full, yet hungry for more.

11am: Heading to Old Jaffa City is a surefire way to savor some art and culture. I found a truly tasty display at the Ilana Goor Museum, which showcases the sculptor and industrial designer’s The Morning After, a long table laden with bronze insects and scavengers feasting on the leftovers of Jesus’ last supper.

2pm: Somehow looking at all the bronze bugs and ravens made me hungry again, and in Israel I found lunch is best taken at a small shop. I headed though the Carmel open-air market, past the fruit, spice, vegetable, and sweet stands, and onto a tiny street where the Israeli-Yemen eatery Erez resides. There, it’s impossible not to eat too much of their Yemini bread and pita—especially when paired with some of the best hummus I have ever had.

5pm: Next, for a taste of Israeli wine, I wandered into HaTachana, the old Jaffa train station, where now no trains go, but instead they have dozens of high-end shops. Skipping those, I headed into the welcoming arms of Vicky Cristina, a tapas and wine bar nestled into the back of the station. With two buildings—one made of glass and full of high-top tables, and the other more of a private sit down space—this modern bar marries old and new world design in comfortable way. In the center of the resturant, they have an outside bar built around large trees. It was there I sat under a heat lamp and tried their selection of Israeli wines, including the heavenly 2010 Galil Mountain Ela.

8pm: Situated along the Mediterranean Sea, Boya, or “Life,” brings a bit of Italian to the plate with their thin-crust pizzas, whole sea bream with scorched tomato, and squid ink linguini with seafood. They also makes Middle Eastern dishes that get an international kick, like the fried cauliflower with chili sauce, the stone-baked mushroom melody with balsamic and parmesan, and on Thursdays they make dim sum.

11pm: Brown, one of the new boutique hotels that have popped up in Tel Aviv, just opened a new downstairs bar featuring a 1970s vibe and a list of classic cocktails with a innovative twist. I stopped in and indulged in an Air Negroni, which becomes light and fluffy with the addition of egg white, and tried their Burnt Orange Manhattan. The backyard is decked out in couches, chairs, and heat lamps, because yes, even if it rarely gets to freezing temperatures there, the winter is still cold.

1am: In Israel most people have Friday and Saturdays off, so that means their Saturday is like our Sunday. Even so, we hit up OCD and found the club packed with Goldstar Lager-swilling, pop-tune dancing Israelis. After that, it was back to the hotel to rest and start the cycle all over again the next day.

Israel Celebrates Record-Setting Year

Mazel tov! Israel has truly proven travelers are no longer being deterred by sensationalized media by hitting a record-setting 1.6 million tourists in the first half of 2010. This is a whopping 39 percent increase over the same period in 2009 and 10 percent above 2008, Israel’s previous record year for tourism. Oren Drori of Tourism Ministry for Israel says now there’s a wide gap between Israel’s political image and the reality on the ground.

Several factors contribute to Israel’s tourism boom, including better aviation policies that allow more airlines to land in the country and a growing evangelical market – three-fourth of all visitors to Israel are non-Jewish. Those rich-ass Russians seem to be coming in droves as well, thanks to Israel lifting a visa restriction on the country two years ago.

Israel, as you know, is not only chock full of historic attractions, but home to a moving art culture and terrific cuisine to boot. Tel Aviv, one of the more visited cities, is popular for its thriving nightlife scene and was recently voted as the third Best City in Africa and the Middle East by Travel + Leisure magazine; Jerusalem topped the list at number 1. Israel is about the size of New Jersey, so traveling from sight to city to resort within the country is quite streamlined—there’s no need to puddlejump.

H & M Causes Hysteria In Tel Aviv & Toulouse (Not LA)

A friend living in Tel Aviv just sent me video of the opening of H&M’s first Israeli outpost. A description of the scene this morning reads as follows: “at 11 A.M. the doors opened and the crowd stormed into the 2,000-square meter store on the mall’s third floor, pushing and trampling anyone and anything in its way, grabbing whatever it could before nothing would remain.” Apparently 1,000 or so eager shoppers took to the freshly debuted shop’s racks today with a no holds barred approach. And Tel Aviv’s not the only global capital that saw a stampede run through its local H&M this week.

The same thing happened in Toulouse, France on Saturday, when Sonia Rykiel’s second installation of her line for the retailer debuted. Grazia has footage of the mania here. In both cases women appear to be consuming so crazily you’d think a real life Johnny Depp comes with every purchase.

What’s amazing is not only the determination and frenzy of these shoppers, but the fact that at the same time, halfway around the globe, Sonia Rykiel’s designs are sitting relatively untouched in an H & M in Los Angeles. RackedLA described the latter as indicative of LA’s “indifference” to Rykiel, a bona fide French institution. It’s just another reminder that all of the fuss is most definitely subjective.

Street Art Show @ Henry Settlement

Sure, street art, like every other mode of expression, has become overdone and passé on the streets of New York, but there’s something alluring about the rebellion of “Visual Slang 2008: The Modern Urban Imagination,” a show featuring graffiti from Tehran and Tel Aviv. Credited with introducing modern graffiti to the Islamic world, Iranian artist A1one has eight works in the exhibition, including a piece that captures the state of mind that typically follows the consumption of a McGriddle. And if rage is central to Iranian street art, Israeli graffiti finds its niche in caustic satire, represented by artists like Ame72 and Zero Cents. While the street art is greener in war-torn nations, any graffiti exhibition would be incomplete without work from NYC — and to that end, the work of six artists do the city justice. The show opens tonight at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side.