To many, Israeli cuisine comes down to hummus, pita, and falafel. Minneapolis chef Jordan Swiler is doing his best to dispel that notion while elevating it to a fine-dining level.
Swiler, the executive chef at the Loring Park restaurant Café Lurcat, is featuring Israel on the restaurant’s rotating Voyage menu. It’s been on the menu since for a couple months and will be wrapping up around early September.
“I was really excited about the Voyage menu because I could do any cuisine we wanted,” Swiler said. “I went to Alexander Muss High School in Israel and went to Temple Israel my whole life. We have such a great Jewish community here, I thought [the menu] would crush it. We’ve had such a great response.”
There are seven dishes on the Voyage Israel menu, ranging from the traditional to modern. Swiler’s take on the falafel, he says, is more in the modern category.
“The falafel dish is something I worked on a long time ago,” he said. “I got the actual mix so it’s bright green. On the menu, it’s an inspiration of colors. We cure the salmon it’s cured with beets and gin. It’s purple and orange and green. It’s very beautiful.”
The other appetizer is the shakshuka, which is very traditional, except for one, small addition: shrimp.
“You make food how you want to eat it,” he said. “It’s not kosher, but we can accommodate (if you don’t want it). It’s not mixed in; I add it on pick up. Shakshuka was a no-brainer. It’s a built-in breakfast when I get to the restaurant if I want it.”
Swiler’s approach to creating the menu came from Israeli ingredients or techniques. The halibut, one of the three main courses, isn’t ultra-Israeli, he said.
“The halibut has a tahini remoulade. There are things you’d recognize, but really, it’s a play on fish and chips,” he said. “With pickled potatoes and the tahini remoulade, which is basically a tahini tartar sauce.”
The chicken shawarma was the first dish Swiler made for the menu and instantly transported him back to his time in Israel. He said he wrote the recipe on a piece of notebook paper, handed the spice rub to one of his cooks, and it’s exactly the recipe that ended up on the menu.
“It wasn’t trial and error; it was just trial. That was the flavor profile I wanted. That doesn’t happen often,” he said. “It was just like living in Hod HaSharon when I was going to school there.”
“People are asking for mint with lamb all the time so I figured we’d give the people what they want,” he said. “But the lamb dish came about because someone had dropped me off a bottle of pomegranate molasses out of nowhere. It’s a sauce for the dish and it’s very simple. At Lurcat I try to do 7-to-10 ingredients really well and try not to hide the food with gimmicks or things like that. It’s stuff I want to eat, but know Lurcat’s style and what the guest wants to eat.”
This is the third Voyages menu that Swiler has overseen at Lurcat. The first was Low Country and the second was modern Indian. The Israeli food has proven to be very successful.
“Our sea bass is king here, and our new salmon dish is awesome. Those are dishes that if I took off there’d be [angry] letters,” he said. “But the stuff we’ve been putting on is great. People are digging it.”