For a city that hugs the beach, Tel Aviv has been weirdly short on places to enjoy a beachfront meal. For the longest time the only attractive option was Manta Ray, a lively, welcoming bistro serving a Mediterranean menu. But with the addition of Cassis, the options both double and expand: The new restaurant stands not only on the beach but feels entirely of it. While Manta Ray is a bustling, indoor haven with killer views Cassis exists mostly out of doors, on a stone plaza a couple of feet above the city’s only natural bay. When the shore breeze rises and the mid-afternoon sun explodes off the waves – turquoise down that way — it’s hard not to feel you’re somehow in the sky yourself.
“I’m trying to do the right thing for the right place,” says Ayalet Perry, the chef proprietor. “It’s very … light. But light ‘upgraded’.’’ She opened the restaurant with her husband, Nir, last summer, taking the southern corner of the complex at Givat Aliyah Beach, as Israelis call the neighborhood that was Jabaliya when Jaffa (which the Israelis call Yafo and attached to Tel Aviv) was still Arab. The feeling is of a wild coast, yet it’s only 12 minutes from downtown.
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The shore bends into a bay here – rare in Tel Aviv, where breakwaters and geography keep the beaches straight. Coral shoals gird the waves on both ends of the public beach, but at its center the rollers crash just below the steps of Cassis, anchoring a stone arcade where, in a sadder world, the authorities would have seen fit to install a falafel stand. Instead, there’s shrimp pastis, grilled artichoke salad, branzino fillet and paella. The menu follows the motto etched in the glass over the open kitchen: “Taste the Sea.” The first sign you’ve come upon a find is the fried calamari, coated in grated Arborio rice and tender as the sun. The small plates, at the shekel equivalent of $6 to $8, are lovely: white bean salad, roasted beets in fennel, walnuts and yogurt, a whitefish ceviche. “It’s very simple,” says Ayalet, “but simple and right.” The Mexican breakfast is the real deal. The couple spent more than a decade in California (where they still run a catering company in Silicon Valley). The sensibility lifts the entire menu.
Until the ancient port at Jaffa was turned into an upscale touring destination last summer, not many Tel Avivians ventured this far south. Gentrification is changing that – as is a splendid pedestrian promenade that invites a stroll beyond the revived port, sea on one side, rolling hills of park to the other, both sides summoning the sense of something epic. Every week, people venture a bit further down the path, just now extended to Givat Aliya beach. They’ll be really happy with what’s waiting there.
Cassis; tel: (972-3) 575-3745 (no website)