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A Destination Bat Mitzvah at the Ritz-Carlton Cancun

We were delighted to receive a lovely invitation to a friend’s Bat Mitzvah. This simcha indeed would be a very special treat when we realized that it was to be a destination event. The timing was perfect – right after Sukkot, when most everyone (including me!) is ready for a cooking break and a rest. So, Cancun – here we come!

Why Cancun? The young lady, our friend Rebecca, wanted to have something different to celebrate her special milestones… reaching her 12th birthday and becoming a Bat Mitzvah. She had previously been on a family trip to Cancun and stayed at the Ritz Carlton. She found it to be a happy, fun, beautiful and friendly spot. So Rebecca posed the possibility of a destination Bat Mitzvah to her parents.

After the family discussed the pros and cons (initially mostly cons) and assessed the feasibility of planning a meaningful Bat Mitzvah Shabbat and celebration in Cancun, Rebecca’s wish did become a reality. The challenges were substantial – the entire event had to be kosher; the guests had to have affordable accommodations and transportation; and the hotel had to have availability for the entire weekend. Because of her dad’s entrepreneurial “can do” attitude, and her mom’s detail-oriented skills and planning expertise, it came to be (and in my opinion, flawlessly)!

What a weekend of celebration! Services Friday night were held in a Mexican Palapa (think Gilligan’s Island) on the beach. The feel and sound of the strong winds, the sight of the sunset over the ocean, the white sand, and the stunning venue added a unique sense of serenity and certainly set the spiritual mood as we welcomed Shabbat. An Eruv had been put up around the space, thus allowing guests to carry outside on Shabbat, in what was otherwise a public domain. Following the service was a beautiful Shabbos dinner.

Services Saturday morning were followed by a delicious lunch; after sundown, the Havdalah service was performed and was followed by a gala outdoor reception Saturday evening.
A Torah was borrowed from the Cancun Chabad – arranged by Chabad Rabbi Mendel Druk, of the Cancun Jewish Center. Rabbi Druk assisted in the hiring of Benny Seren, a mashgiach (kashrut overseer) from Miami, and helped coordinate the kosher menu with the family and the hotel. The hotel had hosted a kosher Passover trip a few years previously, as well as several events for the local Chabad, but this was their first private kosher simcha weekend.

By the way, you many have heard of Rabbi Druk previously; he led the Chabad Hurricane Katrina search and rescue team and the Chabad relief effort after the Thailand Tsunami. Rabbi Adam Starr, an orthodox Rabbi from Atlanta coordinated services along with several other Atlanta community rabbis and lay leaders. With more than 90 guests attending, there was no problem forming a minyan. A highlight after services was Rebecca's  sharing her beautiful words of Torah, which she based on the learning she did with her Bat Mitzvah teacher.

The hotel made everyone feel welcome and comfortable. The Ritz management asked the family to explain the significance of a Bat Mitzvah, and the needs of a Sabbath observant Jew so they could educate the hotel staff and anticipate guest needs. The staff not only complied, but also did everything graciously, respectfully and with a smile. 

ritz copycat guacamoleAnd now to the food – it was plentiful, luscious and served according to the Ritz Carlton’s high standards. The family asked the Ritz Carlton Executive Chef Andreas Schatzschneider and Executive Sous Chef Rene Camelo to plan a menu which would include hotel specialties, while adhering to kosher and Shabbat laws regarding food preparation and appropriate ways to keep food warm. In lieu of typical Shabbat foods like brisket, kugel and cholent, the menus were infused with Mexican flavors, used locally caught fresh  fish, local fruits and vegetables, and kosher meats and poultry brought in from Mexico City.

Ritz Paella MobileMeals included Ritz Carlton specialties such as seared red snapper with tropical mango sauce, an array of ceviches, Veracruz style fish paella, skirt steak with chimichurri salsa, jerk style chicken, assorted, tasty salads, and of course, there was no shortage of guacamole. The food was spectacular!

To prepare kosher food, one of the hotel's kitchens was closed for several days prior to the event. Kashering started on Wednesday morning, and the kitchen had to be cleaned and unused for at least 24 hours. Kashering was performed by the mashgiach Benny Seren and a hotel team. Glass dishes, flatware and serving ware had to be kashered as well as appliances, ovens, sinks, counters, and outdoor grills (basically everything). Quite a job! Parve and meat foods were prepared in the kitchen, and much of the fish, meat and poultry were cooked on outdoors grills. Sunday breakfast, which was dairy, had to be prepared in separate fry pans set up in a dining area and served on disposables.

From a guest’s point of view, this was a dream weekend;  a treat for the body and soul. I enjoyed the company of the other guests, the spectacular beach, the luxury accommodations, and the serene Shabbos enhanced by the fabulous kosher food. We were honored and happy to celebrate a sensational simcha with longtime friends. What could be better?

If you wish to contact the Ritz Carlton Cancun to explore hosting a kosher event, contact Jodi Schwartz 561-487-2324; jodi.schwartz@ritzcarlton.com

Try these delicious recipes for the Ritz Carlton Cancun:
Guacamole – A Signature Dish of the Ritz Carlton, Cancun
Veracruz Style Fish Paella

 

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Warm, friendly, sumptuous, Hamish – a multi-course banquet for everyone. That is how I would describe the Shabbos lunch at The David Citadel Hotel, a Jerusalem landmark. The talented staff including the manager, the chef and the servers were outstanding.

David Citadel Buffet Mobile
The menu on the cold starter buffet was both extensive and varied… something for everyone. There were at least 25 types of salads, fish and sushi selections for starters. A highlight for our table of three was homemade chopped liver. By the time we were ready for the hot entrees, we were full. But, yes we continued to feast.

The hot buffet included a beef carving station, poultry and several types of meat specialties. There was a Middle Eastern inspired chicken, classic sliced tongue and several vegetable sides. A standout was the hotel’s signature cholent with kishka. Outstanding!

And then came dessert – actually many desserts! Lavish and luscious cookies, cakes, mousse, and fruit. By the way, Chef Avi Turgeman does not use any non-dairy creamer in his desserts. He makes his own creamy toppings and fillings from coconut milk. (Yes, we have requested a recipes to share!)

David Citadel Dining Room MobileSince we stayed in the area, we were able to walk to the David Citadel for lunch. For a real treat however, consider staying at the hotel over Shabbat. The rooms and public spaces are lovely; there are daily minyans in the hotel's beautiful Bais Medrash (synagogue and study hall). 

When visiting Israel, we suggest considering the experience of a hotel Shabbat lunch or dinner. We certainly enjoyed our lunch at the David Citadel, and highly recommend it. Several of the leading hotels in Jerusalem provide Shabbos dinner and lunch. Granted, these meals are a splurge, but worth it as a special treat. When in Israel, we suggest that you experience this at least once. The excellent service, and the variety and quality of the food at the David Citadel were superb. Keep in mind, reservations must be made and paid in advance.

Much appreciation to hotel manager Hadas Barak for her hospitality!

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Lechem Basar, known as "Meat and Eat" in English, is located in Jerusalem’s old train station. Both the restaurant and the center are bustling, fun, eclectic, “happening” venues -- especially at night. The décor and ambiance combine both the old and new in an updated setting of shops, bars and eateries.

We arrived at Lechem Basar very hungry, but certainly did not leave that way. The dinner was a feast; each entrée layered with aromatic Middle Eastern flavors and inspiration. Yes, confession here, we over-ate, but we enjoyed every bite. There were three of us, and we were served family style so that we could taste the restaurant’s many specialties. We certainly appreciated the warm hospitality of owner Rami Ran and restaurant manager Kfir Edri. They graciously arranged the tasting, and selected some of their most popular dishes. We invite you to join us virtually as we feature a memorable culinary experience...

Starters:
Panzanella salad
Layers of croutons, cherry tomatoes, radishes and onion- all in a citrus based dressing

Smoky Grilled Eggplant
Well charred eggplant seasoned with Israeli spices and served with oregano,
roasted tomatoes, tahini, pomegranate sauce and extra virgin olive oil

   Lechem basar foccacio E Mobile  
   Foccacia

Flat pastry with tomato sauce, beef ragout, roasted peppers and olives

   chicken salad Lechem Basar E Mobile  
       Spring Chicken Salad

Grilled chicken sautéed with onions, roasted tomatoes, garlic confit, green beans
topped withs spring greens

Entrées:
(Nope, we’re not nearly done yet!)

Lechem basar lamb pastry Mobile E
Lamb Sini’Ya
Lamb stew seasoned with middle eastern aromatics, pine nuts,
roasted peppers and tahini on a bed of roasted eggplant cream
and covered with a fresh pita pastry. This was a simply spectacular presentation

Succulent Grilled Spring Chicken Pargiot
This boneless chicken is served with a marinade of sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic confit

Entrecote Steak - An aged steak served with a side of chimichurri, and fries
Fresh pita bread and a lovely Gamla Merlot 2013 accompanied dinner.

Dessert was divine and chocolate, but I could only take 2 bites!
The Galaxy is a crispy chocolate ball with inside layers of Lotus Creme Anglais and crunchy crumble, enrobed in velvety chocolate, and drizzled with chocolate sauce. (Yes, all of the leftovers went in a doggie bag.)

For those that enjoy a Middle Eastern inspired meat dinner, generous portions and an informal contemporary atmosphere, add this to your Jerusalem restaurant list. The next time we go back to Lechem Basar, we’re going to try the burgers. The Buzz, shared with us by diners at the next table, "the burgers are delicious".  Lechem Basar has Mehadrin Kosher Certification.

 

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Eating Jerusalem texted

My husband and I were fortunate enough to visit Israel in late November. This trip was different than our previous ones. We were there to vacation, some R&R, and to visit our grandson who attended Yeshiva Mevaseret Tzion. There was nothing planned on our itinerary except to explore and enjoy Jerusalem.

And explore we did... from learning the ticket process for the sleek light rail, to understanding the bus schedules, to visiting some of Jerusalem’s many sites. From the neighborhoods to the Kotel, we walked and walked and walked. I was not wearing a Fit Bit or Apple watch, but it had to be thousands and thousands of steps daily. I unofficially named this trip “Eating and Drinking our way through Jerusalem”. Along with our grandson and sometimes his very willing friends, we enjoyed every bite! Israel’s kashrut is complicated, and the rabbinate is currently undergoing a controversy (so what’s new?) on varying types of kashrut certification. Some of the restaurants mentioned in this series of articles are certified Rabbanut Yerushalayim, which is not accepted by all; and some are Mehadrin Yerushalayim, a more widely accepted level of certification. I suggest that you call the restaurant, ask your rabbi or refer to the restaurant’s website for certification details- since certification changes quite often.

Shabbos Lunch at the David Citadel Hotel
Warm, friendly, sumptuous, Hamish – a multi-course banquet for everyone. That is how I would describe the Shabbos lunch at The David Citadel Hotel, a Jerusalem landmark. The talented staff, including the manager, the chef and the servers, were outstanding. Read more about Shabbos Lunch at the David Citadel. . .

Piccolino
Piccolino exceeded our expectations in taste, presentation and service. There were smiles all around when we entered, and friendly, efficient, accommodating service through the superb dinner. And what a dinner it was! Read more about Piccolino. . .

Lechem Basar - Meat and Eat
Lechem Basar, known as "Meat and Eat" in English, is located in Jerusalem’s old train station. Both the restaurant and the center are bustling, fun, eclectic, “happening” venues -- especially at night. The décor and ambiance combine both the old and new in an updated setting of shops, bars and eateries. Read more about Lechem Basar . . .

 

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Piccolino exceeded our expectations in taste, presentation and service. There were smiles all around when we entered, and friendly, efficient, accommodating service through the superb dinner. And what a dinner it was!

Picollino Mobile 

 

Smoked Salmon lox

We were delighted to be hosted by Piccolino owner Nava Bibi along with her family. Nava is a legend in Israel’s professional food community. Her experience spans 30 years in the hotel business, including managing the King David Hotel, and then creating a popular restaurant in the Ticho house, hotel and museum. When the hotel announced its closing, she relocated the restaurant to a historical neighborhood near Zion Square. Her vision for Piccolino was to present simple authentic Italian food, served indoors, in a lovely dining room, and also outdoors in a spacious courtyard. Each day at lunch and dinner, musicians playing live soft music add to the courtyard ambiance.

Gnocchi MobileWe discovered that the name Piccolino comes from an Italian song titled “Poppa Piccolino”, which is about a poor, but happy Italian street musician who sang and played his concertina throughout Italy. All loved him. Nava chose the name because the restaurant’s mission is to combine food and joy. Nava says: “When we established Piccolino, we had in mind a warm Jerusalem atmosphere, family-oriented with generous, joyful and courteous service. In our opinion, she has achieved her dream. Our dinner at Piccolino was one of our best meals, ever!

For those who would like to eat along virtually with us we present the mouthwatering menu. (Or even better, visit the restaurant!)

The menu was prepared by talented Chef Avdiel Moshe. His emphasis on fresh ingredients was evident. The menu included: Gravlax; Focaccia with roasted pepper and goat cheese; Seared Tuna tartare on a bed of green bean and vegetable salad with an olive oil lemon dressing; Focaccia with cheese and peppers; Homemade Gnocchi, Arancini - Risotto rice balls with mushroom and mascarpone filling;

Risotto Rice Balls Mobile

Fresh fillet of drumfish; and my favorite-Artichoke ravioli served with a sauce of olive oil, garlic, herbs and artichokes a alla romano.

Dessert was an assortment of the restaurant’s specialties including lotus cake and tiramisu. Fabulous!
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and accommodates private parties. Mehadrin kosher certification.

 

    Picollino desserts   Tuna tartar Mobile Terramiso Mobile
    Picclino Desserts   Tuna Tartar  Tiramisu
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