A long tast­ing menu, but lit­tle dessert

The Washington Post - - MOVIES - BY CAITLIN MOORE caitlin.moore@wash­post.com

In the doc­u­men­tary “In Search of Is­raeli Cui­sine,” restau­ra­teur and chef Michael Solomonov trav­els from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem look­ing for what makes Is­raeli cook­ing unique. That’s not easy, even in a New Jer­sey-size na­tion less than a cen­tury old — and one that has only be­gun to get into foodie cul­ture dur­ing the last 30 or so years.

Solomonov jour­neys all across Is­rael, un­cov­er­ing a coun­try rich with its own in­gre­di­ents, but whose dishes are in­flu­enced by any num­ber of nearby coun­tries — such places as Ye­men, Spain and Turkey — where Is­raelis trav­eled dur­ing the eco­nomic boom of the 1980s.

Through the use of archival pho­to­graphs and in­ter­views with jour­nal­ists and chefs, Solomonov in­ves­ti­gates how a coun­try that once saw food as sim­ply util­i­tar­ian has turned into a des­ti­na­tion that at­tracts din­ers from around the world. He con­sumes fresh fish in one sea­side city and snacks on desert-grown fruit just a short drive away. He sits down to en­joy Mediter­ranean-in­flu­enced sal­ads, hum­mus and lamb in restau­rants run by Sephardic Jews but also sam­ples tra­di­tional noo­dle kugel with an Ashke­nazic cook.

Solomonov speaks with lo­cal farmers, vint­ners, chefs and kosher fam­i­lies on their home turf, and they pro­vide much of the color — though not much clar­ity. “So you’re Kur­dish and Turk­ish, born in Tel Aviv, and we’re do­ing a play off gefilte fish by us­ing white tuna. So this is Is­raeli cui­sine, right?” Solomonov asks Yaffo-Tel Aviv chef Haim Cohen. “I hope so,” Cohen replies. Th­ese in­ter­views show the wide range of tra­di­tions and back­grounds in Is­rael, such as the owner of a kosher win­ery who can’t touch his own prod­uct in the bar­rel and a Pales­tinian chef who laments that his restau­rant suf­fers ev­ery time there is a po­lit­i­cally fraught event.

But like the graphics that in­ter­mit­tently ap­pear as Solomonov trav­els (and which look like the first Google Im­age re­sult for “Is­rael map”), the doc­u­men­tary proves slightly un­der­whelm­ing. In a world of bom­bas­tic An­thony Bour­dains and Food Net­work shows, it’s hard to get ex­cited by a calm man like Solomonov who sim­ply closes his eyes and nods ev­ery time he tastes some­thing he likes — or gives a hug, if you’re lucky.

For Sol­monov, this film is more about the jour­ney than the des­ti­na­tion. For the au­di­ence, it can feel frus­trat­ing to be told that the an­swer is that there is no an­swer.

Un­rated. At Land­mark’s Bethesda Row Cin­ema. Con­tains noth­ing ob­jec­tion­able. 94 min­utes.

FLORENTINE FILM/SHER­MAN PIC­TURES

Haim Cohen, right, dis­cusses the in­flu­ences of his cook­ing at his restau­rant Yaffo Tel-Aviv, one of Michael Solomonov’s stops.

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