Matzo Ball Soup, Combination Salad, Sambusak
Occupation: Social Worker
Favorite Restaurant: Holy Land
Reviewed Holy Land: Friday July 13, 2007
This is one of our favorite restaurants in the Grand Lake area. We live in the neighborhood (and love it!) and can walk to the restaurant, so parking is never an issue for us. We love this restaurant for many reasons: the convenience of location, the food, the service, and the ability to sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous Oakland weather.
When we visited the restaurant this time, nearly all of the tables were filled (inside and out) and there was a line of people waiting to order. That being said, we ordered quickly, and our food came out in a very timely manner, which is standard for Holy Land. Knowing that I would be reviewing for Check, Please! Bay Area, I ordered more than I normally would, which resulted in some leftovers. We had the fried cauliflower that came served warm with tehini. It was very good, although I wished the outside was a bit more crispy. The grilled corn-on-the cob was OK, a bit overdone for my tastes. A standard order for us is the matzo ball soup which is filled with noodles, bits of veggies, and a gigantic matzo ball. This is a favorite of my husband and 15-month-old daughter. It is consistently good and light, even for a hot summer day. One of my favorites is the Combination Salad that has a bit of everything: carrot salad, beet salad, eggplant and peppers, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, lentils and chickpeas, and the ubiquitous hummus. All of this is served with fluffy pita bread. The salads were nicely balanced; never too much vinegar or lemon juice to overpower them. The hummus and baba ganoush were light, creamy, and incredibly flavorful, which is oftentimes a delicate balance to establish. My daughter loves the hummus and baba ganoush and inevitably ends up covering herself and the high chair with it! The best part of Holy Land Restaurant is the Holy Land Lemonade. It is freshly made (you can hear the blender going all the time) with mint, ice, sugar, and bits of lemon pulp and peel. Most of the “lemonade” that you get in restaurants is overly sugared and an ungodly shade of yellow. I grew up with a lemon tree in my yard (and have one again as an adult) and I am a master lemonade maker. Consequently I am extremely picky with lemonade. Holy Land Lemonade is the only one I’ve discovered at a restaurant that rivals (maybe surpasses?) my own.
One doesn’t go to Holy Land for the restaurant décor, which is sparse. It is decorated a few awards, artifacts, with the standout being a mural above the staircase. That being said, one of my favorite signs in the restaurant reads: “This is a kitchen, not a restaurant,” which I think really describes the vibe of the place. Miri, the owner, will always offer you the fresh soup (or soups) of the day and encourage you to try new things. She remembers her customers and clearly has formed relationships with them. The service is good, and the food is better; it has the comfort of home cooking.
I highly recommend this restaurant for quality of the food and the availability to sit outside. Sometimes not all menu items are available for that day, but for a small restaurant, their menu is fairly extensive. Not to mention that often they will have things that are not on the menu that are seasonal (like the cauliflower and corn). The price is right (not cheap, but not expensive) and the service is good. I especially appreciate that this is a kid-friendly restaurant (Miri has crayons and coloring books out and available to kids of all ages). We will continue to come to this restaurant, whether we live in Grand Lake or not.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sodini’s Bertolucci’s Ristorante
Reviewed Holy Land: Sunday July 15, 2007
The Holy Land is a holy-in-the-wall restaurant. Don’t wear a tux to this place, but do bring your appetite! The restaurant is a small storefront carved into a side street in Oakland. I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t eat in Oakland.” Well, you might change your mind for this place. I am not, by any means, an expert or even a novice when it comes to Kosher cooking or meals. However, I do know that the items I ate with my family at the Holy Land Restaurant were fresh, tasty, delicious and did I mention? Cheap! This place is great.
Our journey started in San Francisco, where we had to cross the dreaded bridge to get overseas to Oakland, something I just don’t do, especially on a Sunday. We wanted to eat here on Saturday, but the place is closed due to the Sabbath, go figure. The Google map got us lost, not my driving, but we eventually found our way. Parking is on the street, which on a Sunday afternoon in this area of Oakland, was tough. We arrived at this small, cute oasis that had a few outside tables. The very plain, unadorned interior was spartan. By the way, they do have coloring books and crayons for kids.
You must walk up and place your order at the counter. The woman at the counter was helpful in pointing out the various items by name that were displayed in and on top of the deli case. I didn’t really know what I ordered, it just sounded good. The busboy and the woman behind the counter served us. They brought out a homemade lemonade that had sprigs of fresh mint in it that my wife enjoyed. We started with a homemade hot latke (fried potato hash) with apple sauce: delicious. We then got a sambusak (this sort of looks like an enchilada, but is served cold) that was filled with spinach and potato, and covered in a light sauce: it was excellent. The malawach arrived with the Hummus Grand Combo, wow! Only fresh ingredients and pure flavor! We used the Malawach (fried Yemeni flatbread) to scoop up the hummus, salad, and chicken shwarma from our combo platter. I was pleasantly surprised at the outstanding flavors of all the items we tried. We ended the meal with an Israeli coffee (black and strong) and a baklava, very sweet.
The Holy Land is worth a trip overseas. All of the ingredients are fresh and flavorful. I do not know how authentic these dishes are, but they are outstanding. I even saw the neighborhood beat cop eat his lunch there, always a good sign. The Holy Land has great bang-for-the-buck — we paid a little over ten bucks a head! I highly recommend this restaurant and would return to try more items on the menu.
Occupation: In-House Council for Steamship Company
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: B44 Catalan Bistro
Reviewed Holy Land: Tuesday July 17, 2007
Holy Land Restaurant is a grand and promising name for what is really a little sandwich and falafel shop behind the Grand Lake Theater in the Grand-Lakeshore district of Oakland. The restaurant is a bit rundown, and is more suited to take-out than sit-down dinners.
Although the restaurant has seating indoors and outside on the sidewalk, seating is limited, and the restaurant is not set up or staffed to provide proper table service. Our party of six, including two young teens, pretty much overwhelmed the restaurant’s indoor seating section.
Orders for food are placed at the counter. Service, such as it was, was abrupt if not indifferent. We were disappointed that several of the menu items we tried to order were not available. There was no lamb, for example, and no rice pudding. This almost became a running joke, as our available dinner choices were narrowed progressively by the shaking head behind the counter.
The food was also uneven. The pita bread sandwiches were good, but not spectacular. The grilled chicken was nicely marinated and properly cooked. The falafels were inconsistent. One person in our party had excellent falafels, another’s falafels were overcooked and soggy. The sambusak, served with a spicy sauce, was very good. The baklava was ordinary.
On the bright side, the prices are certainly reasonable. This would be a good choice for a quick take-out sandwich if you were in the mood for Middle Eastern cooking and happened to be in the neighborhood. However, I wouldn’t drive out of my way to visit this Holy Land.