Last week, my fiance and I were lucky enough to celebrate the two year anniversary of our first date. This year’s anniversary is especially special since it’s the last time we’ll be celebrating it. Come spring we’ll start celebrating our wedding anniversary each year! I know everyone says it, but I can’t believe how luck I am to have found him, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama of all places. Moving on from the cheesy stuff, in honor of our anniversary, we had a celebratory dinner at an upscale Asian fusion restaurant called Zepra.
I’d heard good things about Zepra before from a friend, and it didn’t disappoint. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the awesome decor. The restaurant has a modern vibe with an asian flair, complete with purple uplighting and a wall and ceiling woven out of wooden strips. It’s pretty dark in the restaurant – great mood lighting – so forgive the horrible quality of my food pictures! The place was busy but not packed, which surprised me since it was a Thursday night, but I guess that’s kind of the norm for restaurants not on the main streets of downtown Tel Aviv. The restaurant is known for its famous chef, Avi Conforti, who also started a highly successful chain of burger restaurants called Moses. The kitchen in Zepra is visible, and it’s always a cool experience to watch your dishes being created.
The menu is pretty substantial, and it’s arranged from smaller dishes to bigger dishes in categories like salads, starters, nigiri, dumplings, noodles, etc. The waiter recommended ordering one dish from each section, but there’s no way we would’ve been able to finish that amount of food. He also offered the option of asking us what kinds of foods we enjoy and building a dinner for us, but I’m a little too much of a control freak about my food for that.
For drinks I got an iced tea, hoping it would be similar to iced tea from the US (which I miss dearly). It wasn’t of course, but it was still good. It had an herbal/berry flavor and gorgeous purple color which was unique. It was sweetened which I don’t prefer in tea (worst Alabama resident ever), but I know a lot of people do. The fiance ordered the ginger daiquiri which I was excited to try since it’s sounds so different from the strawberry daiquiris I’m used to! It came out looking like a snow cone overflowing the glass, but the crushed ice at the top was just…ice. The drink itself was good, but he wound up with a cup full of crushed ice in the end after the liquid was gone. So, the drinks weren’t quite what we were expecting, but still good, and, undeterred, we went ahead and ordered.
We started with the Asian pickled vegetables, which were surprisingly tasty. Not that I didn’t expect them to be good, I just didn’t realize pickled vegetables could be that good. It was a mix of carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, and kohlrabi, topped with ginger and roasted sesame. We order pickled vegetables a lot, and these had the perfect mix of sweet and vinegary flavors, and they didn’t have that dry, squeaky feeling pickled vegetables can sometimes have.
Following the pickled vegetables we ordered something called Cha Zhu Re, which I can only describe as a combination of egg rolls and chicken lettuce wraps. The minced chicken and seasonings was wrapped in rice paper and fried, and we then wrapped that in lettuce and added basil, mint, and a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Really delicious, and the perfect amount for a starter. Also it came with edible flower petals which are always fun.
Next we got the Black Har Gaw dumplings, featuring shrimp, galangal (a plant in the ginger family for the plebes like myself who didn’t know), and shallots, all covered in a whipped soy fungus sauce. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, but I think these were my favorite part of the meal. The dish contained two dumplings, and the sauce was seriously amazing -frothy, but really rich and kind of buttery. It complemented the shrimp dumplings really well, even though I’ve never really thought of mixing shrimp and mushrooms. Or making anything called a “whipped fungus sauce.” I guess that’s why dishes like this should be left to the professionals. Even though I loved the dumplings, I’m glad we only had one each, because any more would have just been way too rich.
Finally, for the main course we got a stir fry and rice dish called Pad Karpau – chicken, chili, basil, lime, egg and rice. It was really good, the presentation with the egg on top was nice, and the portion size was great, maybe even a little too big. But I’ve had similar dishes at little dive Asian places that were just as good, so I can’t say that this one really blew me away. Maybe I was just spoiled by the dumplings.
All in all, we finished the meal very satisfied and very, very full. I’m glad we didn’t order something from each section of the menu, because the two of us wouldn’t have come close to finishing, so if that’s something you want to do, make sure to come with a very empty stomach and a big appetite. Zepra had a great looking dessert menu, but we were trying to save room for a friend’s birthday cake later in the night (and make it to the birthday party on time), so we had to forgo dessert.
My only real complaint about Zepra was about the service. Our waiter was kind of rude, and even the fiance noticed it, so I know it wasn’t just my American sensitivity. While he never said anything offensive outright, his demeanor was not what I would expect from a restaurant of that caliber.
That won’t keep us from returning to Zepra though! The menu had so many amazing options that I think we’ll definitely head back sometime to try some more. Honestly the atmosphere alone would bring me back – the interior is so well designed! The dishes are perfect for sharing, so it’s great for dates or a dinner with friends or family. They also have a delivery option, so if you’re ever looking for some fancy takeout, perhaps consider the Zepra takeout menu!