As Eltana fans are always reminding Eltana detractors (if there isn't disagreement surrounding boiled dough, it ceases to be a bagel), it's critical to adopt a Montreal mentality when assessing the Capitol Hill bakery's output. Most Americans are accustomed to a bready, salty New York bagel - but that's not the kind of bagel that Eltana makes. Eltana specializes in the sweeter, smaller, firmer bagel that would have been familiar to Mordecai Richler's characters.
But you know what? Canadian, Schamadian. Eltana is as much a product of an eastern Mediterranean mindset as it is an homage to far northern bagel traditions. What's the restaurant's longstanding refusal to serve lox if not evidence of its sabra toughness? And the best dishes on Eltana's menu are underlined and highlighted by the Yemenite, Turkish, Lebanese and Tunisian flavors that define contemporary Israeli cuisine.
Take the frankly fabulous abulafia, which staffers will offer to heat and fold for you, although those accommodations aren't strictly necessary. The breakfasty version of laffa -- the stretchy, floppy flatbread sold on Israeli street corners - is topped with sweet, caramelized onions and a broken egg, roasted until its yolk turns creamy. But the dish's most recognizably Middle-Eastern component is its salty, brick-red seasoning: Much like a mound of tahini, the bread's graced with crushed Aleppo pepper, chili powder, cumin and dried fenugreek. It tastes a long way from Canada.