Tel Aviv is an indulgent city, and the Italian restaurant Rustico is
equally indulgent. It’s not a novice on the Italian cooking scene. It
boasts the degree of Hospitalita Italiana awarded by the Italian Chamber
of Commerce and the Association of Italian Chefs, which recognized the
restaurant’s preservation of Italian culinary tradition and is commended
as an authentic Italian institution.
Between December 20– 31,
Rustico will be celebrating the traditional Italian festival of Sagra
with a special menu highlighting Israel’s winter vegetables. The theme
menu coincides with the restaurant’s seventh anniversary on Rothschild
Boulevard and its fourth at its Basel Street location.
festival is an Italian tradition that takes place in small villages
throughout Italy to celebrate local ingredients at the peak of their
freshness. As Tel Aviv transitions into the chilly, rainy months of
winter, the Israeli harvest of pumpkin, butternut squash and tangerines
are the ingredients Rustico has chosen to incorporate.
atmosphere of the restaurant is true to the name, Italian rustic. The
sturdy wooden tables with wroughtiron legs are inspired by Italian
farming culture. Bottles of wine line the walls, set off by dim lighting
and warm candlelight. The cooking station behind the bar offers
transparency, and the food is made all the more appetizing while
watching the chefs prepare it.
The Sagra festival menu begins
with Rustico’s afritibo tangerine cocktail. It’s a fun drink made with
Vermouth, Campari, and fresh pieces of tangerine, making it sweet but
not overpowering. It’s a good pairing with the appetizers that have
rich, hearty flavors.
Soup, bruschetta and pizza are all
traditional warm Italian appetizers that Rustico builds on to emphasize
Israel’s fresh root vegetables. The pizza with butternut squash, buffalo
mozzarella and gorgonzola (NIS 58). is a comfort food dream. The cheese is so
creamy; that it lends itself more to a rich dip on top of the pizza
crust. The flavors are salty, and basil and chili give it a spicy bite.
butternut squash adds a meaty texture, but the dish still melts in your
mouth. Rustico’s thin crust is a good base for the flavors.
cream of pumpkin soup (NIS 33) is blended with chestnuts and porcini truffle oil
and a garnish of chopped cashews to add texture. The oil thins the soup
so it’s not too heavy. The woody flavor of the winter nuts balances the
A generous serving of bruschetta (NIS 43) is good for two
people. The bread is crisp on the outside and softened by the pesto
topping. A thick slice of pumpkin, goat cheese and warm tomato
complement each other but are bland when eaten separately.
on to the main course, Rustico offers a carafe of warm sangria glass (NIS37 /carafe NIS 69.) The
restaurant blended red wine, brandy and seasonal fruits. It’s a nice
transition from the light cocktail and lends itself to enjoying the more
robust main dishes. The pasta is a filling dish. Rigatoni is mixed in a
rich cream sauce with pieces of smoked bacon, cubes of butternut
squash, basil and pine nuts. It is traditional Italian hearty fare. The
pasta is a solid choice over the beef and fish fillet.
beef and fish fillet have positives on their plates, but they also have
negatives. The beef (NIS 119) was a nice size, cooked medium rare with fresh
ground pepper and salt. The cream sauce was nice enough, but the mashed
sweet potatoes and broccoli side added nothing to the dish. The fish (NIS 109), on
the other hand, was tasteless, but the pumpkin puree was very sweet.
The gratin potatoes served with the fish was not the traditional recipe
with cheese but had a fresh, natural taste. The skins of the potatoes
were left on and added a salty crunch to the soft inside.
is the course of natural progression. Keeping with the Sagra theme,
pumpkin is added to a traditional hot fruit crumble a la mode (NIS 37). It is a
winter dessert with warm baked fruit topped with a brown sugar and
Keeping with Italian tradition, tiramisu as an
equally decadent option. The dessert is as creamy and thick as ice
cream. There are no pretensions of minimalism; it’s a celebration of
flavors and the abundance of them.
The meal is capped with
traditional limoncello. The famed Italian alcohol is soft, sweet and not
overpowering. It gives a bite but is enjoyable, mostly to perk the
diner up after such a decadent meal.
A decision to dine at
Rustico is a conscious one. It fills the body with warm comfort food and
is a great way to find solace from dreary winter days.
The Sagra festival menu is available at Rustico’s two locations. The main menu is also available in addition to the specials.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
15 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv
42 Basel, Tel Aviv