(photo credit: PR)
I don’t know how many times in the 1past 25 years I must have walked past Cielo – at the foot of Hillel Street in downtown Jerusalem – promising myself that I would stop in one day.
Fortunately, that day finally came, rewarding me for keeping my word.
It’s easy to see why Cielo is so inviting: It is intimate – only seven tables – but elegant in an understated way. The relaxing mood is set by lilting Italian background music, which eventually morphs into pleasant Baroque strains.
As we perused the bilingual menu, the waiter, who spoke excellent English, brought us homemade limoncello. The smooth lemon liqueur glided onto the tongue and exploded with flavor, filling the mouth and reaching as far as the nostrils. I enjoyed it immensely as an aperitif, but it would be equally suitable as a digestif.
Our meal started with a plate of tomato bruschetta and house focaccia, the latter very different from any other I have had in Israel. Here, it resembled the white dinner rolls so widespread in North America, evoking fond memories of the yeasty treat. Like the limoncello, the breads were complimentary with a complete meal.
Our knowledgeable waiter recommended the lasagna and cannelloni (NIS 60) as one of our two appetizers as a way of tasting two of the restaurant’s specialties in one go.
The lasagna smothered in meat sauce was enhanced nicely by a sprinkling of Cielo’s fine Parmesan cheese, while the cannelloni, drenched in a rich cream sauce, needed no embellishment. Quite simply, it was the best cannelloni I have had in months.
Our second appetizer was the shrimp in marinara sauce (NIS 65).
The hearty tomato sauce was nice and garlicky, and the shrimp, sans tails, plump and chewy, albeit with an occasional fishy aftertaste. Once again, the grated Parmesan was an excellent complement to the classic sauce.
The seasonal salad (NIS 38), meanwhile, was large enough to split between two people. The fresh green vegetables and vinaigrette dressing, seasoned with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, were a refreshing foil for the tomato and cream sauces.
For main courses, the waiter recommended the tournedos, which were prepared no fewer than six ways. Of these we chose the tournedo Camembert, which was a tournedo Cielo topped with a wedge of Camembert cheese (NIS 125). The sheer size of the fillet of beef was mind-blowing, larger than I have encountered even in restaurants that specialize in steak. It was cooked perfectly and served in a delectable mustard-cream sauce. The extra slice of premium cheese was all that was needed to put this extraordinary dish over the top.
Veal was the other meat that got special treatment at Cielo, with five versions on offer. The veal piccata with mushrooms (NIS 94) – medallions of veal smothered in a memorable lemony gravy – covered an entire plate. As was the case with the tournedos, the veal was accompanied by a small plate of roasted vegetables.
The wine list, curated with care, included the house favorite of a Barbera Sangiovese from the Kfir Winery of Kiryat Malachi – a very pleasant red that deserves wider exposure. The preferred white wine was a Viognier from Galil Mountain.
Wines were generally available only by the bottle, but occasionally by the glass.
Desserts at Cielo (all priced at NIS 38) maintained the same level of excellence as the courses that preceded them. Tiramisu was invariably a good test of the skill of an Italian kitchen, and the version here was as authentic as it comes. And, like the fillet, it was a very sizable portion.
But what stole the dessert show was the fig gelato, made on the premises. Rarely have I tasted a gelato as true to the flavor of the fresh fruit as this delicious confection. It was sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts for a bit of flavorful crunch and drizzled with a sweet wine sauce so good that I asked what it was – only to be told that it was a secret.
Cielo is a refined yet cozy establishment that seems ideal for a quiet repast or a romantic dinner.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
18 Ben-Sira Street, Jerusalem
Tel: (02) 625-1132