(photo credit: Ken McBride)
I'll let you in on a secret. There's a sure fire way to know if you're in for a good meal at an Israeli restaurant. Just keep your eyes open for tables with Israelis hosting guests from abroad. This is a great indication that you've stumbled upon an establishment held in high regard by the locals who've enough confidence to show it off to folk who might otherwise know better.
On a recent visit to Bellini, I was met by a few tables of this sort. Score!
Created to look like a Tuscan villa nestled in the most charming quarters of the Suzanne Dellal center, the stone walls are adorned with old "family" portraits of founders of the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. This is not the only impressive detail.
Upon sitting down we were met with the homemade focaccia, kept warm in the establishment's wood-burning fireplace. It served to all patrons, on the house, with a ceremonious mixing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Having just escaped the rain on a too-rare winter night, my soul was warmed along with my body.
Our first beverage was the house cocktail (also complimentarily served to each diner), a frozen variation on the beverage for which the place is named. Not exactly fitting on such a wet and chilly night, but it was impressively tasty, causing a beautiful smile to spread across the face of my lovely dining partner. Warm once again.
Wine was served in an unmarked bottle. The server explained that the house red, an Italian Zinfandel Primitivo, is served in this manner - and is drunk from tumbler glasses - to give the impression that it comes from the house vineyard. Cool, tasty and NIS 84.
And so it came with little surprise that Bellini is now celebrating its 14th anniversary, a most impressive feat for any restaurant. To celebrate this success the place has created a special fixed menu featuring 15 classic Italian ingredients - one for each year plus good luck, of which I wish them much.
The fixed menu is NIS 140 per diner and includes:
Of course, the house cocktail and focaccia, which, I should mention, is of the pesto and basil variety.
seared zucchini with fresh mint, olive oil and Atlantic salt
pear slices wrapped in prosciutto
beet salad with olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and feta
country vegetable soup
risotto with six types of mushrooms
eggplant ravioli with feta
Choice of main course
corvine fish fillet in a sauce of white butter, fresh lemon, capers, thyme and goat's cheese
breaded scaloppini fried in yellow butter
seafood kettle with a sauce of tomatoes, Pernod, red wine, fennel and artichoke
Choice of dessert
sorbet or parfait in various flavors with almond cookies and a digestif of flaming Sambuca with three coffee beans.
Bellini is located at 6 Yehielli St., Tel Aviv, (03) 517-8486, bellini.co.il It is open Sun. to Sat. from noon to midnight; not kosher. Reservations are recommended. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.