(photo credit: courtesy)
Brothers Assaf and Noam Rizzi are a Jerusalem success story. Their first foray into the restaurant business was six-and-a-half years ago, when they and partner Motti David opened Adom in the Feingold courtyard. Four years later, together with additional partner Adi Talmor, they opened The Colony on Derech Bethlehem. The Rizzi brothers' and Moti David's latest venture is Lavan at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which opened three weeks ago after extensive renovations. All three places, albeit different in concept and style, have three things in common: good food, excellent service and a relaxed atmosphere.
Asked if they had thought of opening in Tel Aviv, Assaf's answer was an emphatic no. "We are Jerusalemites; we love Jerusalem and wanted to open a place for people to go out and enjoy themselves in our city," he said. They have certainly succeeded.
Lavan is simply decorated, light and airy. The main dining room, which seats 60, is air-conditioned and sports a well-stocked bar. Outside, the glass-enclosed balcony with its open windows is cooled by the Jerusalem breeze. Air conditioning is in place, but even with the recent heat wave hasn't been needed. The view of the Old City walls is breathtaking, and every diner can enjoy it. The balcony holds 75 and leads onto a small lounge-style casual area with both smoking and non-smoking areas where patrons can wait for their table, or have a drink or dessert.
Chef Assaf Granit, who has been with the Rizzi brothers from the beginning, oversees all three restaurants, while Uri Navon is Lavan's resident chef. All the pastries, breads and focaccios are made on the premises. The menu is Italian oriented - except for 'breakfast', which is available all day (NIS 42 to 49).
We started with a sampling of starters which included two kinds of focaccia, both outstanding (NIS 28 to 38). The eggplant filled with raw tahini and buffalo milk yoghurt was exceptionally tasty, as was the fish tartare. Our two favorite dishes, however, were the tower of endive leaves with figs, pickled beetroot and blue cheese (each taste complementing the other), and the fresh asparagus on polenta with parmesan cheese, which was light and refreshing. (First courses range from NIS 33 to 44).
As main courses we chose red drum fish with root vegetable purÃ©e and red wine sauce. The fish was fresh and perfectly cooked, the purÃ©e unbeatable, but the sauce was a bit too sweet for my liking. My companion, on the other hand, found it a perfect combination. There is a choice of risottos, with the rice coming from Principato di Lucedio in Vercelli, Italy. I've never mastered the art of a perfect risotto at home, and now realize that the rice was to blame, as Lavan's offering - with tomatoes and pistachio nuts - was perfectly cooked, the rice neither soggy nor hard.
Other main courses feature pizzas, pastas and salads (NIS 37 to 86). The excellent deserts we had were apple pie and ice cream, and a sublime halva with caramel ice cream (deserts NIS 26 to 30).
The wine list is a connoisseurs' heaven, boasting classic Israeli wines as well as a long list of boutique offerings (NIS 90 to 200). Italian wines are also heavily featured, culminating with a Gaja at NIS 530. We had an excellent bottle of perfectly chilled Flam Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay, which was a good accompaniment to the Italian food. There is also a good cocktail menu.
Lavan at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Derech Hevron 11, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until the last customer leaves. Dairy, but with no kashrut certificate. Tel: (02) 673-7393