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My favorite Italian restaurant is a tiny storefront on Mulberry Street in New York's Little Italy. Far from my hometown I searched Jerusalem for an adequate kosher replacement. Recently I discovered Macaroni, and while it might not trump Mulberry Street it certainly does a fine job.
Guy Levy and his wife Liraz, who opened the restaurant 18 months ago, envisioned a homey locale where Guy (who has no formal training as a chef) could get to know all his customers. And Levy certainly makes the effort; after preparing his orders (he does all the cooking), he greets each table.
Macaroni feels less like a stereotypical Italian place and more like a French bistro. Its clientele runs the gamut from secular locals to religious Americans. It's intimate without being claustrophobic; one main dining room leads into a half-size one for smokers. Architect Avi Adi did an excellent job creating an atmosphere full of nice clean lines and discreetly attractive lighting while using every available space. This design, combined with an interesting mix of jazzy background music, creates an atmosphere that's perfect for classy yet relaxed dining.
The menu (in Hebrew and English) offers an impressive selection, with over 15 pasta dishes alongside exotic appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches and mouth-watering desserts. The pasta is flown in from Italy, and almost everything is prepared fresh to order.
I started with a foccacia bread (NIS 22) that was light and crispy, with tangy sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. Next came the baked pears in Gorgonzola (NIS 28). Served piping hot, the dish was beautifully presented, and the cheese hit the spot with just the right combination of tang and flavor, but because it was served alongside unripe pears it failed to deliver. Had the pears been ripe, this would have been a heavenly appetizer.
The menu has a pasta guide to illustrate the vast selection of pasta entr es. I settled on pasta melanzana (NIS 36) and was not disappointed, as it came straight from the oven, eggplant marinating in a refreshing tomato sauce.
For dessert I sampled the tartoffu (NIS 18) and panacotte (NIS 20). Back on Mulberry Street no dinner is complete without a cannoli. Unfortunately, these luxurious pastries are impossible to come by here. Luckily, these two sweets will make you forget you ever wanted one. Tartoffu are rich chocolate balls (three to an order) - so chocolatey my guests and I were stunned into silence.
Panacotte - cream in a cherry sauce - was a true adventure. I believe cherries should always be served fresh; never reduced for a sauce, never baked into a pie, and certainly never wrinkled on the bottom of a martini glass. I was thus taken aback to discover that cherry truly is the perfect accompaniment to this light and creamy confection. The cherry sauce is imported from Italy and can be purchased separately for NIS 120 a bottle.
While the food was a pleasure, the service was not. Macaroni's wait staff, the afternoon I was there, was less than attentive. The food arrived piping hot and in good time, but we had to ask three times before getting beverages and additional napkins. Questions (in both Hebrew and English) were answered flippantly or ignored. At one point, one of our company got so frustrated waiting for a glass of water that she got it herself. This may have been tolerable if the place was swamped, but it wasn't.
Despite the service letdown I will definitely return to this lovely restaurant. I'm sure it will become even more impressive with time.
The business lunch includes soup, salad, anti-pasta, bread and a main pasta dish or fish, and costs NIS 39 or NIS 65 respectively. Dinner for two is about NIS 130 (not including alcoholic beverages). All kitchen products are available for purchase. Macaroni delivers until 10 p.m.
Mwwacaroni, 28 King George St., Jerusalem, (02) 623-5333 11 a.m. - 12 a.m. Sunday to Friday, and Saturday night after Shabbat. Kosher Rabbanut Yerushalim.
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