Rafaeli Arte Café in Netanya.
(photo credit: ODELIA BENTURA)
Rafaeli is a little gem, but you have to know about it. It’s off the main square of Netanya, in a quiet cul-de-sac and up some steps, almost as though it doesn’t want to be discovered.
The owner is Yosef Bentura, a garrulous Italian oleh who loves to chat with the patrons and wander around the tables being “mine host” to the people who visit his establishment. But he also cooks, as does his daughter, his son and his wife.
Rafaeli is a family business, set up a year-and-a-half ago and already a big hit with the cognoscenti. We visited recently and enjoyed everything – the food, the ambience and the company.
Yosef is from Milan but also worked in Paris, which might explain the feeling you get of being somewhere in Europe rather than a few yards away from Netanya’s main square, Independence Square. And the food only strengthens that impression. We also learned that if he can’t find the exact ingredients he wants, Yosef imports them. Parmesan and tomatoes are among the foods he brings here from Europe.
For starters, which are all in the NIS 50/60 price range, I chose bruschetta with mozzarella, four crusty thick slices of baguette topped with cubed cheese, seasoned with herbs, mainly basil, which I love. They were very good, and augured well for what was to come.
My companion plumped for salmon carpaccio, slices of wafer-thin raw fresh salmon topped with a handful of rocket leaves in a lemon vinaigrette. The fish was so thinly sliced one had to almost scrape it from the plate. Judging by the very clean plate at the end of the first course, it was a success.
We decided to share the main course, ignored all the pasta and pizza dishes and chose fresh tuna steaks served with potato puree flavored with truffles (NIS 109). The fish was fine, but I can’t find enough superlatives to convey the taste of the mashed spuds. It was a superb dish, and I could have eaten it ad infinitum.
We drank a glass each of Colombard Chardonnay Sémillon, a pungent blend of white wines, nicely dry; and our helpful waitress, Shirel, was happy to refill our quickly emptied glasses. She also gave us a language lesson, pointing out that Shirel in Hebrew is an anagram of Yisrael.
The dessert menu is quite comprehensive, and choosing was difficult; but if there’s crème brûlée listed, then I don’t have a problem. This one was a classic of the genre, creamy soft custard topped with caramelized sugar. My companion was very happy with his choice of cheesecake, a buttery thin crust topped with an edifice of not-too-sweet cream cheese in a ratio of 20 to one (NIS 25-30).
Two great cappuccinos brought to an end this outstanding meal.
Rafaeli Arte Café
2 Herzl Street, Netanya
Open: Sunday to Thursday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
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