Italian makeover

Piazza Rustico is a veteran chain of Italian eateries that now numbers three restaurants in Tel Aviv, plus a pizzeria in Sarona Market.

Piazza Rustico (photo credit: BEN YUSTER)
Piazza Rustico
(photo credit: BEN YUSTER)
Piazza Rustico is a veteran chain of Italian eateries that now numbers three restaurants in Tel Aviv, plus a pizzeria in Sarona Market. It has built its reputation on a solid menu of good food. Yet this spring – after five years – it is overhauling its menu, even replacing some of its classic dishes with updated versions.    
Last week, journalists were invited to a preview of the new dishes, representing four of the menu’s major “food groups.” We gathered on the al fresco patio of Piazza Rustico, situated next to the grassy northern edge of the Sarona compound. Our numbers prevented us from dining in the more intimate space of the restaurant’s balcony. 
Rustico offers five specialty cocktails (NIS 42), but we were served mineral water and Rustico Rosso, the chain’s private label robust red, a pleasant blend of Shiraz and Mourvèdre from the highly regarded Dalton Winery. 
The bilingual menu comprises five sections: Antipasti (appetizers, NIS 38-52); Salads (NIS 49-53); Pizza (NIS 58-62); Pasta (NIS 66-79); and Fish and Meat (actually poultry, NIS 68-122). There are plenty of options for vegetarians, although significantly fewer for vegans. 
Naturally enough, we began with the new starters, including polenta with Portobello mushrooms, spinach and Parmesan cheese. This dish has become quite common in local Italian restaurants; fortunately, this version – slightly sweet and coarse polenta, cooked with butter and mushroom stock, and topped with meaty morsels of mushroom under broad ribbons of excellent Parmesan – is one of the better ones.
The bad news is that it replaces Rustico’s previous polenta, which featured whipped Gorgonzola and artichokes, and which had no peer elsewhere. The switchover to the panoply of new dishes is slated for next week (May 21). 
Rustico is introducing two new pastas: Pappardelle Arrabiata and Pumpkin Risotto. The former consists of flat ribbons of pasta in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, with soft, white stracciatella cheese produced in Israel. It was the latter, however – risotto cooked in pumpkin stock enriched with crême fraîche – which stole the show. Topped with a wedge of caramelized pumpkin, and sprinkled with chive, this was a delicious and satisfying dish – and indeed, filling enough to obviate the need for a main course.
Piazza Rustico (Credit: BEN YUSTER)Piazza Rustico (Credit: BEN YUSTER)
The Main Course category of the menu will see the addition of two new dishes: salmon and lemon chicken. We were served the fillet of salmon cooked in parchment with herbed butter, roasted kohlrabi, cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. The perfectly cooked fish was succulent, while the accompanying chive-inflected whipped potatoes was an ideal complement. 
Dessert was cheesecake made with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, so it was rich without being too dense or heavy. Despite the unremarkable crust, the thin layer of sour cream frosting and smear of strawberry coulis nicely enhanced this excellent finale to our debut meal. 
It is worth noting that the service was friendly and professional throughout the evening. We also observed that management did its best to build esprit de corps and keep the wait staff cheerful by offering the assembled crew occasional “chasers” (shots) between courses. 
Piazza Rustico
Not kosher
Eliezer Kaplan St. 22, Tel Aviv 
Sun-Wed and Sat: 12 noon-10 p.m.
Thu-Fri: 12 noon-11 p.m.
Tel: 03-558-8654
Order online:
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.