A citrus celebration

Rustico’s Lemon Festival brings the sun to wintry Tel Aviv.

Food at Rustico 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Food at Rustico 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We visited Rothschild Boulevard’s Rustico on a rainy night. I had received an invitation for their Lemon Festival some weeks back promising a Country Menu for the restaurant’s sixth anniversary in that location.
We arrived at the cozy place after dodging the rivers of south Tel Aviv resulting from the first rains of winter. Rustico’s low ceilings and warm atmosphere provided comfortable shelter from the fresh storms.
The 10-day Festival of Lemons will run from December 1-10. We were the first patrons to taste the restaurant’s culinary appreciation of the tangy citrus.
Our host greeted us at the table with the house sparkling white wine, a Brut, that is exported from near Tuscany especially for the restaurant. With that, our waiter placed an appetizer of whole zucchinis stuffed with ricotta and Parmesan cheese, covered in a light lemon-butter sauce (NIS 37). We tried a pizza called the Rustico Limon, which was topped with mozzarella, asparagus shoots, cured lemons, a whole egg baked on the pizza and a few slivers of spicy chili (NIS 55).
The pizza combined flavors worthy of a lemon festival. The earthy asparagus were mellow alongside the sweet-cured lemon slices. We were surprised by the dominant flavor of lemon on a pizza, but it was a welcome surprise. The other vegetables supported the citrus well, giving the pizza a uniquely country flavor.
To pair with our mains, we ordered a 2009 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I chose a paparadella pasta dish – one of my favorite noodles – with spinach and peas in a lemon-thyme cream sauce (NIS 55). Not wanting to pass up fish, my date ordered the European sea bass on a bed of asparagus with white wine, lemon confit and fresh herbs (NIS 98).
The pasta dish was the star of the two. The chefs made sure the paparadella was cooked through but still firm. The sauce was creamy but not heavy. The lemon played a key role in this dish as well, giving good body to the sauce, while the vegetables added a savory element to the dish.
The fish was a little undercooked but was saved by the lightly grilled asparagus, which was smoky but fresh due to the wine and lemon sauce.
For dessert we had profiteroles filled with pistachio ice cream on lemony white chocolate sauce (NIS 42). We also ordered Baba el Limoncello with whipped cream, which the waiter plated at the table from a silver tiffin (NIS 39).
The profiteroles were flaky and light, and the pistachio ice cream was creamy and subtly flavored, complementing the pastry. The white chocolate sauce, while uninspired, added a smoothness to the overall dish.
The Baba el Limoncello was a sponge cake accompanied by a generous dollop of whipped cream and topped with a splash of limoncello, a citrus liqueur typically served after an Italian meal. It was light and delightfully presented. The limoncello was the dominant flavor, adding a tangy twist to the buttery cake and soft whipped cream.
After a swig of grappa, we left the restaurant back into the rain, sated and satisfied. The lemon theme left us feeling like summer – a welcome reprieve from the first true week of winter.
Festival Sagra will be held until December 10.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
15 Rothschild Ave., Tel Aviv
Open every day from noon to midnight

42 Basel, Tel Aviv S
un-Thurs from noon to midnight
Fri-Sat from 8:30 a.m.
(03) 510-0039; (03) 602-6969