Chase the dragon

Avi Conforti’s new restaurant, Topolopompo, is a celebration for the senses.

Topolopompo (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A state-of-the-art kitchen that is considered the most sophisticated in Israel, a chef who is considered to be the “bad boy” of the Israeli culinary world, much talked-about décor, outrageous prices and an unpronounceable name – chef Avi Conforti’s new restaurant is well worth a visit (or two) if you can afford it.
It is astounding in every way: the interior design and cutting-edge kitchen equipment, which some say had cost the owners NIS 12 million; the name – Topolompo (which means “fire dragon” in Korean); the menu, divided into different “fires”; the atmosphere; and, most of all, the food.
“Sophisticated Asian” does not even come close to describing the food, but let me just say that every single bite was perfection – a delicate balance between sour and sweet, spicy and salty, soft and crunchy, fresh and pickled, seared and steamed. They are all there in every single bite, and it’s a celebration for the senses.
The Fire Kitchen as the menu explains (and reading the menu is not an easy task) is divided according to method of preparation. We left it to the chef to choose for us and sat back to enjoy the animated atmosphere.
The place looks as if it could be in New York, Hong Kong or London. And I bet that if it were located in any of those cities, it would be impossible to get a table on any given night. The atmosphere is that of a sophisticated party organized by a very generous host. Everything from the seating area and the dishes to the bar and even the restrooms is larger than life – but still warm and inviting. The partially open kitchen with the special open-fire oven and woks, the long dining table in the middle, the smaller booths on the sides and the raised tables at the end all give a cheerful, carefree feeling, making it the perfect place for posh parties.
The food, on the other hand, is anything but carefree. It is very meticulously prepared, full of flavors, sensual, sophisticated and very, very good.
We started with Asian pickles, beef sashimi served with Indian cheese and vinaigrette made with fungus mushroom. We continued with a kind of spring roll that one wraps with fresh herbs and lettuce leaves and dips in a sauce. It was the best spring roll we ever had anywhere. There was a dish with a soft steamed Chinese bun stuffed with meat and an egg yolk, and the array went on and on. All the small dishes were each just a few perfect bites that were so satisfying, that we just wanted to sit there and savor the tastes before experiencing new ones.
All the dishes we tasted were a feast to all the senses – delicious, beautifully presented and just the right size.
And then there were the teas. Not really teas but green tea smoothies made with so much attention.
Conforti said that he and his staff lined them up for endless tastings to decide which ones would go on the menu.
The idea of most of the dishes is that of sharing, and large parties can easily enjoy a long evening sampling the different varieties of meat, poultry and fish, as well as many vegetarian dishes and divine desserts.
Unlike a lot of his peers, you will not find chef Avi Conforti on any primetime TV cooking show or chumming around with colleagues.
Yet despite the fact that many call him crazy, they all admit that he is a genius in the kitchen. We agree. His restaurant ain’t cheap, but it is worth every bite.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
(Not kosher)
8 Walter Mozes, Tel Aviv (14 Hasolelim)
Tel: (03) 691-0691
Open daily 7 p.m. to midnight.