Interesting and original Italian fare

Lunch at Pranzo on Moshav Bnei Zion is filling and fulfilling affair.

Pranzo (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Akosher Italian meat restaurant that serves pizza? At first it seems too much of a paradox, but the chef at Pranzo somehow manages to do it, putting the emphasis on the dough and the toppings so you don’t even notice that there isn’t actually any cheese.
Pranzo is situated in the premises of Villa Socca, a high-end restaurant and events hall on Moshav Bnei Zion, on the old Haifa road a few kilometers out of the Ra’anana junction. Someone with a sharp business mind decided that it would be a good idea to utilize the kitchen and dining facilities for lunches, too – and Pranzo was born and is doing a thriving trade for ladies who lunch, as well as the surrounding hi-tech and other businesses situated on the moshav.
Finding the place takes a while and when we tried to phone, no one answered. But once you do find it, you are in for a delightful meal in attractive rustic surroundings with good service and interesting original food.
We sat down at a comfortable corner table, and almost instantaneously the young chef came out to greet us. His name is Gabriel Israel, and in perfect English he told us what dishes he recommended and which ones he wanted us to taste.
Leaving the choice of menu entirely to him was a good idea, as it freed us from the responsibility of having to decide – always a problem in a restaurant that offers a very varied menu as Pranzo does.
The first dish to arrive was a fresh focaccia loaf, hot and salty, accompanied by high-quality olive oil livened with a few drops of balsamic.
Tearing off the pieces of bread and dipping them required some dexterity, but it was perfect for assuaging the hunger pangs until the starters arrived.
For some reason, “antipasti” on Israeli menus refers to baked vegetables instead of being the Italian word for hors d’oeuvres in general. This dish appeared first, served in the iron saucepan in which the eggplant, zucchini and peppers had been baked in the tabun.
Slathered in homemade pesto, it was warm, slightly sweet and delicious (NIS 32/45). The second starter was a squash flower filled with duxelles mushrooms and served with a lemon cream (NIS 39). Apart from the fact that I felt the oregano had been added with a heavy hand, the dish was aesthetic and different.
Yet another starter to appear was slivered carpaccio of beef on a bed of cherry tomatoes (NIS 36). The seared slice of sinta was very tender, and the dressing of oil and vinegar with roasted almonds made for a pleasant non-filling starter before the serious business of the main course.
The burri (sea bass) baked in the tabun came with gnocchi, eggplant, tomatoes and olives (NIS 69). A very substantial fish, it is hard to spoil it.
This was indeed delicious, with just the right texture and a lemony flavor that suited it perfectly. My companion’s equally solid main dish was polpette – lamb meatballs in white wine with pasta, mushrooms and root vegetables in Italian tomato sauce (NIS 69). It was exceptionally tasty.
Just when we were wondering how on earth we would manage a dessert, another main dish appeared – calzone of ground meat cooked in white wine with more root vegetables, and a fresh tomato salad garnished with hot peppers and garlic (NIS 69). We were able to taste it and pronounce it very acceptable as an alternative main course.
All this food was accompanied by an unpretentious Galil Chardonnay for the non-driver and a shandy (beer and diet soda) for the driver.
The chef insisted on sending out his tiramisu for us to taste (NIS 30).
The portion is big enough for four people. The creaminess is achieved with coconut cream flavored with coffee and topped with chocolate. It was very good. Other desserts are on offer, such as tropical crème brulee with banana and caramelized coconut, served with fresh berries (NIS 29).
Staggering out into the hot August sun, we made a mental vow to return to Pranzo soon.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Pranzo Kosher Moshav Bnei Zion Tel: 072-216-3758 Sunday to Thursday, noon – 4 p.m.