The joys of the Levant

Offering an extensive menu to suit different tastes and budgets, Montenegro is a sure bet for a night out.

Tel Aviv's Montenegro Restaurant 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv's Montenegro Restaurant 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Situated where Tel Aviv’s celebrated Italian restaurant Pronto once stood, Montenegro, the younger sister of neighboring Cafe Noir, is quickly becoming a new hip place for local partying crowds.
Montenegro’s owners call it a taverna and delicatessen. The menu is inspired by cuisines that extend from North Africa to the Balkans, around the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, with some hints of southern Italian and Spanish cuisines.
“Montenegro brings the food that we like to eat with family and friends for lunch, for dinner or at night with lots of good alcohol.” says Rafi Bader, one of the proprietors. He explains that “It is food that is both simple and happy, prepared from the best ingredients with a lot of care but not too sophisticated or complicated.”
Accordingly, the menu offers large groups the opportunity to do what citizens of the Middle East like to do best – to ‘open a table’, meaning to arrange a vast array of small dishes on the table for everyone to sample and taste while raising their glasses. The meze include items such as tzatziki, taramasalata, schmaltz herring, chopped liver with horseradish and pickles, cauliflower with capers, Greek style eggplant, assorted smoked fish and cold cuts and sausages, many salads and locally baked breads.
There is also a deli menu that allows guests to sit at the bar with a glass of beer and a large New York style pastrami sandwich (NIS 52) or cold cuts.
We were only two, so we took the plate of homemade pickles and mixed spiced olives (NIS 16), which was great. I felt daring, so I asked for an added chili on the side. We decided to pass on the rest of the meze and go straight to the appetizers. Although the lamb tartare Koobenia sounded very tempting, we opted for a less risky shrimp and calamari dish (NIS 64). The seafood was seared on an iron griddle and served with a fresh herb salad. The dish was simple yet delicious, and my partner devoured it. The other starter, a salad with seared beef fillet strips, was very much to my liking (NIS 67.)
After studying the main dish menu, we both really wanted the lamb chops. We tried to convince each other to pick something else, and I lost. I usually am a carnivore but since my partner decided not to give up on the lamb, I had a point to prove and went for the fish. The fish, a whole baked sea bream in herb sauce, served with tender broccoli, was an unlikely choice for me but proved a surprisingly good one. The fish was fresh and cooked with white wine and herbs, and even the broccoli was tasty. As neither a fish lover nor a broccoli enthusiast, I felt stupid for ordering it but it was good. The lamb chops (NIS 127), on the other hand, a plate of small, tender and made to perfection ribs, served with roasted root vegetables, was indeed the best dish of the meal. Luckily, she who was sitting across the table from me gave me a few bites.
For dessert, the restaurant offers flan and a phylo pastry with cheese and raisins. We passed on them and ended our meal with two excellent espressos.
I vowed to come back – next time with a few of my buddies for a beer and lots of meat.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.