From the 'basta' to the pasta

Chef Shye Guinea took a long and winding road before opening Topolino near the Mahaneh Yehuda market.

italian food 88 (photo credit: )
italian food 88
(photo credit: )
Blue metal containers filled with fresh flowers adorn the wood and wrought-iron tables outside. Inside there are 15 tables. The cardboard flyer of the Italian restaurant Topolino depicts an eggplant and a sunflower. Topolino is Italian for "little mouse." "Topolino" is also a nickname for the Fiat 500, a popular car of the 1950s and 1960s, and it is the name of the Disney cartoon character Mickey Mouse in Italian. Why all this love of Italian? Shye Guinea, co-owner and co-chef of Topolino, was born in Jerusalem 42 years ago. After serving in the army, he went to Italy to study architecture. He changed his mind and in 1992 returned to Israel to do a BA at the Hebrew University in English literature and French literature. For the next 10 years, he worked in different spheres of journalism. "I wrote, I drew comic strips, I wrote about food - everything," he says. "I realized I wasn't able to make a living at it, so I became a Web master." He worked for 10 years in hi-tech. About 10 years ago he and his wife, Yona, a travel agent, who then was also working in hi-tech, realized that was not what they wanted to do. They went to Italy. It was their first time in Naples and, Guinea recalls, "It was a very powerful experience. My cousin lives in Rome and teaches in Naples. We went to traditional local restaurants, and that helped us to make a decision." Shye and Yona decided to open a traditional Italian restaurant, a trattoria. They wanted simple food relying on the quality of the raw ingredients. "Italian cooking is very simple," Shye explains, "very basic." Back in Israel, it took them a year to find the right place to set up shop. They chose Agrippas because it is near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, where they could have access to fresh produce. "We buy everything anew every morning, so everything is fresh. This is the market atmosphere. The market is a multiple experience of people, tastes, smells and colors." Topolino opened in June 2007 with the slogan "Me'habasta l'pasta" (from the booth into the pasta). "When we first opened, we hired chefs and we worked with them. We were people who cook but not professionally. Food is central in our lives," he says. "After the first year, we learned from the experts how to work in a professional kitchen." Now Yona is chef for the morning shift and Shye does the afternoon and evening. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The duo produce all their own pasta and everything else they offer on the menu except the croissants. "We have no machines; everything is produced by hand. We use a lot of eggs with flour to give a home-made version, and we use Italian flour for our pasta and pizza. We're really proud of our filled pasta - four types of ravioli, four gnocchi plus cannelloni and lasagna." The restaurant also serves appetizers, salads, pizza and fish. In the future, the Guineas would like to continue "the way it is," but "We will develop more into distributing our pastas." Now one can buy pasta by the kilo at the restaurant (e.g., gnocchi for NIS 40, ravioli for NIS 80). A dream for the future is to open a Sicilian restaurant "with more fish, not so much cream, less eggs, less fat cheese, much less rich food." Topolino is located at 62 Agrippas. It is open every morning for breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon; from noon to 4 p.m. for lunch. The evening meal is available Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. - 11 p.m. The restaurant is kosher and closed Friday night, Saturday and Saturday night.