Restaurant Review: Mmmmm... M&M

If you're looking for an uber-quaint Italian experience to whisk you away from your daily worries, then Tel Aviv's Mel & Michelle is probably the place.

mel and michelle 248.88 (photo credit: )
mel and michelle 248.88
(photo credit: )
Let me tell you about Mel, Michelle and Idan. The first two, to the best of my knowledge, might not be real people. Rather, together they are the name of the a quaint Italian trattoria on the northern end of Tel Aviv's Rehov Ben Yehuda that I recently visited. Idan is a friend from some time back. Currently, he is a business student at Tel Aviv University and, with sommelier experience under his belt, he is the establishment's skilled - and very attractive - barman. Grrr. But it's not just the staff that's attractive. Really, it's every last detail - from the food to the décor to the plates, glasses and bottles. Luckily, I showed up to Mel & Michelle with my most attractive of dining partners with whom we decided to sit outside. Aside from the general beauty of the place, or perhaps in testament to it, the outdoor seating area, situated on one of Tel Aviv's noisiest and busiest traffic ways, somehow allows you to forget the ubiquitous sound of Israelis leaning on their car horns and buses rumbling past, the sound of their outdated-gas-guzzling internal combustion engines otherwise raping your ears. We started with a white selected by Idan, taking the half-carafe. It was served in a crystal bottle, the kind you'd expect to find in your grandmother's breakfront brought over from the old country. It arrived with the house bread (NIS 16), though the first round is complimentary for all guests. This crisp rendition of a divine dough was accompanied by local olive oil touched with a reduced balsamic vinegar so sweet and tasty it nearly made us hate honey. There mainly to sample the Picola menu, we tried the artichokes in truffle oil (NIS 18) and the seared asparagus with a poached egg (NIS 16). Both were wonderful, which is good considering the special deal currently on offer of four Picola for NIS 58. And, even more so for the NIS 99 special of four Picola and a bottle of Lambrusco available in the outdoor seating area till 9 p.m. in addition to 30% off the alcohol menu. Other Picola include cured sardines with a fennel salad and baby calamari cured in a white balsamic vinegar. Like the preparation of mostly everything else on the menu, they are cured on the premises. We then went on to enjoy the starkino salad (NIS 44) of cheese with greens fresh from the market. And from there, it was the Tuscan antipasti (NIS 52), a platter of the house-cured meats accompanied with a spectacular blue cheese. My dining partner and I giggled while devouring this treat - as much from the unexpected flavors jumping in our mouths as from the seder-type plate that the meats and cheeses were served on. Each well was adorned with painted flowers, a sort of wrapping of the wonderful gifts each section contained. Our main courses were the Parisian gnocchi (NIS 68) of a cheesy dough pan seared till golden brown served in a truffle cream and the liver Marsala (NIS 88) served with caramelized onions, thyme and grappa soaked prunes. The first was tasty but the liver, mainly chicken with some veal, reinvigorated my carnivorous faith. Normally, I'm not a liver kind of gal, but my dining partner insisted and I couldn't really find a reason to object. Not with grappa soaked prunes. For dessert we shared the cheese platter served on a too-cute-to-be-true three tiered dish. Alongside the awesome cheeses was a tasty cookie, which proved to be a brilliant combination that our over-stuffed stomachs seemed happy enough to play host to. Or that might have been the grappa we sipped to finish. Considering the smiles on our faces at the time of our departure, we weren't interested in asking such questions. Mel & Michelle - 155 Rehov Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv; (03) 529-3232 - is open Sun.-Fri. from 7 p.m. to the last customer and Sat. from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; not kosher. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.