Claro's special winter menu: Innovative citrus-infused dishes - review

Claro, Tel Aviv’s upscale bistro-restaurant, has become a farm-to-table restaurant and these days it is serving this winter’s seasonal menu based on fresh citrus fruit

 Claro (photo credit: AFIK GABAI)
(photo credit: AFIK GABAI)

If you hurry you may still be able to enjoy Claro’s Citrus Month, which will be served through February 10. Claro chef Ran Shmueli at the helm, together with acting chef Tal Feigenbaum, joined forces with Alon family citrus growers from Emek Hefer and created a super delicious menu to die for. From bite-sized starters to cocktails, first and main dishes to sumptuous desserts – the aromatic citrus fruit is everywhere.

Housed in a three-story renovated Templer building in the Sarona Compound in Tel Aviv, the beautifully renovated building – once a winery and distillery built in 1868 – has a large dining area on the ground floor, a private dining room on the second floor and a very impressive bar-lounge in the basement. All three areas, which can house more than 450 diners, are decorated with meticulous attention to detail, leaving some remnants of the original residents and many top design features.

In recent years, following the global trend, Claro, Tel Aviv’s upscale bistro-restaurant, became a farm-to-table restaurant and these days it is serving this winter’s seasonal menu based on fresh citrus fruit. We do try to be good and stay home most evenings – but we simply had to taste what the culinary team of Claro created this winter, at least once. To cut to the chase, it was fabulous and we loved every bite.

Leaving home on a very cold coronavirus-infested evening, we came to Claro hoping to be seated not too close to other diners – and were not disappointed. The beautifully appointed dining area is so spacious that, unlike other Israeli establishments, here you do not rub elbows with your neighbors and there’s no need to apologize when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the meal. In fact, this spacious well designed main dining room made us feel as if for a couple of hours we were in a Parisian bistro… the atmosphere, the décor, the flower arrangements, the lighting, the service and, bien sûr, of course the fine food, all helped us pretend we were having a lovely meal at our favorite Rive Gauche restaurant in Paris, which we very much miss after the last two years of the pandemic.

The dishes offered on the special menu are innovative, beautifully displayed and made with such attention to detail that every bite brings new aromas and flavors to the palate. We tried to eat very slowly savoring every bite. While some of the regular menu – appetizers, starters, intermediate dishes and main courses – are retained during this month, the special citrus dishes are dispersed throughout.

 Claro (credit: AFIK GABAI) Claro (credit: AFIK GABAI)

Utilizing the many different kinds of citrus fruit grown by the Alon family, the dishes made use of every type of their fruits – incorporating blood oranges, mandarin oranges, Italian lemons, finger lime and pomelos, to mention but a few, throughout the menu. The chefs prepared special aromatic oils from the citrus peel, roasted lemons and pickled oranges, caramelized fruit, made sorbets and concocted many more condiments that are included in their special dishes. The result is simply irresistible.

We started with two bite-sized hors d’oeuvres à la bruschetta made from filo pastry (NIS 32) and a homemade cracker with shrimp, lime aioli radishes, herbs and Mandarin oranges (NIS 42). With them, we each sampled a couple of cocktails from the special menu – a Claro artisanal gin-based cocktail with fresh mandarin and a lime daiquiri with citrus-infused rum, juice, homemade syrup, Aperol and lime juice. Both cocktails were elegant, not too sweet and very refreshing (cocktails are around NIS 50 each). We sipped the drinks throughout the meal.

We continued with two starters, a grouper carpaccio with red pomegranate vinaigrette, fresh fennel, mint and citrus sections (NIS 68), and a very surprising dish of fresh ricotta (actually prepared at the table), salad and orange segments. The cheese was warm and served with mandarin brioche and blood-orange chutney (NIS 72). It is such an innovative and unexpected dish that even before tasting it, we already loved the surprise; it was also very delicious.

My dinner companion loves good beef tartare, so he couldn’t pass on the one served here, despite that it is not a part of the seasonal menu. The tartar (NIS 74) is served with quail egg-yolk, anchovy sauce and the unexpected addition of pickled apples that added interest to this classic dish made to perfection.

I was already full and eyeing the dessert menu but we had to sample the main dishes and we chose another fish dish, the grouper fillet, that was served with black lentil stew, orange-butter roasted turnips and yogurt (NIS 164). A wonderful classic dish with a fresh twist, we both loved. Another dish we decided to leave for out next visit, hoping it stays on the menu that changes daily, was the duck breast cooked with Valencia oranges, carrot and pickled lemon cream and mandarin orange (NIS 108). Sounded too good to pass up but we were very sated.

After a long break, we looked at the desserts and decided to take one – the Portocali a cake made from filo pastry, with rich citrus syrup labaneh-cheese mousse, which was absolutely delicious. I would come back if only for this dessert. If you want a lighter dessert try the citrus carpaccio, which the lovely manager insisted we at least try. Made from segments of seared lemons, pomelo, pomegranate, blood orange and Chinese oranges and served over a sponge cake with lemon cream and citrus oil, this is the kind of light and fresh dessert that I often look for at the end of a rich meal. Light, with clean flavors and yet so rewarding – I loved this dessert.

ClaroHa’arba’a Street 23, Tel Aviv.Phone: (03) 601-7777.Sunday-Thursday: Noon-4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.Not kosher.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.