Feel like a gourmet evening out in Rome? Or Sienna? Then get in your car and head for Pankina, an authentic Italian restaurant in the heart of Tel Aviv. With Italian owners, maître d’ and chef, you could be forgiven for thinking you are actually in Italy, especially when the food and wine arrive at your table.
By 8:30 p.m. the place was buzzing with sophisticated Tel Avivians out for a good meal where great ambience and food are supplied in equal measure.
Finding a parking spot in Tel Aviv can be a downer, but it took only 20 minutes for my dining companion to find a place. I, meanwhile, sat on the heated balcony of Pankina and comforted my solitude with a large gin and tonic (NIS 45).
When he finally arrived, I had already ordered for both of us. That’s one of the advantages of being together for 55 years – you kind of know each other’s tastes.
For a starter I chose grilled aubergine in thick tomato sauce topped with melted mozzarella, as well as a basket of focaccia with dips (NIS 23). The other starter was tuna tartare on a bed of chopped avocado. Attilio – who served us with great charm and efficiency (“I’m Attilio the Hunk”) assured me it was made with very fresh tuna (NIS 69). Both starters were delicious and gave a hint of the Italian splendor which was to come.
There are loads of pasta options, as one might expect, but I decided on a fish dish as a main course. My companion had the sea bass, a whole grilled fish garnished with black olives and cherry tomatoes (NIS 129), while I chose tuna steak (NIS 129).
The whole sea bass was cooked to just the right point and subtly flavored. It needed no more than a sprinkling of salt to bring it into gourmet category. The tuna was slightly rare inside, very soft and yet meaty and the nut coating added greatly to the flavor of the dish. This was served with a creamy potato puree.
We shared a tossed salad – the usual suspects with sliced mushrooms and rocket leaves in a rather bland dressing. It reminded me of a visit years ago to Italy when I first tasted these wondrous leaves and was blown away by the flavor.
We drank a glass of cold Chardonnay, which was perfect as an accompaniment to the fish (NIS 45).
After this feast, we really couldn’t face dessert, but Attilio, and Shalom, the owner, insisted we must at least taste the tiramisu. This seemed to be made up of lashings of fresh sweet cream, with some cake added as a kind of afterthought.
Finally, untroubled by insomnia, my companion drank a literal thimbleful of strong espresso coffee, while Attilio looked on approvingly.
On Sundays and Mondays a pianist also entertains the diners, so we got lucky, as this was a Monday, and heard great renditions of old favorites, including “our” song (“Strangers in the Night,” if you must know).
For a delightful ambience as well as very good food, you really must visit Pankina. You won’t be disappointed. And, as an important postscript, Pankina will be open for Passover.
Pankina39 Gordon StreetTel AvivTel. (03) 644-9793Open: Sunday-Thursday, noon till midnight; Saturday night, after Shabbat till 12.Kashrut: Tel Aviv Rabbinate
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.