A worthy replacement

Restaurant-rich Neveh Tzedek welcomes excellent newcomer Cordero.

Cordero restaurant (photo credit: VLADI SOLO)
Cordero restaurant
(photo credit: VLADI SOLO)
The sudden closure over the summer of Bellini, the popular Italian restaurant in the Suzanne Dellal Center Plaza that had thrived for 25 years, surprised and disappointed many who were left wondering what would come in its place. The wait is now over. This winter saw the opening of the brand-new restaurant Cordero, in premises whose decor has undergone a transformation from rustic Italian to Old-World European.
Cordero’s new owners and management might be Russian, but the cuisine is Western Mediterranean, specializing in dishes from the southern regions of Spain, France and Italy. Complementing the food menu is a wine list reflecting one of the city’s finest wine cellars, boasting more than 80 vintages from Israel and Europe.
The bilingual menu comprises only three sections: Beginnings (NIS 42-75), Mains (NIS 82-128), and Sweet Endings (NIS 32-49). But there is no lack of interesting choices. The first category contains one soup and one salad, while the second one lists only one vegan option.
The starters actually lead off with two bread options (NIS 22/29): warm focaccia (from the pizza oven that is a holdover from the previous restaurant) with several dips, or a basket of three kinds of bread with a practically addictive house butter, seasoned with thyme and lemon zest. It is not easy to choose between the two – and even harder to keep from filling up on them.
We were happy to leave the choice of appetizers up to the chef, who started us off with the Mejillones Calientes – Spanish for “warm mussels” – except the mollusks with anise, root vegetables and fennel cream were, according to the chef, a classic French dish. I was wary at first, because I am not generally a fan of anise, but I need not have been concerned. Not only was there just enough of the licorice-flavored spirit to make it intriguing, this turned out to be the best mussel dish I have had in recent memory. 
Next came what we were told is one of the restaurant’s flagship dishes: grilled bone marrow with parsley cream -- a large bone, split lengthwise, oozing marrow with the faintest of crusts from the grill. Served with parsley, cherry tomatoes and sourdough toast, this dish elevated something that is usually an afterthought to a steak to an extraordinary treat in its own right.
As our first main course we selected the dish that is the restaurant’s namesake: Cordero con tomate – slow-cooked lamb served on Spanish bread with sun-dried tomatoes and garlic spread. The tender lamb stew, redolent with caramelized onion, was incredibly rich, while the thick flatbread underneath soaked up every drop of savory jus.  
This was followed by Paella con pollo, the traditional Spanish rice dish with grilled chicken. The version here was quite different from any I’d had before: usually, subtly seasoned rice is studded with shreds of chicken, sausage and seafood; but here, large chunks of succulent chicken breast rested on a bed of rice seasoned robustly with smoked paprika, lemon, chili and saffron – a paella for fans of bold flavor only. 
Dessert at Cordero presents diners with two sets of difficult choices. The first is deciding whether to have one of five “sweet endings,” prepared by a dedicated pastry chef, or to go for the platter of imported cheeses (NIS 132).
If you have opted for a traditional sweet dessert, there are several here that sound familiar, but are actually unique. Take, for example, the manager’s recommendation: the lemon tart. Variations of lemon pie can be found in nearly every restaurant, but few can match this one for its perfect balance between sweet and tart, not to mention the chiffony texture of its delicate meringue.     
The chocolate semifreddo, meanwhile, is everything you could ask for in a chocolate dessert: so sinfully rich it was hard to finish, but too darned good to stop eating it.

Cordero
Not kosher
Mon-Sat: 6 p.m.-midnight
Yehieli Street 6, Tel Aviv
Tel: 03-517-8486, cordero.co.il
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.