Happening Italian

Coco Bambino and Piazza are sister restaurants with one formula for success.

A table at Coco Bambino restaurant (photo credit: Courtesy)
A table at Coco Bambino restaurant
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of central Israel’s most successful restaurant ownership groups – the team behind Social Club, Piazza and Republic – has opened two new Italian restaurants in Tel Aviv in the past six months alone: Coco Bambino and Piazza Yirmiyahu, a spinoff of the venerable Piazza that had become a culinary fixture at Dizengoff 99.
To helm the kitchen at Coco Bambino, management has recruited Tom Aviv, the winning Master Chef of the TV show’s sixth season.
“I want to create a happy, casual place, with down-to-earth food made using quality ingredients,” says Aviv. “The dishes, which are designed to be shared, will incorporate elements of both Italian and eastern Mediterranean cuisines.”
The atmosphere of Coco Bambino – which is reflected in the second half of its name: Festa Italiana – is like that of a cantina, a place where the food is meant to be lubricated with alcohol. The bar-restaurant offers five specialty cocktails (NIS 46), two of them eponymous, along with a limited wine list and an adequate selection of beers on tap.
A nice welcoming touch here is the complimentary popcorn – seasoned with truffle oil – brought to the table when you are seated.
On the midweek night we were there, a DJ was playing lively dance music, although there is no room to gyrate.
The food menu, titled From Tom’s Kitchen, comprises eight first courses (NIS 32 to NIS 46), six pasta dishes (NIS 49 to NIS 59), three pizzas (NIS 49 to NIS 54) – red, green and white – and two main courses. There is no pork or shrimp on the menu (although there is calamari), and there are both vegan and vegetarian options.
Aviv trained under Eyal Shani, so there are some inventive dishes revolving around flavorful vegetables, like sweet potato and cauliflower. His personal recommendation to us was the playfully named Hakuna Batata – sweet potato carpaccio seasoned with oregano and shatta pepper, drizzled with yogurt and balsamic vinegar, and topped with crumbled bryndza cheese. I have never seen sweet potato prepared in any way close to this fashion, and this remarkable dish was as delicious as it was unusual.
We continued with two more of the chef’s recommendations, beginning with another vegetarian dish, bearing another whimsical name: It’s Only Spinach, Man.
Except it was a lot more than that: pappardelle made from scratch, with lemon butter, pine nuts and spinach sautéed in wine and vegetable broth. Reprising crumbled bryndza cheese, this pasta dish was a masterpiece: al dente pappardelle enhanced by the rich leafy green vegetable and crunchy pine nuts.
The only meat dish on the menu was short ribs that had been marinated, then grilled, then slowcooked, grilled again and shredded. Pulled apart, the meat was less fatty than this cut usually is, and it was positively succulent, with a pleasant tingle of heat.
The four desserts were not listed on the menu, but rather explained by the waiter. One novelty you will not find elsewhere in the Oreo-filled sphinge, a particularly decadent version of the classic cookie, deep-fried in batter. There was also a very good cheesecake, drizzled with caramel.
Coco Bambino.
Not kosher.
Hillel HaZaken 12, Tel Aviv.
Tel. (03) 510-7373
Meanwhile, at the northern end of town, Piazza Wine and Dine debuted in April, with a more traditional Italian menu, in an upscale, modern setting. Once again, the successful formula calls for good food washed down with premium alcohol, in the form of five specialty cocktails (NIS 47) and an international wine list.
The food menu consists of eight starters (NIS 24 to NIS 49), five salads (NIS 32 to NIS 58), eight pizzas (NIS 49 to NIS 58), a full page of pasta dishes (NIS 49 to NIS 78) and only five main courses (NIS 64 to NIS 88). In honor of the new opening, the menu of the original Piazza has been modified to be identical with that of its clone.
According to the menu, all the pizzas and 16 pastas may be ordered made with fresh wholemeal spelt dough (gluten free).
The menu also specifies vegan options, and indicates which dishes are spicy as well.
House pizzas run the gamut of red, white and vegan, including one amazing miniature pizza that should not be overlooked, even though it is listed in the Starters section: the truffle cream pizzetta.
Other outstanding appetizers include grilled artichokes, beets and cheese, and the sizzling shrimp platter, while a second signature pizza is the eye-catching and memorable Spinaci – creamed spinach with a sunny side up egg in the center.
The pastas represent a nice variety of cream- and tomato-based sauces, and include gnocchi, lasagna and risotto. We enjoyed the fettuccine with shrimps and artichokes, as well as the zesty arrabiata.
The main courses are all chicken, with the exception of a lone fish “catch of the day.” Fans of Piazza’s original tagliata – slices of sirloin steak served on a sizzling pan – will lament its removal from the menu, and carnivores will have to find their fix among the other menu categories.
The desserts here are the usual suspects, e.g., tiramisu, crême brûlée – plus a mascarpone and nutella pizza that is large enough for more than two people to share. Similarly, the superlative cheesecake arrives as a generous portion.
Just when you thought the last thing Tel Aviv needed was more Italian restaurants, along come Coco Bambino’s talented chef and Piazza #2 as welcome additions to the city’s culinary scene, at prices that won’t break the bank.
Not kosher.
Dizengoff Street 302, Tel Aviv.
Tel. (03) 527-4488
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.