Tuscan Nights at Sarona

Claro hosts a Michelin-starred Italian chef during October.

Claro (photo credit: AMIR MENACHEM)
(photo credit: AMIR MENACHEM)
The two chefs of local fine dining restaurant Claro, Ran Shmueli and Omer Avissar, are collaborating this month with visiting chef Vito Mollica of Tuscany, to regale diners with a special dinner menu titled “Tuscan Nights.” Mollica is the chef of Il Palagio, the flagship restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, which boasts one Michelin star.
According to the hotel’s website, Il Palagio serves seasonal “regional classics given a contemporary twist.” Mollica’s philosophy of using fresh, seasonal ingredients jives very nicely with the approach of his Israeli counterparts, whose cuisine at Claro they describe as “Farm to Table.”
The Tuscan Nights menu comprises roughly an equal number of dishes each from Chef Mollica’s kitchen and Claro’s open kitchen. The menu itemizes dishes in four categories: The appetizers and main courses feature dishes from both restaurants, while all the pasta entrées are from Il Palagio, and all the desserts hail from Claro.
As we perused the enticing menu, we sipped specialty cocktails from Claro’s fully stocked bar. The Tuscan Nights’ menu lists two Italian-inspired cocktails, but we preferred one each of a cocktail and a non-alcoholic mocktail, made with the house’s homemade natural syrups.
We also snacked on the focaccia – a fluffy rectangle of baked goodness with a glistening golden-brown crust. This treat was served with jumbo, bright-green olives and virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar. 
There are seven Tuscan Nights appetizers (NIS 56-88), including vegetarian options and a salad. We could find nothing for vegans in any part of the menu. 
Our first starter was the vitello tonnato, which – bizarrely – was spelled out in Hebrew only, while the name of this classic dish was completely ignored on the English menu, which simply listed the components as a “selection of cold beef cuts” with tuna sauce. The small cuts of beef – cheek and overdone fillet – were unremarkable, but the zesty tuna paste with capers was worthy of being mopped up by the focaccia.
Next was the porcini mushroom bruschetta, with Parmesan fondue. The toasted bread was burnt at the ends, and it needed a steak knife to cut it; but it was worth the effort, as the mélange of meaty fresh mushrooms drenched in cheesy fondue poured tableside was heavenly.
The one vegetarian option among the four pasta dishes (NIS 88-138) was our first choice: burrata tortellini in tomato passata with pecorino cheese. The dusting of cheese was insufficient, and the raw tomato sauce rather ordinary; fortunately, the main event – fat pockets of pasta bursting with rich, creamy mozzarella – needed little embellishment.
The shrimp bisque and tomato risotto, meanwhile, was theatrically spooned out at the table over morsels of assorted raw fish and seafood. Unfortunately, this promising dish turned out to be a disappointment. 
Of the seven main courses (NIS 96-162, with two priced by weight), only three were the creations of the guest chef from Italy. Ironically, the one dish bearing the name of a Tuscan city – bistecca alla Fiorentina, or steak Florentine – comes from the host Israeli restaurant, and because it was so expensive, it was off-limits to the journalists invited to the preview tasting.
This still left us with three choices, one of which is surprisingly pedestrian in Europe, although perhaps in Israel it is a novelty: pork chop Milanese, or simply, pork schnitzel,
The dish recommended by our waitress was the tagliata di manzo, thinly sliced sirloin steak done to the chef’s preference, medium-rare. Or at least that is what we were told; in actuality, it was closer to medium-well. The steak was acceptable, as were the accompanying al dente, gently roasted, carefully selected mixed vegetables.
Veal liver is a dish rarely found in Israel, and certainly not prepared Venetian-style. The delicately flavored organ meat was buttery tender, and served atop a bed of banal polenta with caramelized onions.
The selection of four desserts (NIS 38-58) includes some – but not all – of the Claro favorites. The hazelnut meringue cake with coffee semifreddo was light and sweet, while the three scoops of homemade ice cream are always guaranteed to contain one or two real crowd-pleasers.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
Ha’arba’a St. 23, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 601-7777