Worth the Wait

Aspetta ntroduces a new regional south Italian cuisine to Tel Aviv.

Aspetta (photo credit: AFIK GABAY PHOTOGRAPHY)
For 10 years, Amir Hirosh had what many people would consider a dream job: a culinary tour guide in Puglia, in southern Italy. When he met and married Michal Fussman, a chef who had trained in the U.S., they merged their expertise, and opened Tel Aviv’s first restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the region of Puglia.
Aspetta (Wait [for it] in Italian), a sister eatery to Beccafico in Neveh Tzedek, is a tiny restaurant with a few tables on the sidewalk and plain wooden chairs. The paucity of seats makes reservations a good idea.
There are only four cocktails listed, and they are closer to classics than specialty creations.
The wine list is similarly limited, but it includes some interesting Italian vintages, including a robust primitivo.
The menu comprises eight sections: Starters (NIS 22 to 54), Pasta (NIS 52 to 72), Gnocchi (NIS 66/68), Pizza (NIS 48 to 54), Risotto of the Day (NIS 54), Meat and Fish (NIS 76/88) and Desserts (NIS 46/48). Some sections contain only one or two dishes, and there is a children’s pasta portion (at the reduced price of NIS 38). There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
In restaurants with a pizza oven, I always taste the house focaccia, but rarely describe it in any detail or go out of my way to recommend it.
Aspetta’s upside-down focaccia – described to us a speciality of Puglia – is a worthy exception to this rule: round and fluffy, with a golden-brown crust that is sprinkled liberally with herbs and studded with cherry tomato halves, this slightly garlicky treat, served with dip of olive oil, salsa and parsley, is a terrific way to start your meal.
The first starter recommended to us was Carciofo – fresh artichokes on a bed of salsa verde, with Parmesan cheese grated by the waiter at the table. The large artichokes, cooked just right, were the best I have had in recent memory.
The next recommendation was for the Burrata Salad, featuring burrata cheese imported from Puglia. The huge scoop of creamy cheese – surrounded by yellow and red cherry tomatoes, arugula and basil, all drizzled with balsamic vinegar – was so good, I could have eaten it plain, like ice cream.
From the Pasta section, we chose the Risotto of the Day, and the Salmon Fettuccine – which is similar to Aspetta’s sole fish main course. The risotto that evening was with asparagus and sage and looked promising. Unfortunately, it was overly salty, and seasoned with that powerful herb with too heavy a hand.
The fettuccine similarly contained sage and asparagus; fortunately, the former’s use was moderated this time, and balanced in a sauce with white wine, garlic and cream.
Together with smidgens of spinach, a scattering of asparagus tips and a generous addition of salmon, it added up to a satisfying dish.
The only meat dish among the two main courses is Liver Marsala – chicken livers in a sauce of marsala wine, mushrooms and onion, served on polenta. To be honest, I would not have ordered this dish had there been other meat choices in this category; but it turned out be a pleasant surprise: the tender livers in a savory sauce with a touch of sweetness, on a bed of creamy polenta, exceeded my expectations.
There are only two desserts listed on the printed menu, but another two rotate daily.
We sampled the tiramisu and the cheesecake: the former was surprisingly light for a version with several layers of cake, while the latter was characterized by a delicious (yet not dense) mixture of ricotta cheese, sour cream and mascarpone, enriched with white chocolate ganache, a pistachio crust and berry coulis.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Aspetta Not kosher 3 Mikveh Yisrael St., Tel Aviv Tel. (03) 601-2222