Restaurant Review: Al Dente

We asked the waiter to choose our dinner, and we tasted a nice range of dishes.

Restaurant Review: Al Dente (photo credit: Courtesy)
Restaurant Review: Al Dente
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It may seem hard to remember, but there was a time when we used to go out to restaurants. I’m convinced that there will be again. So I’m offering you an account of a meal that I ate not that long ago at a restaurant I hope to visit again soon. By the way, it does have delivery, so you can try the food, too.
Off the busy Ussishkin Street is a small cul-de-sac that houses the charming, rustic Al Dente restaurant. It looks like the kind of place you would stumble on while driving around rural Italy, the tiny mom-and-pop establishment you’d mention every time you recounted the trip. The walls are decorated with black-and-white photos, and the windowsills have flowers and knickknacks. Despite the rain when I visited, the restaurant, which seats just 37, was packed.
Cold water and menus appeared as soon as we sat down, and we ordered our drinks: a gin and tonic for me, and a glass of the house wine for my companion, my father, Cliff. The wine was pretty standard table wine, and the gin and tonic was made with lemon juice rather than lime juice, a pet peeve of mine. But things improved from there.
We asked the waiter to choose our dinner, and we tasted a nice range of dishes.
The first dishes that appeared were focaccia (32 NIS) and antipasti (52 NIS). The focaccia was served with olive oil to dip the bread in, and flavorful roasted garlic. The antipasto was cooked so the excellent produce still had a bit of crunch to it, and even people who don’t like eating their vegetables will enjoy these roasted, flavorful bites. It was served with an excellent, soft mozzarella that tasted so fresh we thought it might be made in-house, but the chef told us he actually gets his cheeses from Gad Dairy, which supplies the restaurant daily.
Appetizers are the best part of any meal, so we decided to try a few more of those. We next tried the arancini (56 NIS), which are risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and pesto and then fried, served on a bed of arugula and labaneh (usually served with tomato sauce, substituted at our request). This rich dish was cooked perfectly, crunchy on the outside and soft in the center, but it was slightly too rich, possibly because of the substitution. This is definitely the most decadent appetizer, full of cheese and creamy risotto.
The last appetizer we tried was my father’s favorite dish of the night, sea bass bruschetta (64 NIS). The toasted bread was topped with fresh European sea bass, shallots, chili and sliced radishes. The overall effect is not unlike ceviche, but with a much less citrusy taste. The spices are expertly chosen, and the contrasting flavors and textures make for a perfect bite. This is definitely Al Dente’s “can’t miss dish.”
Chef Assi Itach isn’t from Italy but has always been drawn to Italian cooking.
“Italian cooking is simple; it’s all about freshness” he explained, “You get the best ingredients and make them shine.”
Al Dente gets ingredients delivered daily, and in every vegetable dish, from the greens decorating the arancini to the antipasti, it’s clear the restaurant uses only the best, most flavorful produce.
Moving on to entrees, we had the mushroom risotto (66 NIS), made with truffle and mascarpone, one of my favorite cheeses. The risotto was rich and deliciously creamy, the texture was perfect, and the chef used his truffle wisely, as an accent to the mushrooms without overwhelming the dish. Mushroom risotto is one of the most classic dishes for an Italian restaurant, and this is one of the best in the city, especially for anyone who loves the rich creaminess of the Italian kitchen.
For dessert we tried the tiramisu (38 NIS). I rarely order tiramisu, since the cake often gets soggy. I was pleasantly surprised at this tiramisu. The cheesy layers were delicious and soft, the cake was soaked in excellent espresso and still managed to maintain its integrity. This is hands down the best tiramisu I have ever tasted in my life.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Al Dente
50 Ussishkin Street
Delivery from noon to 6 p.m. For delivery menu: Orders can be placed only by calling (02) 625-1479.
Kashrut: Jerusalem Rabbinate, cheeses are halav Yisrael.