Rome comes to Tel Aviv

Since we were four diners, we were able to try a range of appetizers and main dishes, and learn a little Italian while doing it!

Rome comes  to Tel Aviv (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rome comes to Tel Aviv
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I thought I had at least heard about most of the kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv, but when I did a Google search for a kosher restaurant near the beach in central Tel Aviv, a restaurant called Pankina came up on the corner of Gordon and Dizengoff. As I had never heard of it, I was eager to try it, and I’m glad I did.
We met friends for an early dinner, and the restaurant – with white tablecloths and good wineglasses – looked inviting as we sat down. Owner Shalom Zarrugh was in Italy, but his assistant Jennifer Khalfa welcomed us warmly. Zarrugh, who is from Livorno, opened the restaurant with two partners – Alberto Moscati, who is the chef, and Rafael Fattoum, three years ago.
We decided to give Jennifer free rein on what we would try, although my friend David doesn’t eat cheese (which can make a dinner at an Italian restaurant challenging). Since we were four diners, we were able to try a range of appetizers and main dishes, and learn a little Italian while doing it! The names of the dishes are all in Italian, while the explanations are available in Hebrew and English.
For appetizers, we tried the concia di zucchini (NIS 39) traditional Roman-style fried and marinated zucchini, served with a focaccia. It brought me back to restaurants in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, and was simply delicious.
Zarrugh says that the recipe started in the Jewish ghetto in Rome during the 16th century. Jews were allowed out only to shop for the last hour the market was open, and so were stuck with subpar produce. That’s where the idea of marinating or frying the vegetables originated.
“Today, of course, we use the very best zucchini we can buy,” he said, laughing.
We also had a delicate carpaccio bianco (NIS 59) made with very thin slices of meagre fish (musar yam in Hebrew), citrus and rocket leaves.
The arancini (NIS 59) – fried mushroom risotto balls with mozzarella inside and parmigiana on top – made me happy that my husband was late and my friend David doesn’t eat cheese, so my friend Ruth and I could each have two balls instead of one! We also enjoyed the tartare tonno rosso (NIS 69), fresh red tuna on top of homemade guacamole. The only appetizer that didn’t thrill me was the bruschetta (NIS 35), slices of toasted bread with fresh tomatoes, garlic and salt. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just didn’t have the wow factor.
We then split two pasta dishes and two fish dishes. The first pasta dish was called spaghetti pantesca (NIS 89) with diced red tuna, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers, and pistachio powder. It was not like anything I had ever had before, and would not have been my first choice, but it was a unique combination of flavors that I was glad I tried.
The other pasta we tried was fettucini porcino e tartuffo (NIS 99) with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream with olive oil. It was rich and had a strong truffle flavor. I highly recommend this dish if you like truffles.
The first fish dish was the hit of the evening for me. Filetto di tonno (NIS 129) was a red tuna steak cooked rare in a pistachio crust. The portion was not huge, but each bite was a delicacy, and fresh tuna is a pricey item. David chose the second fish dish, Bistecca di ricciola (NIS 125) meagre steak with herb-flavored butter. It was good, but didn’t compare to the tuna.
With the meal, we had a bottle of the Psagot Chardonnay, which was crisp and well made.
By this time, we were almost too full for dessert (note the almost, please), and shared a tiramisu served in a coffee cup that was really good (NIS 39), a mille-feuille Napoleon-type biscuit and cream dessert, and the surprise winner, a semifreddo covered in chocolate sauce. Afterward, we staggered outside, and it took a minute to realize we weren’t in Rome anymore.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
39 Y.L. Gordon Street, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 644-9793
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 12 noon – 11 p.m.
Saturday night: one hour after Shabbat
Kashrut: Tel Aviv Rabbinate, but all dairy products are halav Yisrael and vegetables are Gush Katif.