Above: Delicacy at the Anna Restaurant

Israel is blessed with quite a few Italian restaurants, making paring any list down to just ten difficult. To make it a little easier, this list does not include places that are primarily pizzerias. Hopefully this alphabetical list – including four restaurants that are certified kosher – will introduce some worthwhile eateries.

 – Buzzy Gordon

Anna
Beit Ticho, 10 HaRav Agan St, Jerusalem
Tel: 02 543 4144

Anna is one of those places where you feel good even before you’ve started eating. That is because it is more than just a restaurant; it is a business with the added dimension of giving back to society.

Backed by the Dualis Social Investment Fund, whose flagship restaurant is the kosher Liliyot in Tel Aviv, Anna employs at-risk youth and trains them in a respected profession.

The restaurant is rather new, and for some reason there is no sign anywhere. Anna occupies the entire second floor of the Beit Ticho Museum, including an al fresco seating area on the veranda, plus a room for private functions.

The kitchen, however, is in the hands of seasoned professionals, formerly of the vaunted Machneyuda group – experience that is reflected both in the quality of the food and the excellent service.

The bilingual menu boasts a few categories, with a limited number of dishes in each: Bread, Starters, First Course, Pasta, Fish, Pizza and Desserts. Fortunately, elements of each category migrate: starters overwhelmingly feature vegetables, but an outstanding salad is also one of the first courses; another first course is raw fish, and the remaining two are variations of pasta: gnocchi and risotto, both of which highlight vegetables.  

One outstanding dish combines fish and pasta: the papardelle, topped with expertly cooked fillet of sea bream. The pizzas, meanwhile, ideally sized for two people, have ultra-thin crusts, perfect for folding. 

Anna offers several classic Italian cocktails, and a mix of Italian and continental desserts. The wine list—which is more extensive than one expects from a dairy restaurant in Jerusalem—comprises three reds, three whites, and a rosé - all sold by  the glass.

■Kosher

Bellini
6 Yehieli St, Tel Aviv
Tel: 077 334 0485

 Like the Suzanne Dellal Center with which it shares a plaza, Bellini has been a fixture in the heart of quaint Neve Tzedek for nearly two decades. Its rustic decor gives it a homey feel.

Bellini offers a few specialty cocktails, but – unlike the printed English menu – they are listed only electronically, and only in Hebrew. The wine list, comprising reds and whites from Italy and Israel, is also electronic but largely bilingual, with a separate category for wines by the glass.

The menu categories are Appetizers (one each of antipasti, fish, artichokes, and meat); Salads (three, one of which is warm): Risotto (one each of vegetable, meat and seafood); Pizza (eight, including a vegan and even a fruit option); Pasta (including three versions of gnocchi); Mare (fish and seafood); and Carne (meat). Bellini has more veal dishes than found in most Italian restaurants in Israel - even saltimbocca, when the kitchen has prosciutto in stock.

A nice touch is the way Parmesan cheese is served with the pasta dishes: a block of aged cheese with a personal grater. Regional dishes that are especially recommended are the Sicilian veal and the Tuscan filet of beef.

Desserts are the usual Italian classics, plus two less common ones: a lemony Sorrento cream, and Baci – a rich chocolate and hazelnut tart. The homemade limoncello is a unique digestif, made from grapefruits from trees on the premises.

Given the generous size of its portions (the salads are particularly huge), Bellini offers good value – none more so than its business lunches, served until 17.00 every day but Saturday: an antipasti buffet, focaccia, soft drink and main course for NIS 68-78.

■ Not Kosher

Bellisimo  
29 Ha-Erez St, Pardesiya  
Tel: 077 204 2205

Tucked away in a small commercial center in a residential area of the community of Pardesiya is Bellissimo, a kosher dairy Italian restaurant that will soon be celebrating its fourth anniversary.

It is a neighborhood restaurant in the sense that it is serves three meals a day – indeed, the only restaurant in our list that serves breakfast – but in the evenings it attracts diners from all over the Sharon.   

The English and Hebrew menus encompass alcohol, food and desserts, starting with nice specialty cocktails suitable as pre-dinner or dessert drinks. The menu also has vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free options, as well as kids’ meals.  The pastas at Bellissimo are either made from scratch or imported from Italy.

The menu features a few ambitious appetizers, a variety of pastas, fish main courses, and goodies that come out of the taboun: focaccias, pizzas, white pizzas and - a rare treat in Israel – calzone. Noteworthy among the pasta dishes are the gnocchi, which constitute a whole category at Bellissimo.  

The wines are all Israeli, with most of the ones available by the glass white. There are wine-of-the-month specials, while the house red and white are a reasonable NIS 21 per glass.

In addition to discounted business lunches, Bellissimo hosts monthly   fixed price, five-course, wine-tasting meals that are invariably sold out. It also has a loyalty club that entitles members to a slew of attractive benefits, such as  “buy one, get one free” entrées and beer on Sunday evenings.

■Kosher

Luca e Lino
20 Lilienblum St, Tel Aviv
Tel:03 903 7277

 Luca e Lino has gone through a number of incarnations on its way to its present iteration in downtown Tel Aviv. For years, it operated as the popular Italian restaurant Topolino in Jerusalem, at first kosher with certification and then kosher independently. A few months ago, the owner not only changed cities, but also modified the cuisine, to that of southern Italy.

Luca e Lino is not a place to come to try a new version of an old favorite: there is hardly a dish here – even among the antipasti and pastas – that you will have heard of. But Israelis apparently are ready to venture out of their culinary comfort zone: the new restaurant is often full at peak hours (reservations recommended).

The restaurant’s entire menu (save for desserts) fits easily onto one typed page. Antipasti, which appear here separately and before the starters, include an unusual onion focaccia and six small distinctive mezze, such as almond tehina.

There are eight starters, four pastas (two of which are gnocchi, and one the rarely encountered pici), and six main courses, comprising hearty meat and fish dishes.  

It is on the dessert menu that we finally find some familiar Italian treats  – tiramisu, panna cotta, affogato and cannoli – albeit with twists, incorporating ingredients found less commonly in desserts, such as jasmine and basil. 

Luca e Lino does not have any specialty cocktails, but they will mix classic ones, The wine list boasts some Italian vintages, along with a minority of Israeli wines.

Business lunches – two courses, plus a glass of soda water, for the price of a main course ­– are served Monday to Thursday, 12.30 to 16.00.

■Not Kosher

Mel and Michelle
155 Ben Yehuda St, Tel Aviv  
Tel: 03 529 3232

 Mel and Michelle is a cozy, intimate trattoria in an area of north Tel Aviv full of popular restaurants. With starched white tablecloths and candles on the tables, and a small al fresco area cordoned off on the sidewalk, it exudes an atmosphere of romance.

The Hebrew and English menus are each one typed page long, with eight first courses and seven main courses.

There is an outstanding house bread – reminiscent of a buttery Texas toast – served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar poured at the table. There are no specialty cocktails, but the classics may be ordered. 

Our knowledgeable waitress told us which dishes Mel and Michelle is best known for: seared artichokes on soft polenta; Parisian gnocchi cheese dumplings – not the classic potato pasta – in white truffle cream; and the egg yolk tortellini filled with ragu of ribeye and chicken liver, in veal stock and lemon.

Other dishes she recommended were the verdura (fresh vegetable) carpaccio with Gorgonzola cheese, and the Di Mare seafood pasta.

The international wine list includes one red and one white. There are good versions of standard Italian desserts, plus a refreshing fruit soup with basil apple sorbet.

With fully a third of the menu vegetarian, this is a good place for vegetarians, especially since our two favorite dishes of the evening were vegetarian. Mel and Michelle also offers vegan and gluten-free pasta options.

■Not Kosher

Nono    
2 Jabotinsky St, Hod Hasharon  
Tel: 09 835
3600 

 Set in a suburban compound it shares with a sports club, Nono is very family friendly, although there are also romantic corners in the expansive al fresco area in the rear. There are good English menus, and our waitress spoke excellent English.

Dominating the main seating room are large, domed, wood-fired ovens imported from Italy, symbols of Nono’s attention to detail and authenticity: the restaurant’s pastas and pizzas are all made from scratch with Italian flour. It has a good variety of both red and white pizzas, some of which feature topping combinations you will find nowhere else.

Nono’s kitchen has the ability to elevate simple ingredients, like roasted vegetables, to the sublime. Its bountiful salads are large enough to be main courses. In addition to pastas, there are chicken, beef, fish and seafood dishes.

In the realm of alcohol, Nono serves specialty cocktails and a house vintage - Lewinsohn - that is part of the proprietors’ family business. The restaurant offers free tastes of its house wines.

Desserts are a really strong point here, to the point where Nono opened a sister patisserie, named Mimi, next door. Both places carry their homemade gelati, available in a dozen flavors, including gluten-free options. Diners may choose from Nono’s traditional dessert menu – whose stars are the “inside-out kasata” and the mozzarella kanafeh – or the sweets from Mimi, a few of which are gluten-free or sugar-free.

■Not Kosher

(The) Olive Leaf   

Sheraton Hotel, Hayarkon St, Tel Aviv
Tel: 03 521 1111

 The fine dining restaurant of the Sheraton Tel Aviv has always prided itself on its Mediterranean cuisine, although not necessarily that of our maritime neighbor to the West, Italy.

Recently, however, the hotel’s new food and beverage manager, who spent years living in Italy, hired an Italian chef, Michele Bozzetto, and his expertise has wrought changes to the menu that merit the restaurant’s inclusion in this issue’s category.

Chef Bozzetto and the Sheraton’s new executive chef, Boaz Dror, are revamping the restaurant’s menu for the winter, but certain Italian classics will always be available. Bozzetto has been relearning and honing his craft to adapt to the strictures of kashrut, a challenge he has welcomed. The result is unique in the Israeli landscape, to my knowledge: a kosher restaurant that is authentically Italian and meat, not dairy.

Among the dishes Bozzetto has created are a delicate zucchini flower tempura; a savory risotto whose creamy texture does not derive from melted cheese; a distinctive “open lasagna,” topped with a rich ragout of lamb; and fresh tuna steak with homemade gnocchi in a provencale sauce.

Some of the best known classic Italian desserts – tiramisu, cannoli, affogato – are ruled out when butter and whipped cream are banished from the kitchen. Therefore, Bozzeto and the Sheraton pastry chefs rely heavily on fruit and chocolate to make their sweets.

As a gourmet restaurant, the Olive Leaf has a dedicated sommelier. Understandably, the wine list favors Israeli vintages, but there are kosher wines imported from Italy as well.

■Kosher  

Pastaria, Pasta Bar,  
184 Ahuza St, Raanana
Tel: 09 773 4383

South African native Hilton Block, one of the founders of the Rustico chain of Italian eateries in Tel Aviv, is the proprietor of this mehadrin kosher - and more family-friendly - version of Rustico. At the core of Pastaria’s menu are thin-crust pizzas and a variety of pastas, but the restaurant also serves salads, focaccias and fish.

Pastas include Aglio Olio, made with healthy olive oil, for only NIS 29, and the more indulgent Cream Mushroom pasta, with a cream sauce, mushrooms, white wine, garlic and Parmesan, also reasonably priced at NIS 41.

Complementing an expansive menu for adults is Pastaria’s kids’ menu, which is more interesting than that of many restaurants, featuring easy-eating penne and spoon-twirling linguini with a choice of sauces.

Embracing an inclusive hospitality, Pastaria’s business lunches are served from noon to 17.00, Sundays through Thursdays. For only NIS 15 above the price of any salad, pasta, focaccia, pizza or fish dish, a diner can get a first course – a choice of a green salad, caesar salad or soup – and a cold or hot drink.

Pastaria does excellent fish: a recent catch of the day was a perfectly prepared pan-fried salmon filet with a vegetable medley. For dessert, the restaurant offers tiramisu, chocolate mousse or cheesecake.

Conveniently located on Raanana’s main drag, with free parking in the rear, Pastaria is the sum total of the winning combination of fresh, flavorful and affordable food, and fast and friendly service.

■Kosher

Pronto  
4 Herzl St,Tel Aviv  
Tel: 03 566 0915

 Mentions of Pronto in the press never fail to rank it not only among the best Italian restaurants in town – #1, in fact, according to Time Out – but among the best restaurants in Tel Aviv, full stop. This is thanks to Chef David Frenkel, winner of the San Pellegrino Cup in their annual global competition in Venice.

Judging from the mix of languages one overhears, the clientele is international; and judging from the professionalism of the wait staff, who are proficient in English, it is apparent that they are used to catering to customers with high standards.

There are two separate bilingual menus: classic and aperitivo; the latter innovation, in effect from 17.00 to 20.00, lists the starters that come free with the order of a cocktail. Of course, the specialty cocktails here are worth ordering in any event.

The menu categories at Pronto are Garden and Grain, Pasta, Sea, and Meat. In addition, there are daily specials, often based on the fresh fish catch of the day, or on the aged beef judged ready to be served. It may not be easy, but be sure to save room for one of the wonderful desserts.  

Of course, gastronomic experiences at this level do not come cheap; for most people, an evening visit to Pronto should be considered an occasion to splurge.

The good news, though, is that an affordable business lunch is served weekdays until 16.00.

And for those inclined to invest in fine dining, the restaurant’s loyalty club – La Familia – will reward you with a free business lunch after you have purchased six.

■Not Kosher

Quattro  
21 Ha’arba’a St, Tel Aviv
Tel: 03 919 1555

 The Award Winning avant garde decor of Quattro reflects the restaurant’s culinary philosophy: modern Italian cuisine. And as part of the Messa Group (Messa and Quattro are neighbors, on the southern edge of Sarona), it is only natural that Quattro also have a reputation for fine cuisine and impeccable service. Quattro boasts a few specialty cocktails and a full bar, although the bottles are not visible behind the impressive bar that swirls its way through the center of the restaurant. The restaurant’s extensive wine list, curated by its resident sommelier, features Israeli and Italian wines, a good many of which are available by the glass. Interestingly, pasta dishes here do not appear as a separate menu category; rather, four of them can be found among the starters, and six as main courses, including two vegetarian. There are only two pizzas on the menu, along with three salads. There are specials every day, as both appetizers and main courses. Nonpasta dishes cover a variety of fish (both raw and cooked), seafood and beef entrיes, and even vegan options on request. Desserts at Quattro are masterpieces – visual and gustatory – created by a team of pastry chefs. Meals at Quattro may not be inexpensive, but the restaurant deserves credit for offering affordable business lunches every day of the week: weekdays from NIS 69-109; Fridays, NIS 86; and Saturdays, NIS 129.

Not Kosher

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About the author

Buzzy Gordon

Award-winning journalist Buzzy Gordon is a prolific restaurant reviewer, writing for The Jerusalem Post, Ynetnews, and the premier website for Israels diplomatic community.

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