Going out in Tel Aviv while possible war is on the rise has proven to be an interesting feat. People in Israel might be generally accustomed to insecurity and dispute, but they're also used to seeking out their daily needs, with a glass of wine, of course.
My partner and I visited Rustico on a night where the overall energy amongst the big city dwellers was leaning towards lower than usual, but this didn't stop the 9 year old establishment from being nearly full, nor did it affect its good-time vibes from infecting its guests.
Greeted with enthusiasm and a comforting casual professionalism, we took seats at the bar (after contemplating between it, the vibrant front terrace looking onto normally ecstatic Rothschild Avenue and the multileveled indoor floor) for a perfect view onto the open, sizzling-busy kitchen. Intoxicating smells of garlic, cheese and herbs were well received along with two welcoming shots of a bittersweet house aperitif. The menus cordially followed.
It is always encouraging to receive full attention and aid when choosing drink to dive into the evening with. Our bartender was knowledgeable and kind enough to offer us wine tastings before we opted for a bottle of red amongst many pickings of vino and harder, both Italian and otherwise, alcohols. Our 750 mL's of Italian Airone was 165 NIS satisfyingly-spent.
I wanna Mangiare!
Having all the restaurant cooks chop, toss and fizzle before our very eyes was both inspiring and confusing-all of their dishes continuously came out looking fabulous, and we were repeatedly tempted to change our order for what the next table was having. Alas, our eyes are bigger than our appetites, and we managed to settle on two starters and two mains.
Rustico has a wide variety of classic Italian dishes, including pastas, pizzas, gnocchi, risotto, seafood and meat. To begin with, we had Calamari Piccanti (42 NIS) and Artichokes with Truffles and Parmigiano (44 NIS). Both starters came out faster than we'd expected...and cold to our tastes. The Calamari consisted of seemingly steamed seafood tossed with roasted red peppers and herbs, toppled upon a thick slice of toasted ciabatta. The parmesan-decorated Artichokes (apparently imported from Italy-which I suppose is meant to tempt in its authenticity but actually negates the importance of fresh, local ingredients) were tasty but there was no sign of truffles or its oil on the plate or our palates. The simple green side-salad we ordered was a perfect accompaniment to our firsts (17 NIS).
We hesitated a great deal before picking our mains, but finally concluded the contemplation with Rustico's acclaimed steamed Fish al Cartoccio dish (99 NIS) and a plate of Cream, Spinach & Lemon Pappardelle (59 NIS). The fish itself was mild-to-taste and well cooked, served alongside tender homemade gnocchi and loads of tomato sauce and pitted olives. The catch is that the whole meal is made in a classic stone pizza oven, and is served straight from the aluminum foil that contained it while roasting. It was nice to watch the steam sift out from the silver parcel once cut open on the plate in front of us, but the dish itself rather reminded me of airplane food-standard and somewhat tasteless. The pasta was very good, the wide strips of pappardelle fresh and chewy in their consistent dressing and bits of sautéed greens.
Ingest to Digest
We couldn't quite manage the idea of having dessert after our very filling meals, but sipping on Limoncello after an Italian dinner is the only fair way to invite proper digestion. Two shots each of the thick, sweet, lemony liquid (15 NIS each) sent our systems straight into post-meal relaxation, despite the positively uplifting atmosphere we'd dedicated our night to.
Rustico may not serve food to blow you away, but it certainly provisions a stable spot in which to let go of your worries, surround yourself in joy and indulge in classic good times.
-a slice of Italy-
15 Rothschild Avenue, Tel Aviv
Open Sunday to Saturday from 12:00 to 24:00