The fine dining scene in Tel Aviv lost one of its shining beacons earlier this year, when the highly acclaimed restaurant Garrigue suddenly closed its doors after only two years in existence. In the current unsettled climate for the restaurant industry, it was not to be expected that another upscale dining establishment would set up shop in its place; and indeed, the premises are now occupied by a no-frills eatery that is part restaurant and part deli. And yet, the quality of the food purveyed by Spuntini would not disappoint even the most discerning of connoisseurs.
The unlikely culinary architect of this little gem of Italian cuisine is, of all nationalities, a Frenchman. Julien Attia is a seasoned restaurateur who owned a successful group of no fewer than 11 restaurants in one of the world’s leading culinary destinations, Paris. Israel was not even on his radar when his family asked him to come and check on an investment in olive oil, and he ended up staying here.
For several years, Attia ran the local branch of the famous Fauchon patisserie brand. His latest venture – Spuntini, which means snacks in Italian – is much smaller and very unpretentious, while remaining a handsome and inviting venue.
Spuntini’s large, one-page menu revolves around three main categories: Pastas, Sandwiches, and Salads. In turn, the pastas and sandwiches are each grouped into three price categories: NIS 29, NIS 39, or NIS 52. All five salads are priced at NIS 39.
The restaurant’s marketing model, meanwhile, appears to be focused on its business lunches, which are served daily between noon and 5 p.m. (since the restaurant closes at 8 p.m., those five hours are its busiest). Business lunches comprise an appetizer of antipasti, a pasta main course and a drink for NIS 45, NIS 55 or NIS 65, depending on the price category reflected in your choice of pasta.
The menu also lists four Starters (NIS 12-15), among which the mini-antipasti is the one promoted by the business lunch menu. The mini-antipasti consists of a small plate of roasted vegetables (itemized in the Hebrew version of the menu only): zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and sweet potato. The vegetables were clearly sourced fresh; lightly seasoned and gently cooked, they were delicious.
Attia recommended the house pasta: fusilli Spuntini, served distinctively with two Sicilian spinach balls, the likes of which I had yet to encounter. It is a dish certainly worthy of being eponymous: the densely packed, deep green spinach balls had such intense, concentrated flavor that they demanded being cut into pieces and mixed in with the corkscrew pasta, whose exceptional pesto sauce had the perfect balance of zesty herbs and rich cream.
Attia’s recommendation of salad was not one I would have chosen on my own: the Caprese, which can be found on countless menus in Israeli restaurants. Once again, it turned out to be anything but commonplace – starting with the presentation: a giant ball of fresh mozzarella, surrounded by an ocean of halved yellow and red cherry tomatoes. Plus – most unusually – huge slices of sun-dried tomato. The entire mélange was drizzled with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing that, far from being cloying, rendered the salad refreshing.
For my second pasta, I chose the only one represented in the al forno category: lasagna (NIS 39.) (The only other dish to come out of the oven is the fish of the day.) The generous portion of baked pasta, layered with béchamel and Parmesan, was drenched in an outstanding tomato sauce, creating a hearty and satisfying dish.
Perhaps the most unique offering available at Spuntini is the Italian cheese platter (NIS 59), which is most notable for the variety of superb kosher cheeses I never knew existed: Pecorino Toscano, Gorgonzola Piccante, Parmigiano Reggiano aged for 60 months, and Pecorino with black truffles. It has to be tasted to be believed.
Finally, there is a limited selection of desserts (NIS 6-19) – tiramisu, of course, but also two that I was to experience for the first time at Spuntini: torta caprese, and sfogiatelle. The former is a full-bodied chocolate cake studded with slivered almonds, while the latter is a very small puff pastry, shaped like a lobster tail, filled with a kind of crême pâtissière you would find in an éclair. Depending on how much room you have left after enjoying a bowl of pasta, you can’t go wrong with either one.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Ahad Ha’am St. 15, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 946-0590