During its first incarnation in 2003, when Catit was located in Kfar Ruth, it did not take very long for the restaurant to become widely acknowledged as one of the very best in the country. When the restaurant moved to Kibbutz Netzer Sireni two years later, it kept up its good name - but in the end chef-owner Meir Adoni realized this was not Tuscany or Provence, where many people gladly drive an hour or more to dine. So the restaurant moved again, this time to Tel Aviv.
The new Catit reopened several months ago in an old residential building that used to house Terra Toscana and then Doda. The interior offers an air of genteel elegance. One enters via a long hall alongside an attractive bar. The hall opens to several intimate dining rooms and one larger dining space, where the original oriental-patterned tiles are complimented by gauzy white drapes and a collection of handsome lamps and small chandeliers. With the off-white walls and columns, and the quiet classical music in the background, this atmosphere captures the quiet luxury of a fine French country restaurant. If you push back the drapes, you can see the irresistibly lovely garden, which is open to dining when the weather is appropriate.
Much like the atmosphere, the culinary offerings are also French, but with a distinct Mediterranean hint. The bread, for example, was accompanied by what our very pleasant and attentive waitress called aioli but was in fact a rouille, that delightful Provencal concoction of cayenne pepper, garlic, olive oil, egg yolk and saffron whipped to a mayonnaise-like consistency. Three types of bread were offered: an excellent thick-crusted rye, an herbed white bread and a roll. All were excellent and suited the rouille very well.
As an amuse bouche, my companion and I were both automatically offered what the chef calls a "tartare Falestine," a blend of cold, finely ground beef fillet mixed with pickled lemons, mint, parsley and tehina. Set on an airy eggplant cream, the dish was a delight. Equally a delight, when informed my companion would not be eating meat, the waitstaff immediately whisked away her plate and shortly replaced it with a miniature offering of a rich, thick and delicious shrimp-chestnut soup. Two other taste-teasers also came our way, and both were just as good. One was a carpaccio of blue dartfish, a fish not often found in local waters. It is highly prized for its firm, lean and lightly iodine-flavored flesh. The other was a slice of pan-fried eel, basted in a teriyaki and date honey sauce.
As a formal first course my companion opted for the blue crab bisque. The rich, creamy soup was made of crab meat, fish stock, crab and shrimp shells, butter and sweet cream, and seasoned with basil, white pepper and a dash of hot pepper, then whipped into a light foam. The soup would have been excellent on its own, but adding to its charms were several firm, flavorful shrimp ravioli served on the side. The soup also came with several caramelized apple bits, which I judged to be a bit redundant.
My own choice was for the veal brain. The meat was cooked until it melted in the mouth, and was served on a well made demi-glace sauce and set on a bed of perfectly smooth potato puree enriched with raisins and hazelnuts.
Before making our way to main courses, we were served a refreshing sorbet of almond milk seasoned lightly with rosewater and tiny strands of rice noodles. The sorbet was very good, although it showed a bit of over-creativity - the rice noodles detracted rather than added.
For a main course I chose the lamb sirloin, which was roasted with a baharat spice mixture of black pepper, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric. The meat, cut thickly, had been prepared precisely as it should have been - charred on the exterior but perfectly pink inside. It was served with a sauce of juniper berries, quince and shallot. On the side was a slice of a well-made potato, spinach and ricotta lasagna. In short, the dish was both inspiring and well-executed.
My companion's choice was for the grouper. The thick cut of fish was baked with sage, and served on a bed of eggplant blended with tehina and date honey. Several goat cheese ravioli came on the side, and the dish was rich and rewarding.
We closed with espressos and two desserts, a tarragon brulee and a chocolate combination. The brulee was far from traditional - it was in fact an overly-sweet zabaglione. The chocolate combo included several flavors of petits fours, a chocolate macaroon and a cocoa sorbet. All were tasty, but none were exciting.
Our food bill for two came to NIS 515, to which a bottle of white Cotes du Rhone of Guigal added NIS 116. These prices make the restaurant one of the more expensive in town, but considering the quality and originality of the cuisine, the attentive and responsive service and the atmosphere that cannot help but woo you, those prices represent very good value for money. There is no doubt that Catit retains its place as one of the very best restaurants in the country.
Catit: 4 Hichal Hatalmud Street (near the corner of Yehuda Halevi Street), Tel Aviv. Open daily 12-3 P.M. and 7-11 P.M. Tel.: (03) 510-7001.
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