Although everyone knows gnocchi is an Italian dish, its roots are actually found in the Middle East during the time of Roman rule. The Romans adopted the dish, and though no one knows with certainty when it reached the Italians' table, its history goes back at least 600 years.
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The Italians spread their love of gnocchi across Europe and South America, where one can find a variety of imaginative versions that allude to the original. You can even find variations of the dish in Italy – each region has its own take on it. But regardless of the region, the same debate rages everywhere across the country: Is gnocchi considered a type of pasta or not? Some argue that the moment it's prepared with semolina or potato it can't possibly be pasta, while others say that although the dish is prepared differently, its texture, versatility, and suitability to a wide range of sauces are practically identical to pasta. All will agree, however, that a good gnocchi is measured by the balanced ratio between the flour and the potato.
Pasta or not, in Italy, gnocchi is considered to be a children's food, because it has a soft, doughy texture, and because it is an inexpensive, popular food. It is therefore a pity that because of the complexity of preparing gnocchi, it has become one of the most expensive dishes on a local menu.
French refinement: Parisian gnocchi at Mel & Michelle
Mel & Michelle's is one of the quietest, most romantic, and most beautiful restaurants in Tel Aviv. But the dining establishment has had a pretty turbulent year which saw the exit of chef Yogev Yaros, who had founded the restaurant seven years ago. Some customers feared that it wouldn't be the same, but we were happy to discover that chef Nir Wayman not only preserved Mel & Michelle's strengths, but also helped the place shake off its image of exclusivity.
The dish: Parisian gnocchi. This term was invented by the chef Thomas Keller to describe a lighter version of Italian gnocchi. Those who want to understand what Mel & Michelle is all about should start with this refined dish of golden parcels of gnocchi in a cheese truffle cream. But despite its light taste, it calls for a complex preparation that uses cheeses such as parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella – raw materials that make it especially soft and indulgent.
After cooking, the gnocchi is lightly seared in olive oil to give it a crispy coating, and finally the delicate sauce is added to the luxurious mix of truffle cream and cheese. The fact that the gnocchi is placed on top of the sauce instead of within it is important, since it shows how much confidence is placed in the taste of the gnocchi itself. In short: a perfect dish that is nothing less than the best gnocchi in Tel Aviv.
Price: NIS 78
If you're already here: Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the crudo – raw fish with hot pepper and caramel, over sheep's milk yogurt.
Mel & Michelle, 155 Ben Yehuda St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
A little surprise: Beet gnocchi at Methuselah
This wine and food bar in Florentine celebrated its four-year anniversary last month. The last few years have seen it cement its position as the best wine bar in the neighborhood of Florentin, but this cozy spot is also one of the best in the city. Methuselah has also expanded its food menu to include larger dishes from Spain, Russia and Italy, alongside its familiar tapas offerings.
The dish: beet gnocchi. Methuselah's gnocchi surprised us in more ways than one: First, the size of the dish and its low cost proved to us that you can make a great gnocchi without breaking the bank and second, because of the taste. The nicely-sized dumplings are made with balanced quantities of potato and are served with a rich, buttery sauce, garlic, cream, and beets. The Manchego cheese sprinkled on top gives the dish a nice kick. Bottom line: it's the best gnocchi in the city that you didn't know about.
Price: NIS 38
If you're already here: it's worth trying the Russian breakfast, even if you come at night.
Methuselah, 16 Ariel Hakosta St. Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
After dark: the house gnocchi at Night Kitchen
When Chef Yoav Bliman closed his Frida Kahlo restaurant last summer, it was clear that he would be back on the scene. And indeed he was – half a year later he had opened the Night Kitchen, a venue that combines a nocturnal atmosphere, alcohol and tasty, creative food. It's simply one of the most fun places that have opened in the city recently.
The dish: house gnocchi. Bliman's gnocchi caught us unprepared. It's lightly seared, with a gentle coating of a mushroom, cherry tomato and smoky, scorched-asparagus sauce. The taste of the gnocchi has hints of the classic Italian version alongside a new interpretation of the classic dish. Thanks to the addition of celery, which seemed a little daunting but turned out be a vital component of the flavor structure. In short, Night Kitchen's gnocchi is unlike any other, and is also one of the most refreshing versions to be found in Tel Aviv.
Price: NIS 52
If you're already here: try the beef tartare with pineapple and parsley cream. It's not a dish you see every day.
Night Kitchen, 40 Lilenblum, Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
The stylish version: Winter vegetable gnocchi at Herbert Samuel
Herbert Samuel is famous for several unforgettable dishes, such as its legendary tomato salad, and its gnocchi.
The dish: winter vegetable gnocchi. Half a year ago Chef Yonatan Roshfeld made a brave decision and bade farewell to the chestnut and truffle gnocchi – a dish that had become one of the popular in the city. It was replaced with a winter vegetable version; a seasonal dish that includes all of the best things to be found over the colder months, such as snow peas, garden peas, and Jerusalem artichoke. These are enveloped in a reduced beet juice and healthy lashings of butter and truffle. Roshfeld tops it all off with a delightful blue-cheese cream that cuts through the delicacy and sweetness of the dish, adding a bolder flavor. The final result is a rich, delightful gnocchi, with a different taste to each bite. In short: we'd be happy to eat it in the summer, too.
If you're already here, you might as well order a mythological, sinful dessert. The Nemesis is one of the best chocolate treats in Tel Aviv.
Herbert Samuel, 6 Koifman St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
For connoisseurs: cocoa and nougat gnocchi at Bellini
It's easy to get caught up in new, trendy restaurants and forget the trusty old stalwarts that have been serving up good food for years – food that is tasty, uncomplicated, and gets the job done. Even before the Neve Tzedek neighborhood became a popular tourist spot, Bellini was serving well-made Italian food, cleverly taking advantage of the beautiful cityscape to give visitors the feeling of being abroad.
The dish: cocoa and nougat gnocchi. This winter, Bellini decided to give gnocchi center stage, so you can now find more than eight types of dumplings suited to almost every taste. Amongst all the dishes we tried, we fell in love with the sweet version of this tasty treat. You can argue that it's far from the original, but it's still of the best, most original interpretations of the dish we've tasted. The potato has been replaced with cocoa and nougat, resulting in a rich soft dish that is given added sweetness thanks to a pistachio and mascarpone cream, strawberries, and a coconut and berries sorbet. The bottom line: this is a large, spectacular serving that breaks with convention.
If you’re already here: If you fancy trying a more mainstream version of the dish, it's worth lingering over the gnocchi a-la Romano, fluffy semolina gnocchi made with capers, mushrooms, lemon butter and shrimp.
Bellini: Yechieli 6 St., Suzanne Dellal Center, Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
Some more gnocchi dishes you must try:
Toto Toto has had several signature dishes since its early years. One of these is the chestnut gnocchi (NIS 82), a huge dish full of buttery gnocchi served with an abundance of chestnut slices swimming in a dominant and rich truffle sauce with a powerful aroma. For some lightness, they’ve added a little aged parmesan on top, giving the dish a nice smoky flavor. The chestnuts provide a sweet contrast to the truffle, and the sauce is so good it could be eaten all by itself. A small tip: save a slice of bread to mop up all the juices left on the plate at the end. To conclude: it's pretty clear how this dish became a mandatory order with every visit to Toto.
Toto, 6 Berkowitz St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
Tranquilla Despite the fact that quite a few gnocchi dishes can be found across the city, there aren't many kosher restaurants that take as much time over their preparation as Tranquilla does. Here the gnocchi is served in a tomato sauce, with shredded mozzarella and parsley oil (NIS 67). In comparison with other dishes on the menu that are subtle and delicate, this is a bold dish, thanks to the tomato sauce with a generous helping of garlic parsley oil. Basically, you don't need much more.
Tranquilla, 1 Mikve Yisrael St., Tel Aviv. Kosher
Pappas This restaurant is known for making everything in house, including the pasta and gnocchi. The menu offers two types of gnocchi that are also available in half portions. The first of these was good (the parmesan gnocchi with seared artichoke, NIS 68), but the second was nothing short of excellent: the gnocchi with mushrooms and truffle (NIS 58). This is a large, luxurious dish, and the rich taste of the truffle is also present in the dough itself. It is without a doubt one of the ten best dishes in the city.
Pappas, 13 Hillel Hazaken St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
Shine 38 This fun Italian restaurant offers a tasty gnocchi with peas, garlic and mint (NIS 49), with an option to add bacon for NIS 7. We contented ourselves with the vegetarian version of the dish, which was well-executed, indulgent and delicious. It's also one of the best value-for-money deals in the city center – Worthwhile.
Shine 38, 38 Shlomo Hamelech St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
Pasta Mia This established restaurant has an endless amount of sauces that can be added to the gnocchi, which is offered in three different varieties: Regular gnocchi, gnocchi with sweet potato and gnocchi stuffed with cheese. Having sampled several types, we recommend the gnocchi stuffed with cheese, served with a pesto sauce. It's simple, tasty, and surprisingly soft. The only low point was the high price relative to the size of the dish (NIS 67).
Pasta Mia, 10 Wilson St., Tel Aviv. Non-kosher
The best gnocchi outside of Tel Aviv
Marabou This dish has gathered quite a few fans who are willing to swear that it's the best in the country. The truth? It's one of the best. It's difficult to pick a favorite when the gnocchi is either served with scallops as an appetizer; or as a main dish with seafood. But when pushed, we'll have to say that the first version is better, thanks to the delicate handling of the scallops that complete the truffle cream instead of being overwhelmed by it.
Marabou, 14 Abba Hillel St., Ramat Gan. Non-kosher
Topolino This small, modest Italian restaurant on the edge of the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem serves one of the most surprising, tasty gnocchi dishes we tried. There's no shortage of beet gnocchi dishes, but we haven't seen one like this yet. The gnocchi is served with a rich and bright pink sauce, and it's perfectly balanced between sweet and savory.
Topolino, 62 Aggripas St., Jerusalem. Kosher
Armonim The oldest restaurant in Moshav Segula serves up a well-made and tasty gnocchi dish, though it's not exactly subtle. Just when we thought we couldn't see any more gnocchi served with mushrooms/chestnuts/truffle, we came across their chestnut gnocchi (NIS 59). The plump parcels have been stir-fried with the chestnuts, lending them a wonderful color. Some cream and truffle oil have been added to strengthen the flavor, resulting in a warm, comforting dish that hit the spot on a cold evening, and made us want to taste the other dishes on the menu.
Armonim, Moshav Segula. Non-kosher
Nammos This place has everything you could need for a great lunch: spectacular views of the Herzliya marina, and a creative (but expensive) Mediterranean menu. The gnocchi with truffle, shrimps, white wine, and tomatoes (NIS 109) is nothing short of excellent. The combination of the plump gnocchi with the large shrimps results in a truly Mediterranean dish– perfect to eat with a sea view.
Nammos, 1 Hatazadaf, Herzliya Marina. Non-kosher
Hanamal 24 Each dish here has been creatively crafted by chef Ran Rosh, who heads up one of the best restaurants in the Haifa area. The potato gnocchi with caramelized garlic and garden vegetables in porcini mushroom cream (NIS 94) is a colorful, beautifully presented dish. It's also so heavy it'll go well with a long siesta afterwards.
Hanamal 24, 24 Hanamal St., Haifa. Non-kosher