1. Pink beet risotto with goat cheese and carrot sauce, at Oasis
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The place: Oasis, one of the most talked-about restaurants in Tel Aviv over the last few years, is run by chef Rima Olvera.
Rice work if you can get it: Beet risotto with goat cheese, Italian herbs, green fava beans and light carrot sauce. That long, drawn-out description adds up to one of the most spectacular dishes we tasted. Aside from its beautiful presentation and enticing smell, Rima’s risotto just lit up our mouths. First the Italian cheese hits with its salty, sour taste; then the sweet, gentle taste of the beets, followed by the carrot, taking things even further, along with a twist of green fava beans. To sum up, Rima proves that risotto can be one sexy dish.
The price: 86 shekels ($25)
While you’re at it: Rima has an incredible take on Italian tiramisu – she adds a strong twist of passionflower.
Oasis, 1 Tchernichovsky Street, Tel Aviv
2. Lemon risotto with saffron, at Il Pastaio
The place: Il Pastaio has been a fixture on the Tel Aviv food scene for three generations, from grandfather to grandchild. It is one of the best, most authentic Italian restaurants in the area.
Rice work... Lemon risotto with saffron. Ask the waiter for this dish, then sit back and wait to be amazed. Though it takes some time (as it is freshly prepared in-house), it’s worth the wait for this Milanese risotto, which boasts a deep, rich yellow color and sharp lemon flavor that’s gentle yet biting. Add in velvety sauce and perfectly cooked rice.
The price: 71 shekels
While you’re at it: Don’t miss the fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese
Il Pastaio, 27 Ibn Gabirol, Tel Aviv
3. Porcini mushroom risotto, at Sardinia
The place: Chef Roei Sofer currently runs the glitzy, luxurious Bindella restaurant on Montefiore Street. Sardinia is the antithesis of that establishment – an Italian restaurant (covering Rome and all points south) that put Sofer back on the map about two years ago, after a spell out of the limelight. Sardinia is an authentic, modest Italian kitchen that fits any budget.
Rice work... Porcini mushroom risotto. Since every dingy eatery offers pasty, sticky mushroom risotto, you can understand why we were apprehensive about this one. This dish is a real surprise, though, especially due to its texture, which doesn’t ingratiate the Israeli palate. It is served al dente, almost bare of sauce. The result? An extremely tasty but surprisingly light risotto. The roasted mushrooms have a crispy, smoky flavor, and the herbs in truffle oil complement the taste, rather than overpower it. The dish shatters the notion that mushroom risotto can’t be light.
The price: 69 shekels
While you’re at it: Sardinia has an outstanding bakery, and it’s worth diving into their pizza menu.
Sardinia, 6 Kedumim Square, Jaffa
4. Risotto frutti di mare, at Piazza
The place: That legendary address, 99 Dizengoff Street, has changed hands many times since the eponymous cult movie came out in 1979. A couple of years ago it became Piazza, a wonderful place for casual dining, with checkered tablecloths and a great menu created by chef Shai Dublero.
Rice work... Risotto frutti di mare. The magic of this dish lies in its rich taste, which plays up various textures and temperatures. Dublero adds puréed tomatoes and green vegetables, such as kale, spinach and asparagus, to the classic base of shallots and steamed leeks in butter and wine. On top sits a beautiful piece of fish, seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme. If that’s not rich enough for you, there’s a scoop of crème fraîche as well, which balances the dish, really opens up the rich flavors and makes it surprisingly light.
The price: 78 shekels
While you’re at it: You probably didn’t know, but you can get one of the best cheesecakes in Tel Aviv at Piazza.
Piazza Café, 99 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv
5. Cauliflower risotto, at Pappa’s
The place: Pappa’s, the Italian restaurant that sits on the border of the Carmel Market and Kerem Hateimanim (Yemenite Quarter), has been a great place to get an expertly cooked Italian meal for nigh-on seven years.
Rice work... Cauliflower risotto. Pappa’s recipe is true to the northern Italian source, rich in butter and Parmesan cheese. The cauliflower plays the lead role, an integral part of the risotto, as the crunchy texture of the blanched shredded cauliflower provides a deeper twist to the light Parmesan taste. And if it’s crunch you’re after, the risotto is perfectly cooked and balanced with the dairy/rice ingredients. Breadcrumbs and anchovies top the dish, adding a spectacular, salty twist of their own to the very soft risotto. The dish can also be served without the anchovies if they aren’t your thing.
The price: 38 shekels ($11)
While you’re at it: Order a large serving of meatballs and tomato sauce, close your eyes and pretend you’ve gone to Rome.
Pappa’s, 12 Hillel Hazaken, Tel Aviv