Vita Bella

For nearly 15 years, Pronto has been one of Tel Aviv's most reliably excellent restaurants, always welcoming, never outrageously priced and with Italian dishes we have come to know so well that they fit comfortably into our scheme of things, much like old friends.

For nearly 15 years, Pronto has been one of Tel Aviv's most reliably excellent restaurants, always welcoming, never outrageously priced and with Italian dishes we have come to know so well that they fit comfortably into our scheme of things, much like old friends.

Owner Rafi Adar embarked on major renovations and a largely revised menu and the news, frankly, left me concerned. Like many of the regulars who have been returning to dine at Pronto over the years, I had become accustomed to the setting and certain dishes.

I found the changes in the interior design dramatic and immediately noticeable but they do, under the guidance of designer Maya Chanoch, maintain the charm of the original. Now terra cotta in color, the high walls are highlighted with recessed lights, those covered with rectangles of latticed metal, providing a comfortable and subdued lighting pattern. Those rectangles also line and quietly illuminate the new and handsome bar that occupies one end of the restaurant. The tall windows are now decorated with filmy white drapes, and there is a large, almost mural-sized, painting on one wall - Uri Lifschitz' interpretation of what could be a medieval slaughterhouse. Thick square candles are set on each table and antique-look attractive chandeliers hang from the very high ceiling. The look is dramatically new and elegant, but enough of the old Pronto has been left intact to avoid any feeling of estrangement.

Nor are the changes in the menu shocking. New is the addition of a night menu that includes small courses, also available at dinner as first courses as well as during the now extended late night hours as light dishes to accompany whatever wines or drinks people are sipping. Several of the regular main courses will be deleted. I, for one, will miss the excellent saltimbocca and risotto Milanese. I regret the osso buco will be available only on special order on the weekends. Still, as we saw while perusing the menu and sipping a complimentary frozen Campari aperitif and nibbling on the tasty focaccia offered, an abundance of tempting dishes remains from which to select.

We wanted to sample the new dishes and chose our first courses from the night menu. I chose vitello tonnato, a Piedmontese specialty of thin slices of cold roast veal with a sauce combining tuna, anchovies, capers and mayonnaise, blended till smooth and then refrigerated overnight for the flavors to come together. With a gentle, fresh and enchanting aroma, the dish was splendid. We also tried the grilled zucchini flowers, filled with mozzarella and anchovies. This dish was equally successful, the natural sweetness of the cheese and the saltiness of the anchovies coming together beautifully. Nor could we find anything but pleasure in the pickled fresh anchovies, the fish firm and full of flavor, just pronounced enough to tantalize.

Because we wanted a not overly heavy meal, we decided to give the meat and fish main courses a miss and stayed instead with warm weather appropriate pasta, rice and polenta. The black risotto was made as it is traditionally in northern Italy by cooking rice in butter and then adding stock a little at a time, stirring constantly until the stock is absorbed and then adding more stock until the rice has an almost creamy consistency. The rice is made black by the addition of octopus ink and topped generously with moules, shrimps and calamari - all cooked perfectly. It was mouth-watering. The polenta we sampled had been done in the Roman style by cooking coarse cornmeal with water and salt, spreading this on a board to cool and solidify into almost cake-like slices and then frying in oil and serving with a sauce of melted Gorgonzola, white wine and just the right amount of pureed basil. Smooth and rich, with the tangy saltiness of the cheese adding enormously to the pleasure, this dish was also much appreciated. The third main course we tried, one of Pronto's long-beloved offerings, generous in quantity, was a finely chopped melange of black truffles and Portobello and champignon mushrooms, sauteed and sprinkled on fettuccine. This dish delighted as it did in the past.

With good espresso, we shared two desserts, rich, sinfully good, large chocolate truffles (probably addictive) and a tasty offering of vanilla ice cream topped with hot espresso coffee, making the ice cream soft and creamy.

Based on the dishes we had, the bill for three will come to a very reasonable NIS 400. In keeping with the light nature of our meal, we decided on a bottle of the 2001 Umbrian Falesco Vitiano, the wine adding NIS 85 to the bill.

The decor enchants, and the dishes we sampled were all outstanding. Adding further charm is the new, open-to-view wine cabinet on a wall near the bar - temperture and humidity controlled - is stocked with a few reasonable but good wines, quite a few very good and moderately expensive wines and a few extraordinarily good and very dear offerings.

The service was warm and responsive. Pronto continues to maintain itself as one of the most pleasant and one of the best restaurants in the country.

Pronto: 26 Nachmani, Tel Aviv. Open daily 12:00-02:00. Tel. 03-566-0915.