Sun-Thurs 18-last customer; Fri 17-last customer; Sat 13-last customer
When Tamar Cohen-Tzedek went to Italy for veterinary school, she had no idea she would instead find her true passion: food. And not just any food. She fell in love with traditional Italian cuisine. Tamar did not want to leave Italy when her studies ended, so, with no intention of becoming a chef, she worked in kitchens, mostly in Emilia Romagna, for five years to absorb everything she could about Italian country-style cooking. Realizing she had a natural talent and a calling, she moved back to Israel to pursue a culinary career. Three years ago, she took a leap of faith and opened her own restaurant, and Tel Aviv has since enjoyed the pleasure of hosting Tamar’s recreation of authentic Italian cuisine.
You won’t stumble on the rustic, romantic tables and wine bar of Cucina Tamar unless you know where you’re going, but word about homemade pasta, bread and tiramisu spreads.
“If people taste it and like it, they will come again,” says Gali Edlah, the head server, with a casual confidence.
Sitting at a table inside, I thought I could be in someone’s living room. Each table’s plates and chairs were different from its neighbor’s. The dining room was decorated with miniature chandelier lights that hung above the bar, a grandfather clock on the wall and an old meat grinder clamped to a shelf- giving the small space a feel of home. The kitchen is visible to the dining room, separated only by a shoulder-high wall, which allows customers to watch their food being prepared.
You can order half-dishes at the bar if you want to try more dishes tapas-style. No matter what, start with some bread. Made from scratch in-house, it’s served warm with butter and oil. For red wine lovers, try the Dolcetto, a full-bodied wine with fresh fruit flavors that goes well with every dish. The sardine salad with pickled artichokes was a light and easy transition into the main courses. Lettuce is topped with lemony artichoke pieces and fresh sardines marinated in vinegar, water, bay leaves, three different types of pepper, salt and sugar, drizzled with balsamic on top. The marinade separates the fish from the typical saltiness of canned sardines and fuses easily with the lemon and artichokes.
If you love mushrooms and cheese, the Parmigiano Budino will change your life. Tamar created this classic Italian dish, one of the most popular at Cucina Tamar, with chocolate souffle on her mind. The souffle is baked with truffles and served with champignon mushrooms, shallots and truffle oil. The parmesan, which you can never have too much of and covers the entire plate, and truffle oil melts in your mouth like a dessert, and the mushrooms create the perfect blend of creamy sweetness and firm texture.
All of the pasta is made by hand in the restaurant, and the Artichoke Tortellini is another one of Tamar’s delicious creations. You can see that each piece was wrapped by hand. The filling is a combination of artichoke puree imported from Italy and parmesan, and the pasta is dressed with an oil, garlic and parsley sauce. You won’t have any leftovers, I promise. My favorite dish was the Tagliatelle Bandiera. This pasta dough is made with beets, giving the noodles a deep rose-pink color. The uniquely colored noodles don’t have an overwhelming beet taste, though, and gives way to the other flavors. The pasta is tossed with a cream sauce, mushrooms, asparagus and spinach, and dollops of ricotta cheese are served on top. Everything melts together in each bite with the ricotta reacting to the warm noodles and spinach. The asparagus is a crunchy contrast to the creaminess of the noodles, sauce and ricotta.
The Veal Scaloppini is a great choice for those wanting more meat in your meal. Thinly sliced veal is served in a lemon-butter, white wine and sage sauce. Long, thin slices of carrots, green beans and cucumbers that were half-steamed then sauteed in oil accompany the meat. The most interesting part of the dish is that it is served with Spaetzle, doughy pasta pieces with parmesan and spinach that are boiled then sauteed with butter. It added a heavier texture to the meat and vegetables. The flavor of the dish focused on the lemon and sage in the veal’s sauce, but a bite with all three parts together was just as satisfying.
End the night with coffee or dessert. Or both. With every dessert being made in-house, you can’t go wrong with your choice. I tried chocolate and crema ice cream. I don’t usually like chocolate ice cream, but I could eat this one every day. The crema had a hint of lemon that created a smooth flash of sorbet. The tiramisu wins my Best-Tiramisu-Of-All-Time award. Instead of even layers throughout, the espresso-soaked cake sat in the middle, surrounded by the whipped egg, mascarpone cheese and sugar. According to Gali’s instruction, you really have to dig to get to the cake. The unequal proportions don’t overwhelm the center, though, because the whipped mixture is so light.
As you leave Cucina Tamar, stomach full and pleased, don’t be shocked if you forgot you spent the past two hours in Tel Aviv instead of the Italian countryside.
Written by Kayla Robins