If you’re a local don’t you seek out a place you want to return back to again and again as a hang out where a favorite dish or a favorite cocktail or bottle of wine is waiting for you?
If you’re a tourist, don’t you seek out a restaurant that is going to give you a memorable meal you’ll remember when you return home for years to come, a reason to return on a future vacation?
Of course you do.
And Tel Aviv’s Aria offers up that kind of experience. A two story restaurant and bar, Aria can provide you with a swank dinner out in its upstairs second floor dining room that looking outside has a great view of bustling Tel Aviv’s famous nightlife or inside of an open kitchen hard at work. The downstairs first floor bar has a wide range of custom in house cocktails, premium wines and craft beers and a vibe that attracts an in the know crowd of foodies and generally people who would rather ingest and imbibe quality over quantity.
Chef Guy Gamzo has created an eclectic menu that continues to evolve since Aria’s opening about a year ago but the concept of both the restaurant and bar seem constant. Hip yet relaxed, a place where someone could get their mojo running. Sinatra’s Rat Pack would hang out in if they were A) alive B) found themselves in Israel. But it’s also the kind of place to meet for a date or find a likely next one
Over the course of one evening, I would try several dishes with a friend and even though every dish could surely find fans, I wanted to focus on my favorites as recommendations.
First, as starters I’m a big fan of almost anything called carpaccio so their Sea Fish Carpaccio had me intrigued. The catch of that day was red tuna so it starred razor thin sliced tuna that was accompanied by lemongrass and Verbena vinaigrette, red chili and chopped chives for NIS 52. As a huge fan of sushi, I enjoyed this fresh and Asian influenced treat that had enough kick to awake one’s taste buds without laying waste to them for an evening. A good match for white wines or cocktails as a starter or bar snack.
Veal sweetbreads are a guilty pleasure and I swear I’ve had them more in the last six years in Israel than the rest of my life combined. Gamzo’s sweetbreads are served on a creamed sauce of chestnuts and leek, Parmesan shavings and reduced Port wine for NIS 72. They were well seared keeping their inherent richness but more balanced than other versions I’ve had elsewhere that seem to lack any restraint leaving these my favorite sweetbreads in recent memory.
Moving on to entrees, there were several sea sourced choices and the White Grouper prepared in white soy butter served with bok choy for NIS 160 was the most tempting to me. The skin was pan seared crispy but the flesh was still moist and flaky and the bok choy provided a nice note of green bitterness and acidity. The portion was also generous and filling and enough to split and easy to do so as it was served as fillets.
The Oxtail entree was served over pasta with morsels of oxtail that are “simmered for four hours in red wine” and root vegetables for NIS 98. The flavors were intense and concentrated and would have been a good match for a red fruit bomb, possibly a Shiraz.
Lamb chops would be one of my top choices for a final meal and Aria would be among my top choices where to chew the meat off the bones. Sourced from shepherds in Nazareth and served on a cream of black beans and sesame tahini for NIS 155, these lamb chops were cooked to the perfect temperature (medium rare to medium) with a seared exterior that sealed the juices in. The black beans and tahini were subtle but welcomed complements to this savory dish and didn’t overpower the lamb like a classic mint sauce might and seemed a perfectly Israeli way to savor a pricey cut of lamb. A creamy side of mashed potatoes was useful for sopping some of the remaining sauce.
A flute of 2007 Yarden Blanc de Blanc paired well with most dishes as would be expected by most Brut sparkling wines and we tried an aperitif from Aria’s selection of specialized cocktails.
I would try their Bee’s Knees from their Dining Room cocktail menu which featured Butter washed Appleton Reserve rum, shaken with honey, freshly squeezed orange and lime juice for NIS 52. It was delightful and matched well with the starters before switching to a sparkling wine. Its honey notes satisfied a recent craving for mead and its citric and acidic notes were a nice match with the Sea Fish Carpaccio and Grouper.
Of the desserts sampled both were scrumptious but one really hit some high notes for me.
Their Passionfruit and White Chocolate selection married two of my favorite dessert ingredients as crunchy white chocolate nougat paste, passionfruit cream and white chocolate mousse were accompanied by a swirl of Passion fruit Sorbet for NIS 42. The sour yet tropical notes of passionfruit balanced out the super sweet notes of white chocolate. I can imagine these ingredients in a frozen drink downstairs with a vodka or rum base.
Glimpsing at the bar menu’s expanded cocktail menu gave me another reason to return although several of the dishes I didn’t get to try on this occasion would be reason enough.
The downstairs bar features a different DJ every night except on Saturdays when a live jazz show is the the main attraction.
I can already envision either returning for a facsimile of the same meal or possibly their foie gras and caeser of the sea salad starters with their beef fillet. If Gazmo is serving it up at Aria, I’ll be eager to try it and I suggest you should seriously consider doing the same.
Telephone: (03) 529-5054 for reservations
Dining Hours: 7PM to midnight.
66 Nahalat Binyamin.Tel Aviv