''I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free'' (Michelangelo Buonarroti).
I was reminded of that quote after having spent a whole of 2 minutes in Boccaccio, the Tel Aviv restaurant, located on the famous Yarkon Street and close to the Mediterranean Sea. The quote, much like the establishment itself, is simply about vision. It is clear that a sure vision was behind the formation of this restaurant.
Boccaccio was established 15 years ago by Nizza Ben Shalom, an artist whose sculptures adorn every corner of her restaurant. She has a passion for art, atmosphere, good Italian food, and hospitality. The generous menu is overseen by Nizza’s two Chefs, Eran Drori and Hadas Vardiman. Although it changes over the summer and winter seasons, the menu is always rich in selections of fine meats, soups, and seafood. An in-house musical performance to accompany the meal is offered on Friday evenings.
Walking in with my dining companion, we were first greeted by impressive statues of dogs, forever resting outside the entrance, then by the friendly waiting staff. We found the space warm, inviting, and arousing curiosity, as the gaze is always drawn to one of Nizza’s sculptures or to one of the many paintings on the wall. The sun had not yet set, so our table afforded us a pleasant, though partial, view of the Mediterranean, glistening from between two of the many hotels on the street.
We had a nice chat with Hadas, one of the two head chefs, who happily informed us of the restaurants history and recommended some dishes, based on our tastes. Nizza’s love of art and atmosphere - her vision - is evident in every aspect of the dining experience, from the cutlery to the serving style itself. Even the music, while always pleasant, is eclectic, making it hard for the senses to numb and for boredom to take over.
For starters, we were served a plate of freshly-baked rolls, with homemade sun-dried tomato spread and butter. The rolls were small, which I appreciated because they tasted great (on their own or with the wonderful spread) but did not ruin our appetite for the rest of the meal, which is often the case with bread before dinner. I ordered the Boccancini Salad for my first course, after the warm recommendation it was given by Hadas. Precisely cut bruschetta covered with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, and parsley, all seasoned to perfection - just the way to stir up the appetite. My dining companion had the Seafood Salad which she complimented for being refreshing due to the seafood being served chilled and for the subtle seasoning which doesn’t dominate the flavors of the shrimp, calamari, and mussels, as well as the burghul (bulgur) they are served over.
Seeing as how Boccaccio specializes in quality meat, we both went in that direction for our main course. My Filet Boccaccio was grilled to my liking and gently covered in a complementary port and berries sauce - succulent and satisfying. A side dish of roasted potatoes and zucchinis was simply prepared and wisely so – it is better for a side dish to complement a good filet than to try and dominate its flavors. Across from me, my friend treated herself to the Scaloppini Borghese - layers of veal and mozzarella, wrapped in bacon. As you can no doubt intuit on your own, this highly-flavorful dish is for those in a particularly decadent mood – if you want to indulge and treat yourself to a dish, which is about nothing but flavor, you will, more likely than not, enjoy this selection. Although, if you choose this dish, I would recommend a nice long ocean-breeze stroll on the nearby Herbert Samuel Promenade after the meal so you can walk off the guilt.
For dessert, we tried two very different dishes. For chocolate lovers, there is the Baccho - chocolate cake, with a crumbling almost cookie-like base and sauce, made of several types of chocolate, including white chocolate, which is my personal favorite. More special, to our tastes, was the Pea