An Italian Feast in Tel Aviv (What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation, Part III)

Piazza
Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar
99 Dizengoff Street
Tel Aviv, Israel

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FullSizeRender-5I have to admit, while I love trying new cuisines and sampling unique, ethnic flavors—I love me some comfort food! High up on that list of food that makes me feel good is Italian. Whether it’s a big bowl of pasta, a gooey, cheesy pizza, or a delicious fresh cannoli, I have a weakness for the heavy carbfest that comes from most Italian meals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Piazza is one of my favorite restaurants in Tel Aviv, and a “must eat at” when I’m by Dizengoff Square.

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FullSizeRender-1Piazza is aptly named as it has a large outdoor dining area that is modeled after an Italian piazza—in fact there are trees and beautiful lights that only add to the magical trip to Italy that you’re taken on by the food. There is also an indoor seating area that is reminiscent of a trattoria or Italian bistro. The focal point of the indoor dining space is the large brick oven that has clearly been imported from Italy, as well as the Little Italy style white and red checkered table cloths—very “Lady and the Tramp.” There are English and Hebrew menus available, and the waiter brings a funky-looking bottle of cold tap water to the table as you sit down. Although I didn’t order one on my most recent trip, the Italian soda bar here is tasty and refreshing as well.

FullSizeRender-2I’ve eaten here a few times and have tried multiple dishes, but every time I come here I can’t resist ordering the Truffle Pizzetta (34 shekels, ~$9). The pizzetta is in actuality a mini pizza. The pizzetta is baked off in the brick oven so it maintains its crisp edges—even with toppings—as well as a wonderful chewiness only found from expert pizza makers. In fact, the crust reminds me of the one I’d get from a small, brick oven pizzeria in NYC. After it comes out of the oven, the crust is slathered with truffle cream, which is so important to this dish. The truffle spread is garlicky, pungent, earthy, creamy and oh so delicious. Then a soft-boiled egg—complete with slightly loose yolk—is cut into quarters and placed onto the pizzetta as well as a few thinly sliced radishes that are spicy and help cut through the richness of the dish. The cold egg and truffle cream atop the hot crust is makes for great temperature play, and the hot crust warms the cream and intensifies its unctuous truffle flavor. In addition, there is wonderful textural contrast between the crisp crust, the creamy egg yolk, velvety softness of the truffle spread, the crunch of the radish and the soft chewy egg white. Honestly, I could eat this everyday and be so happy. The dish is also playful and beautiful to look at. It comes with your own little pizza cutter so you can have it all to yourself—which I usually do—or divide among a few. The dish is garnished with some chives and micro basil before it hits the table, which is a classy touch and adds some freshness to an otherwise heavy starter.

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FullSizeRender-11For the main dish, I try to switch it up each time I come here. One of my favorite dishes, which is technically a special, but is served somewhat often, is the Seafood Linguine (64 shekels, ~$17.50), composed of shrimp, calamari and mussels in a crab and butter sauce. The shrimp was plump, perfectly cooked and moist, while the calamari was tender and not springy or chewy at all, and while most of the mussels had come out of the shells, they tasted good and looked very pretty and absorbed some of the spicy sauce. The linguine was cooked al dente so not mushy at all, and drank up the wonderful butter based sauce, and coated the noodles. The sauce was made with sweet green basil, rich butter, piquante raw garlic, and cherry tomatoes, which are a national specialty of Israel. In fact, Israel is known for their sweet cherry tomatoes since much of the water used to grow them is from the Dead Sea, which is so salty that it causes the tomatoes to become sweeter than usual—you could taste that sweetness in the dish, especially contrasted with the subtle heat in the sauce. There’s some sliced (almost) raw garlic, which perfumed the dish and enhanced the flavor of the pasta as well. The hot pasta tossed with the sweet tomatoes, some fruity olive oil, creamy butter, raw slivered garlic, earthy basil and plump, meaty seafood was a heavenly combination. This dish is so fresh tasting and the bounty of seafood is perfect for Tel Aviv, since it’s a beach city—makes you feel like you’re at the sea! I’d get a meal like this in a five-star Italian restaurant at home. Delizioso!

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Without chicken
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With chicken

Another great entrée choice is the Tripoline Carbonara (62 shekels, ~$16) or fettuccine carbonara, which I added grilled chicken to (7 shekels, ~$2). The chicken was grilled and had a nice crust develop on the outside of the flesh—probably from using flour in the coating of the chicken before it went into the pan. The result was some very moist meat that went well in the pasta.The fettuccine was cooked nicely and cooked softer than the linguine, but not chewy. The carbonara sauce clung to the noodles, and was creamy and thick. There was a nice kick of black pepper, and some saltines from the Parmesan and bacon, The bacon itself became soft and almost melted into the dish. This was a very decadent dish of pasta and very, very comforting.

FullSizeRender-10I’m usually so full by the time the waitress asks if I’d like to see the dessert menu, but I made it a point to have dessert on one of my visits here a couple of weeks ago. I’m a big fan of chocolate and was actually eying the appetizing Marscapone and Nutella Pizza, but ended up going with the Creme Brûlée (34 shekels, ~$9). The creme brûlée was cooked in a large, wide ramekin and had a perfectly bruleed top and a thin layer of custard underneath. The top itself was almost like stained glass and I performed the spoon tapping test and it passed with crunchy colors. As I ate this dessert, I sometimes got a little of a charred bitter flavor from the burnt sugar, which was wonderful in contrast to the sweetness of the custard. The custard was sweet, with a strong vanilla flavor, and velvety smooth. It had an almost pudding-like consistency but still very much set. The combination of the crunchy top and the creamy custard was also very playful. The ramekin was garnished with a sprig of mint—a lot of attention to detail was given to the dish’s presentation. Great way to end the meal.

FullSizeRender-5The dining experience at Piazza was and is always great. They have special discounted prices at lunchtime, and the service is always friendly and attentive. The food is delicious, and the portions super filling. Come eat here when you are in Tel Aviv, you won’t leave disappointed—or hungry!

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Paying it Forward….with Pizza!

Rosa’s Fresh Pizza
25 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

In March of 2013, Mason Wartman, the owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, left his job on Wall Street in NYC, and returned to Philadelphia with an idea. He wanted to replicate the $1 pizza concept that had been popping up all over New York in Philly. So, in May 2013 he leased his current space on S 11th Street between Market and Chestnut, and on December 20, 2013 he opened for business. The first few months, he says, were a learning experience–and a transition from employee to employer–but business really began to take off when he introduced his “pay it forward” concept of entrepreneurship.

At Rosa’s, named for his mother, not only can you buy a tasty slice of pizza for just $1, but you can also purchase slice(s) of pizza for future customers—specifically, you can buy a slice or two, or however many you’d like, for a homeless person that would otherwise be unable to afford a piece of pizza, or even a meal in many cases. Everyday, it is estimated that Rosa’s provides between 40-60 slices of pizza to the homeless and food insecure people that come into the shop. While not a new concept, Rosa’s pay it forward concept became so popular that it was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show in January, among other media coverage.

 I had the opportunity to attend a small event at Rosa’s earlier tonight and hear Mr. Wartman speak about the process of opening his pizza shop, evolving from a $1 slice concept to a $1 slice + pay it forward model, and of course, how he learned to make pizza—the secret is in the dough!

The pizza at Rosa’s epitomizes the classic Philly pizza slice—in the best way. The sauce is flavorful, but not too chunky. It provides a nice coating on the crust and is then covered by a nice amount of cheese. The slice isn’t too cheese—since the owner doesn’t like too much cheese—and therefore the cheese doesn’t overwhelm the tasty crust. The crust is chewy with a nice sweetness to it. I bet it would be delicious turned into bread for sandwiches! You also have the option of adding sausage, pepperoni or mushrooms for an additional 50¢ a slice. That means for $5, you can get two slices of cheese pizza, a soda and buy two slices for a homeless person. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal?

Everyone should check out Rosa’s Fresh Pizza not only for the pizza nourishment, but also for the nourishment for your soul, and come pay it forward with pizza!

Recipe: Bagels and Lox Pizza

I’m home this weekend for the Passover holiday aka “no carb week,” and many of my memories revolve around food. Since I grew up in New York City, Sunday mornings in our house usually consisted of bagels, lox, cream cheese, whitefish and more appetizing if company was coming. I was inspired to share my recipe for a modern twist one the classic bagel and lox sandwich.

 Lox is simply smoked salmon that has also been cured. It’s usually salty, and is a New York classic. My pizza recipe will help you stretch your lox farther, and this is a great dish to entertain with. Your guests will be so impressed with your creativity! 😉 Salmon, dill, lemon and creme fraiche come together to form an elegant dish that’s great for brunch, dinner or any time of the day!

Ingredients:

1 ball of pizza dough – you can make your own dough, but I find it easier to buy premade dough from the grocery store. You can also ask your local pizza place for a ball of dough, if you really love their crust. Most will sell it to you with no problem

1 container of crème fraiche

1 large lemon

2 tablespoons of capers, drained

1 medium to large shallot, chopped

 

 4-6oz of smoked salmon, roughly chopped

Fresh dill, chopped

Sesame seeds

Granulated garlic or garlic powder

To Make the Pizza:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and if using a pizza stone, place it in the oven
  2. Grease your pizza pan with cooking spray all over
  3. In the meantime, stretch the dough by hand. Slowly start pulling the dough outward
  4. After it is stretched a bit, then use both hand and pass the dough through your hands, and slowly pull it a bit as you pass it through. It might feel like it will break, but the dough is strong, just keep going until its much wider
  5. Once the dough is very stretched, place it on your pizza pan and stretch it out to the edge. If it springs back, then use your fingers to push into the dough all over to keep it steady. In addition, poke it all over with a fork to stop it from rising too much in the oven. You want pizza, not bread!
  6. Once the dough is stretched to the edge of the pan, pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and make sure the whole top of the pizza has a light coating of oil
  7. Sprinkle the dough with garlic—use as much as you want, but I don’t recommend any more than a fine layer all over since it will overpower the salmon
  8. (Optional) On the outer edge of the dough, where the crust forms, sprinkle a layer of sesame seeds–this step is optional, but it’s a nod to the bagel inspiration behind this pizza. I like sesame bagels, but this would be great with some poppy seeds, and delicious with some eveeything seasoning if your local bagelry will part with some 
  9. Pop the dough into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes  
  10. Remove the pizza crust and allow it to cool for at least 15-20 minutes. You might want to put it in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes if you’re in a rush  
  11. Once the crust has cooled, zest the lemon and add it to the crème fraiche. Mix well to evenly distribute  
  12. Spread the crème fraiche mixture all over the crust, leaving the sesame seed lined crust as a border of the pizza
  13. Sprinkle the pizza with some salt and a good amount of freshly ground black pepper  
  14. Allow the crème fraiche to set, and then spread your pieces of smoked salmon around the pizza. A nice single layer is best and will make sure your crust can hold all of the ingredients  
  15. Drain the capers, and sprinkle around the pizza—they will most likely fall into the crevices between the salmon pieces  
  16. Repeat this process with the chopped shallots—I like shallots since they’re not as strong as onions in terms of flavor, but give a nice onion-y flavor to the pizza. If you want a more mild onion taste, then chopped scallions are a good substitute. If you want something with a little more of a bite, then red onion is always great as well—just remember, raw onion is not as sweet or mild as cooked
  17. Scatter the dill all over the pizza. If some pieces are smaller or larger than others, that’s fine. I like my pizza a little more rustic, since it shows that it’s homemade!
  18. Add another pinch of black pepper and squeeze the juice of ½ of the lemon over the top  
  19. Use a pizza cutter, or a very sharp chef’s knife, to cut the pizza into 8 pieces    

Serve garnished with the other ½ of the lemon cut into wedges. Enjoy!