Pera e Mela
6 Kikar Safra, facing Jaffa Road
Shivtei Yisrael (if coming by car)
Phone -- 02 623-0280
Hours-- Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. -- 10 p.m.
Saturday evening--one hour after Shabbat ends
until last customer
Kashrut--Rabinute Jerusalem Mehedrin and
Eccezionale (exceptional), magnifico (magnificent), superbo (superb) best describe the 30 years that Miriam and Gionatan Ottolenghi have been serving authentic Italian cuisine in Jerusalem.
Gionatan Ottolenghi grew up in Milan, was a chazzan and came to Israel in 1976. Miriam Sestiera grew up in Rome and came to Israel after high school. They met and married, farmed in the Golan Heights and moved to Jerusalem in 1984.
Gionatan was looking for something to do and decided to open a restaurant with some partners. Their first restaurants were in the Khan theatre building (which closed in 1994) and on Maalot Street (which closed in 2007). In 1999, they moved to their current location on Safra Square.
The building was once the home of a banker; it was a hotel; it held the offices of Henrietta Szold, the US Zionist leader and founder of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America; and it also held the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School labs from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Why does this building suit the Italian restaurant? You enter Agas ve tapuach through a small room with stone walls. A bookcase holds decorative apples and pears. To the right is the bar room with 15 chairs at wooden tables. The kitchen is to the left of this room; to the right of the entrance is a room divided by a pillar; there are seats for 56. The floors are tile, windows are arched, the stone walls are painted and adorned with paintings.
For al fresco dining, outside are tables and chairs for 20.
Our hostess was co-owner, Miriam, who told us for the month of June, restaurants around the country are celebrating a Gluten Free Festival, and Agas ve tapuach is listed in the Hebrew booklet as a participant. Among the gluten free dishes Agas ve tapuach will offer are lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, penne, pizza, polenta and all of their sauces.
Beginning with the regular menu, there are 11 starters and 6 salads. Miriam started us off with a sample of the Portobello Mushroom Salad (32 NIS). The mushrooms were sautéed with white wine, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, served on lettuce and garnished with parsley. My mushroom-loving companion was in heaven with this delicious dish, and I found it tastier than most mushroom dishes.
Next was the sampling of a Caprese Salad (30 NIS), where the mozzarella was made into little balls next to the tomatoes and basil and garnished with basil.
A sample size of Bruschetta (21 NIS) was toasted bread topped with garlic, basil and fresh tomatoes, garnished with basil leaves. My garlic-loving companion found this very much to his liking, and I found it very appealing.
What is an Italian restaurant without bread? We next tasted the ciabetta bread served with two kinds of flavored butters--one made from butter, olive oil, dried tomatoes and rosemary; the other butter, a pesto, with olive oil, garlic and basil--both tasteful and spiced just right.
The Greek salad (49 NIS) is absolutely our favorite kind of salad; it was filled with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, red onion, black olives, capers and oregano on lettuce with a special dressing of eggs, dill, mayonnaise and olive oil. The feta cheese was so special, Miriam told us it comes from, the Gal Dairy at Kfar Truman, which also supplies their Parmesan and Roquefort cheeses.
Although we did not sample them, there are 3 soups on the menu, served with bread and flavored butters.
There are also two fish dishes served with seasonal vegetables on the menu which we did not try.
In the "from the oven" section, there are 9 dishes. The one that intrigued us the most was the Crepe Souffle (59 NIS). The unusual, superb steaming hot dish includes Italian spinach, Parmesan cheese, feta cheese, ricotta cheese and a tomato sauce. Miriam remarked that she finds this dish special and it is easy to see why. You just can't stop eating it, it is so flavorful.
On the menu are 9 varieties of pasta with your choice of 3 olive and garlic based sauces, 4 tomato sauces, and 6 cream sauces. We tried the whole wheat penne (49 NIS), pasta from Genoa with basil and pine nuts, olive oil and garlic and served with Parmesan cheese on the side. It tasted no different than regular penne and was very appetizing.
Barely having room for dessert, we saw that the menu had 6 varieties of crepes (36 NIS) and 7 other desserts (12-28 NIS). Nevertheless, we tried the Panna Cotta (28 NIS), a flam of fresh cream, garnished with chocolate and caramel in a design. This dessert is always gluten free and has no eggs. One might expect it to be very rich, but it is just sweet enough and very delicate.
Under desserts, I was tempted to try their milk shake (28 NIS) and found the mixed chocolate/vanilla to be just like I remembered milk shakes to be, appealing and special.
As a treat, Miriam offered us an after dinner liquor--Limoncello (25NIS a glass) made from lemon peel by Gionatan, from lemons of the Golan Heights Moshav Nov where they lived for five years.
Cold drinks, beer and hot drinks are also on the menu and there is a separate wine and alcohol menu.
If you are looking for an elegant, high quality, authentic Italian dining experience, Agas ve tapuach is the place to eat--again and again.
The author and photographer were guests of the restaurant
By Sybil Kaplan
Photographs by Barry Kaplan