★ ★ ★ ★ ★
53 Ben Yehuda
Doug and I wanted our first dinner outing in Tel Aviv to be special not only because it would be our first outing, but also because we were celebrating our anniversary. Having arrived in Israel only a couple of weeks before, we sought all the suggestions and feedback we could get. We checked restaurant review sites, websites, and blogs; we looked at menus as we explored the city; we asked family and friends. Thankfully, our efforts paid off. We ended up at Piccola Pasta, a charming little restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street.
To preface any discussion of my experience at Piccola Pasta, let me just say that I’ve eaten a lot of pasta in my lifetime. As I only eat kosher meat and seafood, eating out is usually a vegetarian-style affair. When going out to eat, veggie-friendly pasta dishes, of which there are many, always appealed to me. Italian restaurants, with their myriad of non-meaty dishes, became the default when looking for a place to eat out. I’m also quite content with my impossible-to-accomplish goal of finding the best homemade pasta in New York.
Beyond that, pasta is easy to prepare and incredibly versatile, making it a natural go-to dish when I lived abroad in Madrid in an apartment equipped with only a microwave and two hot plates (which now seems luxurious, given that I currently have a single hot plate). Back in New York, I loved making baked pasta dishes with various cheesy sauces. Aside from the usual pesto and tomato-based sauces, I also experimented with avocado-based sauces and even made a creamy smoked salmon sauce once. I’d have to say my most successful pasta creation was probably homemade goat cheese-asparagus ravioli with lemon pesto sauce. But even that delectable dish was nothing compared to the pasta I ate at Piccola Pasta.
It was difficult to select what I wanted from the menu full of delicious-sounding pasta dishes. Dishes with mushrooms, anchovies, sundried tomatoes, cheeses, and fresh basil all sang my name in unison. But one option stood out more than the others: pasta with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and garlic, in a cream sauce with parmesan cheese on top. I was eager to order, but had to wait while Doug battled to choose between similarly appealing options. He decided to go with a classic: pasta with garlic and fresh basil in tomato sauce, topped with parmesan cheese.
Doug and I placed our order with a very friendly waitress with a cute accent (we later learned that she had made aliyah to Israel from France). As we waited for our order to arrive, we agreed to share our meals, a habit we’ve taken to so that we could each sample as many dishes as possible. But sharing was the last thing I wanted to do once I tasted my meal.
Delectable, delicious, scrumptious, palatable… none of these words do justice to the pasta I had placed before me. “Heavenly” seems most appropriate. The flavors of asparagus slathered in garlicky cream sauce, alongside tender artichoke hearts and juicy hearts of palm, with perfectly cooked penne and just a touch of parmesan cheese, were all combined into one magical dish. I couldn’t help but feel greedy. As my plate emptied, I wished I had more. I allowed Doug to try a couple pieces of my pasta, but refused to allow him to eat much more. It was simply too good to share.
I enjoyed my dish so much that I even asked the waitress if I could have a small piece of bread to wipe my bowl clean with. While she tried to get one for me, she ultimately informed me that the kitchen could not give me a small piece of bread and that I would have to order garlic bread if I wanted some. I tried not to let my disappointment show too much and got to work scooping up as much of the sauce as I could with my fork. By the time I finished, there was no doubt in my mind: this was the best pasta I had ever eaten.
Doug’s pasta, meanwhile, was not nearly as tasty as mine. The dish, called the Piccola Pasta, seemed like it should have been the restaurant’s best signature dish, as it was named for the establishment preparing it. It was certainly good, but it ultimately left something to be desired.
Of course, I had to try the dessert at the restaurant that prepared the best pasta I had ever eaten. We ordered panna cotta and spent the time waiting for it discussing how utterly amazing my pasta dish was. Our dessert arrived beautifully arranged with cinnamon and a few dried cherries on top, all drizzled with honey. While it was good, it wouldn’t be worth over-stuffing yourself for. But if you believe that there is a separate part of the stomach for dessert, as I do, then order away!
Thinking back on the meal, I can’t help but want to return to Piccola Pasta a second time. But I’m afraid of getting the same dish and missing out on trying something new and similarly heavenly. Alternatively, I’m worried that I would get something different and be underwhelmed. But most of all, I’m afraid there are too many amazing restaurants in Tel Aviv for me to return to the same one so soon…
So in the meantime, I’m going to recommend it to anyone and everyone I possibly can, hoping to live vicariously through them as they delight in eating the best pasta they’ve ever had.
Also posted on the Taste TLV blog: http://tastetlv.blogspot.com/2011/10/best-pasta-ive-ever-had.html