Can I ignore the news? Can I pretend that all that matters is my little domestic bubble? Battling to get kids to school on time, with the added walk because we want to watch their backs. Taking hours to settle kids at night because anxiety levels have risen with recent events. Anxiety hangs in the Jerusalem air, as heavy as a humid, Tel Aviv night.
I needed a good escape, so my husband and I did just that. We booked a babysitter and made our way through the dark streets of Rechavia to a quaint, Italian restaurant, Al Dente. Our friends introduced us to this small, recluse restaurant gem. It’s not the kind of place you happen to pass. You have to find it. This suited us just fine. We weren’t looking to sit in a busy, public place. No tonight we were forgetting our troubles. We were going to ignore the fact that we were walking around looking over our shoulders like the other brave souls who walked the streets. We were going to forget all news and sorrow over a hearty bowl of pasta.
Usually we would have to book for Al Dente, but we knew that tonight we didn’t. With the current situation you could walk into any Jerusalem restaurant and get a table. That evening the restaurant was three quarters full, which was more than we expected. I guess we weren’t the only ones escaping into the comfort of creamy Alfredo sauce. We chose our table by the door, not too close to the front windows, and busied ourselves over the English menu. Most restaurants in Israel have English menus. I like to practice my Hebrew on a Hebrew menu, but then we often end up with surprising results. Tonight was a risk free night.
Our waitress that evening was more than helpful, explaining their different glasses of Israeli wine, something we are slowly getting the hang of. My husband ordered the merlot which was excellent. The food was a bit harder to choose. So many choices. We knew their fish was excellent. Sea bream in particular. We also knew we were definitely having a pasta and wanted a salad, and for sure dessert. There’s a lot to weigh up when you order a meal. How hungry you are? Do you want dessert? I’ve learnt that Israeli salads are massive, and should always be shared. These were important decisions to make, they could literally make or break an evening.
At Al Dente, I should have known I didn’t need to worry too much. The seasoned seared tuna salad we ordered was big enough for four people. It came with a generous portion of perfectly red, seared tuna on top of a mountain of green salad. It was delicious, but almost too healthy for me. I couldn’t wait for our main dish which we were sharing. The Proiarbo. A sauce of spinach, cashew cream and pine nuts with our choice of pasta, home made fettucinne. There is nothing better than home made pasta cooked al dente. And we literally licked the plate clean. The waitress didn’t have to ask us if we enjoyed our meal. Guiltily we surrendered our forks with the clean plate.
And for a moment we sat back enjoying the pleasant ambiance of this quaint little hide away. The simple tables. The walls which display their latest artist exhibit – colourful photos from South America. which look so idealic and fun. I can understand why so many Israelis trek there searching for peace. But not too much thinking on our night out.
It was time for dessert, and I was thrilled that the Pear and Almond Cream Tart was available. The other times we had come it was sold out. It had to be good. A lovely tower of vanilla ice cream on a hot pear and almond tart on their signature blue and green clay dishes. My husband thought it was brilliant, and happily polished it off with his full fat cappuccino (Al Dente does not keep low fat milk. A restaurant after my own heart). I just as happily helped polish off the said dessert, but it wasn’t my favourite with its mix of hot and cold. I think I’m learning that I’m a chocolate person through and through. Nana tea was my choice aperitif drink. I love the fresh mint leaves even though it can be awkward as I end up swallowing them hole. There has to be a secret nana tea trick that I’m yet to learn.
We left that evening falling in love with Jerusalem all over again. It’s hard not to after such a fun, good meal. Even though it was still dark, even though we still looked over our shoulders on the way to the car. Jerusalem has its gems, and they’re there to be enjoyed come what may. Perhaps everyone can forget their differences, grievances and fears, over a steaming bowl of Al Dente pasta. We certainly did.
Al Dente – 50 Menachem Ussishkin St, Jerusalem. Phone – 02-625-1479, http://www.al-dente.co.il