Like the Suzanne Dellal Center with which it shares a plaza, Bellini has been a fixture in the heart of quaint Neve Tzedek for two decades. Its rustic decor gives it a homey feel, while the presence of long tables makes it conducive to family-style dining. At the same time, the al fresco seating area, with tables for two amid evergreen citrus trees, is an ideal setting for a romantic dinner.

The best way to embark on your culinary experience at Bellini is with the restaurant’s eponymous signature cocktail, which in the summertime combines white rum, prosecco and red wine with homemade peach sorbet -- white peach sorbet, in fact, during the short season that this variant of the fruit is available. You will be tempted to drink more than one, so it pays to remember that as refreshing as this smoothie cocktail is, it is also alcoholic.

Bellini offers other specialty cocktails as well, but -- unlike the printed English menu -- they are listed only electronically, on a restaurant iPad, and only in Hebrew. The wine list, on the other hand, featuring wines from Italy and Israel, is bilingual, with a separate category for wines by the glass.

The meal itself starts with a complimentary basket of the house bread -- thick slices of toasted beer bread containing flecks of dried tomato and black olives. It is served with a dip of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and butter on request. It is easy, but not advisable, to fill up on the soft and crusty bread, because the portions at Bellini are very large; the salads, in fact, are particularly huge.

Bellini has recently unveiled a new summer menu, whose categories are Antipasti (appetizers, including salads), Pizza, Primi (pasta) and Secondi (main courses). (Note: The printed menu is in English as well as Hebrew, but the English menu online has not been updated.)

Our waitress wasted no time in recommending two of the appetizers. She was most enthusiastic about the carciofi e funghi -- pan roasted artichoke and oyster mushroom on a bed of polenta.

After just one bite, it was easy to see why this was her first choice: the artichoke was al dente, the mushroom meaty and flavorful, and the polenta the richest and creamiest I have ever eaten in Israel.

Next was the salmon crudo -- chopped raw salmon tartare on crême fraîche, topped with arugula leaves, thin crescents of beet and tiny slivers of chili pepper. The fish was exceedingly fresh, and the subtle heat from the chili left a pleasant tingle in the mouth.

 

 

As a pasta course, we ordered the shrimp florenza -- linguine with lightly breaded and fried shrimp, spinach and fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, in a sauce of white wine and lemon cream. A nice touch is the way the Parmesan cheese is served alongside the pasta: blocks of aged cheese with a personal grater.

Our first main course was sea bream filet baked together with gnocchi in a sauce of garlic butter, white wine and fresh parsley. The fish emerged from Bellini’s stone oven a beautiful golden brown, moist and delicious, and enhanced nicely by the sauce that bathed the pillows of potato pasta.

 

 

Our meat course was one not found in every Italian restaurant in Israel: saltimbocca -- rolls of veal escalope, prosciutto and mozzarella cheese, tossed in a distinctive sauce of grappa, balsamic vinegar and honey. Care must be taken to avoid overwhelming the meat with the sweet-and-savory marinade.

The desserts, which are explained by the wait staff, include three that have been introduced for the summer. Nevertheless, our waitress practically insisted that we try Bellini’s “legendary” tiramisu; indeed, the pudding exploded with intense coffee flavor. My companion polished off her portion and begged for more to take home.

One of the new desserts, meanwhile, was the ricotta-lemon tart, an exquisite pie that struck the perfect balance between tart and sweet.

Bellini’s homemade limoncello is a unique digestif, made with grapefruits from trees growing on the premises.

Given the size of the courses, Bellini offers good value -- and none more so than its business lunches, served until 17.00 every day but Saturday: an antipasti buffet, focaccia, soft drink and main course for NIS 68-88. The restaurant is also a venue for private events.

 

Photo Silvia Golan