The restaurant Al Dente, in Jerusalem is situated on the Bezalel side of the neighborhood of Nachlaot. On Ushishhkin Street sits a wood frame building with a glassed-in porch with stone walls, usable year round and heated in winter, seating 24. Inside the intimate main room of the restaurant, basket-weave place mats adorn the blond wood tables which seat 21; a serving bar is at the back by the see-through area to the kitchen. An array of trac lights hang over the middle of the room. Art work of a different artist, changed every few months, are on the cream color walls.
Beet, endive and goat cheese salad at Al Dente in Jerusalem. Photo Barry A Kaplan
The restaurant exudes warmth and friendliness, like Al Dente’s owner and chef, Shuki Shukran. Shuki, who is charming and very creative, bought the restaurant almost four years ago, after working there for four years.
White wooden frames hold the regular English and Hebrew menus; a wood clipboard holds the “specials”; another wood clipboard holds the wine and alcohol menu. On the night we dined at Al Dente, on the “specials menu,” there were three appetizers (ranging from 50-59 NIS), three main courses (ranging from 74-98 NIS) and two desserts (32 and 34 NIS).
The large main menu has seven appetizers including antipasti, bruschetta, focaccia and soup; three types of pizza with many choices of toppings; seven salads; 16 varieties of fresh pasta; 11 pasta specials; five fish entrees with salad, mashed potatoes and a side dish; and eight desserts. There are also cold and hot beverages and beer. A business lunch is also offered from noon to 5pm at 55, 60 and 65 NIS.
Al Dente’s Owner-Chef Shuki Shukran. Image Barry Kaplan
When we were seated, my companion and I were first served a salad – not on either the regular or specials menu–comprised of beets, endive and goat cheese with macadamia nuts, carrot strips and a pomegranate vinaigrette – a truly unique blending of flavors and textures, which this beet lover adored!
From the “specials menu,” we then tried an appetizer of sea bream triangoli with asparagus, macadamia nuts, mascarpone and truffle tappenade, served on a turquoise pottery plate with a concave center (59 NIS). The entire appetizer was steaming hot, the spices were delicate, and it was so exceptionally delicious, we told Shuki – make this an entree.
Red snapper fillet. Image Barry Kaplan
From the fish entrees, we tried the red snapper filet, served on my companion’s favorite, fluffy mashed potatoes, in a wine and chestnut sauce. We had not tasted chestnuts in this original way before, and the sauce was exquisite.
The spinach, ricotta, cream cheese and mushroom rotelle in sage butter sauce from the “specials menu” was our next sampling as well as the green peas gnocchi in an herb cream sauce – neither my favorite kinds of pasta, but both very tasty.
Lavender panna cotta at Al Dente. Image Barry Kaplan
All of the presentations were simple and attractive, but the perfect way to top off the meal, that had lots of pasta, was the lavender penna cotta with red currant berry sauce. The tart berries blended well with the penna cotta which was light and airy and not sweet, just tasteful.
Since Italian is our favorite kind of food, we enjoyed seeing what Shuki is doing and found the dishes much more gourmet than our last visit.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem and leads walks in Machaneh Yehudah, the Jewish produce market.
The author and photographer were guests of the restaurant.