Dinner at Catit - Tel Aviv 20/1/2008
Catit is a restaurant that has caused excitement and garnered several appreciative reports in the Israeli press for its great service and fine cuisine. Here's what my companion and I thought of it.
We decided to go there to celebrate the publishing of my friends new book, a children's fantasy novel about the search for a lost gold pocket watch.
The restaurant occupies a beautiful early 20th century house on the edge of Neve Zedek and you can't help but be excited as your cab pulls up in front. On entering, you reach a reception area and bar, unoccupied by barman or guests., The greeting was warm, but formal and we were immediately shown to our table. Maybe because we were rather late, we were not given the option to sit at the bar first.
The restaurant is divided up into three dining rooms. The front, largest room seemed to have slightly more atmosphere. Our table was in the quieter middle room.
Immediately, we got the impression of a serious restaurant with subdued, rather sombre yet tasteful décor. Having been settled at our table, there was a rather lengthy lapse of attention on the part of the waitresses when an enquiry as to whether we would like a drink would have been highly appreciated. Eventually, my companion had to go in search of a waitress to bring us some water and the menus.
Having overcome that lapse, our waitress then explained the english and hebrew menu, substitutions and specials in a clear and knowledgeable manner. A basket of excellent breads, butter and a garlic dip appeared.
We decided to order two starters and two mains. We also ordered two glasses of wine from a short yet well-chosen wine list. I had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and my friend, though not a wine drinker chose a glass of Merlot, Shiraz from Australia, both were excellent and served at precisely the right temperature in nice large goblets.
Before our starters arrived an espresso cup of a delicious pea soup was offered as an amuse bouche. We shared the starters, a really sensational dish of char-grilled calamari stuffed with Turkish Spinach, Goats Cheese and Pine Nuts, This was accompanied by squid chips and cream. We both agreed that this was excellent and, as it turned out, became the star of the show.
Our other starter was Foie gras with pistachios on a crepe filled with cocoa beans, sugared citrus, raisins and tarragon. This we found to be over-sweet and rather cloying.
Next came a little ameratto sorbet with herbs, red wine reduction and figs. Our thoughts were that it was rather over-ambitious as a palette cleanser and perhaps the sorbet on its own would have sufficed, although neither of us are lovers of amaretto.
Along came the main courses, rather too rapidly in my opinion, as at this level I feel that the pacing of a meal is an art in itself. We had both ordered lamb dishes, mine a trio of lamb cuts with potato and white beans on a lamb stock reduction, hers slow-cooked lamb on 'schpezily', a kind of small pasta, root vegetables, porcini, artichokes and pumkin. Yes, too many ingredients. By this time, even though we had both starved ourselves that day in anticipation of this meal, our appetites were beginning to wane and neither of us could finish our main courses.
The desert menu was produced and both of us, though desert lovers, could not bring ourselves to order. A request for a scoop of the passion fruit sorbet that formed part of one of the deserts was, rather unkindly I felt, declined.
To sum things up, a beautiful house, rather too soberly decorated, a lack of any real atmosphere or excitement, correct service that took a while to get in gear, rather good food that tried to be too ambitious and ended up being over complex and rather heavy. We came away feeling bloated and $200 poorer with the conviction that Catit did not offer good value on any level. To a Londoner $200 is not that expensive. In Israeli terms it is a small fortune for a meal and diners have a right to be hyper critical. Would we return? Eh, probably not. This kitchen though aiming high, is badly let down front of house. I would like to see a true professional overseeing the dining rooms, some adjustments to the decor, then perhaps this restaurant could begin to reach its full potential.