I stepped inside the quaint, romantic Italian family restaurant and Ernesto, a burly Italian man dressed from head to toe in crisp white, greeted me at the door with a charming and inviting smile. Taking a quick glance around, I immediately thought I had time warped to Ernesto’s former home back in Rome. With an oversized wood dresser fully stocked with authentic Italian wines, standing prominently along the wall, a large half moon shaped wooden bar, and a narrow, spiral staircase leading up to the second level bathrooms, Ernesto 90 emulates a genuine home cooked meal in an Italian family kitchen. Soft and gentle music plays overhead creating a festive, yet relaxing ambiance. Dim lighting illuminates the wooden tables draped with red and white linens. Black and white photos line the wall. Glass vases overflowing with colorful flowers reflect against the magnificently detailed mirror. Having brought many of these items with him from Rome, a pleased Ernesto proudly admits that he designed every aspect of the beautifully decorated restaurant himself.
One would think that the decor and Ernesto's winning personality would be the biggest stand outs at Ernesto 90, but the the rich, mouth watering authentic Italian dishes are the stars of this show. What leaves a lasting imprint in your memory is the unforgettable meal that you will have from traditional Roman recipes that Ernesto has graciously brought with him to Tel Aviv. You leave feeling like these recipes have been passed from generations and travelled a long tumultuous road only to satisfy your craving for authentic Italian fare. And a long road it was; after two unsuccessful attempts at moving to Israel, a determined Ernesto powered on and gave his dream a third chance. With a bit of luck and a lot of endurance, the third time was a charm and Ernesto and his wife successfully opened their restaurant and brought a piece of Italy to the "White City."
Over a decade later, you can practically smell Ernesto’s pride and confidence in his food by his noticeable Italian stubbornness. Ernesto 90’s high quality food is truly authentically Italian made with only Italian products and spices, the ingredients are never compromised. The amazing aroma of freshly baked focaccia bread, homemade ravioli, lasagna, and fettucine wafts in as the kitchen door swings open. Anyone who knows a good Italian kitchen is guaranteed to enjoy Ernesto’s traditional delicacies. Do not surpass the opportunity to indulge yourself in the house specialty, Coda alla Vaccinara, which is veal tail cooked in tomato sauce with celery, and, the secret ingredient, a little bit of cocoa. This unique Roman dish, which is hard to find now even in Rome, takes over eight hours to cook. But try it once and I promise, you’ll be coming back for more. Other must-haves, the Flori di Zucca Fritti appetizer, or fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese, or the Lasagna al Ragu entree; the perfect combination of Bolognese sauce, mozzarella cheese, and parmigiano. For serious meat lovers I recommend the Tagliata di Manzo, a generous portion of grilled entrecote sliced with cherry tomatoes and mushroom sauce on a rughetta bed, just writing the description alone has me salivating. If cooking is a science, then Ernesto must be a chemist because his dishes are flawless.
Ernesto’s science to cooking makes sense when one finds out that he comes from a family of bakers. Ernesto developed his passion for cooking as a kid. Back in Italy, Ernesto’s family used to own a factory that specialized in chocolate and cakes, and Ernesto naturally grew with an appreciation and passion for the craft. He developed his skills from a bakers mindset, more meticulous and scientific with his recipes, as a result every dish is consistent and reliably delicious. Best of all, Ernesto 90’s desserts are the real deal. Of course, it’s difficult to pick favorites when you love all things sweet, but with a little persistence I was able to squeeze out Ernesto’s top picks: the Tiramisu, a classic Italian cake made of mascarpone cheese, lady fingers, and espresso coffee, or the Millefoglie, a delightfully rich puff pastry filled with chantilly cream.. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these decadent Italian desserts.
If the Italian sign on the door that reads “We cook, eat, and speak only Italian” isn’t enough to prove it, consider the fact that Italians visiting Tel Aviv dine at Ernesto 90 practically everyday. In fact most of the clientele at Ernesto 90 are Italians craving food from back home. Furthermore in 2006, Ernesto 90 was the first restaurant in Tel Aviv to be written up in the I Ristoranti Dell" Accademia Italian della Cucina Guida, The Italian Academy of Cuisine Guide. Between the meticulously decorated interior and the authentically created menu, it is obvious that Ernesto has taken every detail of this Italian masterpiece into account. Showing off his Italian pride and reveling in the surprise and appreciation for the authenticity of his fresh Italian food is what makes Ernesto love his work. But for him, it’s not really work. Ernesto’s hobby (and clearly talent) is in the kitchen. This is just play!
So, whether your craving light Italian fare or a hearty Italian meal, you don’t have to travel all the way to Rome to satisfy your taste buds. The wonderful service at Ernesto 90 will bring you a deliciously home-cooked Italian feast paired with a fabulous glass of imported Italian wine, all only one block away from Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean beach.
**Take Away, Business Lunch and Reservations accepted
*Price Range: 59-129
~Written by Andrea Mann