Fat chance (restaurant review)

Jerusalem Post, Weekend Magazine; November 22, 2007

Warning: Those who settle on the deck of Gordo for a sunset dinner may not want to leave until the early hours. I don’t know of any other restaurant on the Tel Aviv promenade that hands out blankets with a smile so that diners can cozy up under the tall metal heat lamps when it gets chilly.Located right off the boardwalk underneath the Renaissance Hotel on Gordon beach, Gordo is exactly what the folksy Tel Aviv promenade needs to achieve a more stylish, sophisticated edge.

The handsome eatery is spread out on a multi-leveled patio, designed so that each seating corner gets a view of the water. Gordo is both child and animal friendly. Lounging around me on the cushioned sofas and chairs for Friday night dinner were lone couples, a small family with its dog, and what seemed to be a large tourist group. The tropic outdoor bar leads to the entrance of a plush dance lounge that’s ideal for singles seeking a mix of drinks, dancing and romance.

In building the two-month-old Gordo (which means “fat” in Spanish), Ronen Avni, one of the five owners, stated that their goal was design, food, service and quality. So far, they have lived up to their aims. While the owners’ specialty is nightlife – they have founded some of the city’s most successful bars: Blend, The Lobby and Golden Bar – they have passed over to restaurants quite well. No detail here is spared, from the coasters featuring the image of “Gordo” (an animated rotund man), to the soft, pastel upholstery, to the garnish on the dishes.

We started out with an eggplant carpaccio (NIS 28) from Gordo’s temporary menu, which for now includes a limited but respectable selection of appetizers, salads, seafood, meat dishes and kids’ meals. The creative and aesthetic round dish was a light and scrumptious starter, consisting of soft, grilled eggplant topped with balsamic vinegar and feta. It formed an ideal vegetarian alternative to the beef carpaccio (also on the menu). The Greek salad we also ordered was rather plain, consisting chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes, but salads are not their prominent dishes, the fish and seafood are.

The quality of the raw materials was tangible in their finger- licking, firm spicy shrimp flavored with chili, tomatoes and thin garlic wedges (NIS 48/84).
The sea bass (NIS 94), that was served whole and extremely fresh, was one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten in a while. It was tender and stuffed with roasted garlic cloves whose jam added depth of delicious flavor to the fish and accompanying Chinese bok choy. The roasted potatoes and bread were rather basic.

Once the sun set, the only illumination came from yellow Christmas lights wrapped around the patio umbrellas. The smile of the gracious waiter, who pledged at the beginning of the evening that our satisfaction was his goal and was good to his word, also helped to brighten the evening.

The desserts were not as unique or impressive as the previous dishes. The malabi had a nice milky texture and flavor, topped with pink rose water and nuts. The creme brulee (NIS 34), torched right behind the bar, should satisfy fans of the dish.
However, I regret not opting for the whiskey chocolate cubes.

Too bad Gordo just missed summer. The Mediterranean dishes and atmosphere are perfect for summer heat. Yet the owners plan to install glass enclosures to make it a hot spot for winter. Given their apparent standards of excellence, I wouldn’t be surprised if they perfected the menu and finishing touches to usher in the new season.

Gordo, Gordon Beach, Open from 9 a.m.; Tel: (03) 529- 3929. Not kosher.

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