Italy is Just Around the Corner

“Our lace-clothed table was served an excellent tomato bruschetta. Italian bread, crispy on the bottom and laden with a wonderful mix of finely-chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil, over melted hard cheeses…” Adva Gan Stav discovered an Italian gem, small and authentic – Sissi Italian Flavor restaurant in Hod HaSharon.

My deep love of Italy began with a spur-of-the-moment decision made about a decade ago, in which my sister and I, and our partners, became the proud owners of four tickets to Rome, and a key chain holding one prominent black car key. With a shiny red Alpha Romeo, a map, and a sense of adventure, we were off on a glorious trip in Europe’s most amazing country – a trip of which I will tell my grandchildren one day. More so than the grand vistas, the charming small towns, the architecture, and the art, we were won over by the people themselves, as well as what they served to our table with a warm smile.

This week, I was delighted to discover a small restaurant in the heart of Hod HaSharon, which won me over precisely because it managed to recreate the Italian charm for me: warm people and good food. Sissi and Ido, partners in life and in the kitchen, returned from Italy after 12 years in the service of Israel. Without much predetermination, and instead of taking it easy after impressive careers in the military and in public service, the two found themselves in a small kitchen, next to a few tables and a pleasant garden. It is there that they conceived, planned, and opened “Sissi Italian Flavor.” This wonderful trattoria religiously follows the set-in-stone rules which her owners learned in Italy. First, Sissi and Ido buy the required ingredients daily and in person. They personally pick out every single tomato and never buy more than a day’s worth of ingredients. Second, there is no compromise over the quality of the ingredients. Third, the food preparation is not rushed so as to serve immediately upon ordering – Sissi suggests McDonald’s for the impatient among us.

The start of the meal bode well for what was to come. Our lace-clothed table was served an excellent tomato bruschetta - Italian bread, crispy on the bottom and laden with a wonderful mix of finely-chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil, over melted hard cheeses. This bread (“it is not a ciabatta!” cries Sissy, explaining that the Italian bread rolls found in Israel are not named as they are in Italy, and that they did not settle for this local version and tirelessly sought out the authentic and delicious Italian bread to use in their restaurant) is described in the menu as toasted with various interesting flavors, meaning that one can never know what to expect next time. This would be a good time to mention that much of what I am conveying here is the product of my own guesses and theories – Sissi fiercely guards the secrets of her kitchen, adamantly refusing to divulge the exact specifics of what she serves.
Cheese filled mushrooms were also brought to the table, as well as Crudi carpaccio. The mushrooms were delicious - filled gently and not too thickly - as well as very rich. The carpaccio was a refreshing dish of thinly-sliced heart of artichoke, dipped in olive oil, and parmesan. At this point our hosts warned us that they “put parmesan on everything but the coffee…”

The second course, which we couldn’t resist due to the chilly air outside, was an order of both minestrone and arancione soups. The minestrone was unconventional and flavor-filled. Each spoonful held surprises such as chickpeas, sprouts, or various herbs, and it was clear that much work went into this dish. The arancione was an orange-colored soup, made of sweet potato, carrot, and squash, and carried a hint of hidden flavors, aside from the traditional ginger – all in all, excellent.

For the entr?es, we first chose gnocchi in a cream and Roquefort sauce. We also wanted to order ravioli, but were initially overwhelmed by the abundance of choices (Ravioli filled with Roquefort, ricotta & garlic, goat’s cheeses, asparagus, spinach, parmesan, and more). Sissi offered to prepare a Ravioli dish with a bit of everything that we like, leaving us only to choose the sauce. We selected the wonderful puttanesca sauce, which included, per Italian tradition, cream, tom