At the southern edge of the trendy Sarona district, next to the bustling Sarona Market, sits a beautifully restored, mid-19th century Templer building, once a distillery, and now home to Claro, a restaurant that can boast of a meteoric rise in popularity in the few short months it has been open.
And with good reason: the combined seating area and kitchen fill a welcoming open space, while along a terrace outside the windows, vines with lush purple grapes drape the railing. The tables are elegantly set, with meticulous attention to detail, down to the large white linen napkins. The friendly and knowledgeable wait staff speak very good English, complementing the bilingual menus.
Of course, the decor would hardly matter if the food were not up to scratch; fortunately, diners need have no concerns in that regard. Chef (and caterer) Ran Shmueli’s restaurant is based on a “farm to table” concept: fresh organic vegetables and other ingredients are delivered fresh daily to the kitchen. Accordingly, the menu -- including the list of specialty cocktails -- changes monthly.
When the weather is hot, the idea of a refreshing cocktail is especially appealing, and the waitress’ suggestions sounded particularly so. The “lushi” -- a mix of gin, passion fruit, Benedictine, lemon and mint -- tasted like lemonade on steroids; the blood orange shpritz -- featuring lillet blanc, blood orange liqueur, aperol and cava -- was more astringent, but no less refreshing.
With the outdoor temperature still in mind, we elected to have two cool appetizers. The gazpacho was an obvious choice -- yet it came with an unusual twist: made with yellow cherry tomatoes and yellow bell peppers, its color was very different from the ordinary red. A bit acidic in flavor, it was nonetheless delicious -- helped along by the inspired addition of feta cheese.
Similarly, the calamari salad came with its own variation: it was made with the heads, rather than the standard rings. The seafood was tossed with tiny chickpeas cooked al dente, and the combination dressed with a light, yogurt-based vinaigrette, Garnished with big sprigs of fresh parsley and crouton shavings, it was as tasty as it was innovative.
Since the waitress had steered us right so far, we followed her suggestions for main courses as well. We ordered the “steak of the day” -- a choice cut of beef, with a demi glace that paired red wine with essence of pomegranate. We were not asked how we wanted it prepared; but it turns out this stemmed from confidence that it would be grilled perfectly: and indeed, it came with just the right amount of pinkish red in center, rendering the meat juicy and flavorful. Even the sides -- roasted potatoes and onions, and crispy kale -- were the excellent result of attention to detail.
Our second choice was the monthly fillet of fish: fresh trout that had been gently smoked in-house. The pink-fleshed trout was served on a bed of roasted potatoes in a mild horseradish sauce. I can state with confidence that the melt-in-your-mouth trout at Claro was the best piece of fish I have had in years (including at restaurants whose specialty is fish and seafood).
There is a limited choice of desserts, but still enough to make the decision a little difficult. We ordered the two that looked most appealing on the tables of our fellow diners: the fruit crumble, and the mille feuille.
The crumble was the only minor disappointment of the meal: we found the topping mixture too buttery, and a tad underbaked. Yet we still managed to thoroughly enjoy most of it: simply by focusing on the fruit -- plum, in this instance -- and eating it with the accompanying scoop of sour cream ice cream. The cool confection was the perfect foil for the warm, gooey fruit.
The mille feuille was a delight to behold: a mini-tower of flaky pastry layered with rich whipped cream. Simple and unadorned, with no frosting, it was nonetheless exquisite.
With a master chef in the kitchen, and a menu updated monthly, Claro is one restaurant that I look forward to revisiting again -- and again.