Monday, December 28, 2009

Not So Simple Fare

Tel Aviv
24 December 2009

Christmas Eve. And what do Jews do? First a movie and then dinner. Though we will forsake the traditional Chinese food (Liz says that that's for Christmas Day itself, not the Eve, but the Day will also be Erev Shabbat and I know there's a pargit back in the freezer waiting to be sacrificed). Besides, we spend most of the year an easy ride into New York's China Town, so Chinese is just not high on our "to eat" list when we hit Tel Aviv.

The movie is in the Lev (Heart), 6 theaters on the top floor of Dizengoff Mall. As we made our way through the mall's multiple levels to the box office we noticed that the mall was quiet and not too crowded. The movie was the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man." If you are a MOT and have not seen this yet you should stop reading now and run, do not walk, run, to a theater. Especially if you, like me, hit bar mitzvah, puberty, drugs and rock'n'roll in the 1960s.

The Coens have taken all of the neurotic Jewish culture in which we wallowed (for them it's the midwest but they could have set the film in Long Island or Northern New Jersey without changing any of it), added a wonderful prologue in a shtetl (done entirely in Yiddush with English and Hebrew subtitles - thanks G-d we still got Fyvush Finkel). The writing and acting is spot-on perfect.

The film is a comedy like Waiting for Godot is a comedy, with a Jewish audience laughing at all the right places. The rest of you may need a Jewish friend for some translation but, given how the Jews have controlled your media for so many years, you may get it on your own. The film just won't be the shot to the kishkes that it is for MOTs, who will recognize their Rabbis, their children and themselves up on the screen.

As we left the theater, Liz suggested we eat dinner at Bistrot Djoul, for which she just happened to have an eLuna discount coupon. (eLuna is a website listing kosher restaurants all over the country with reviews, menus and discount coupons good most times but not during the Businessmen's Lunch, the ultimate early bird special.) A French bistro where I can eat the meat. You do not have to ask me twice. I whipped out the cell phone and reserved a table for 30 minutes later.

We made our way down through the mall, out onto Dizengoff Street and began walking north. We stopped to wait for a light and then it hit us. The mall is open, all the street level stores along Dizengoff are open but we have not heard any Christmas music or seen any Christmas decorations or Christmas sale signs. We stop and drink that in.

Last time we went out to eat it was for simple fare. Tonight we're going from the simple to the sublime. I've written before about how the French are the latest immigrant wave to come to Israel. Unlike earlier immigrant waves this one is mostly affluent with lots of Euros to spend. The bad news is that this drives up housing prices. The good news is that French Jews need certain essentials of life such as kosher bistros, patisseries and wines worthy of discerning palates. And so we found ourselves at 64 Ben Yehuda, just south of Frishmann, to indulge ourselves at a bistro where they have most definitely mastered the art of French cooking.

The restaurant is itself an emigre, a family business transplanted from Paris by owner Julia Berreby but using a home grown chef, Eyal Amrousi. Its a small place with outdoor tables (as you would expect in Paris and Tel Aviv), a small main floor and tables upstairs. The decor is simple and the atmosphere, right down to most of the patrons, French. Except the music which on this night was American soul. Liz thought Edith Piaf would have been more appropriate and I agreed but becasue I am a big fan of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles I was willing to put up with the culture clash.

We had the Tournedos Rossini, steak and goose liver. The liver was a thin slice, not the portion you get at other restaurants, but very delicately seasoned and grilled. The steak was of the melt in your mouth variety. Djoul sacrifices some quantity for very high quality. The chicken breast, moist and tastefully cooked with herbs and spices, was delicious. Djoul's sauteed potatoes are rare among the species - cooked enough but not greasy. Salad comes with, what else, freshly made French dressing. We had glasses of a very nice beaujolais nouveau.

Desserts in kosher meat restaurants are always problematic. Let's face it. What makes any dessert worth clogging an artery for, especially French desserts, is butter and cream, lots and lots of butter and cream. Faking one's way to vanilla ice cream (on top of an apple tart) or a chocolate mousse is, in most places, more sciene than art. Djoul gets closer to the artistic.

But back to the steak. It's always about the steak. Someone once told me that you could not get a good steak in Israel. I have made it my life's journey to prove him wrong. Once again, I win. Djoul's steak is right up there with Goshen. Goshen, at 37 Nahalat Binyamin, ages its beef before cooking, something you get used to in NYC but not in TLV. The result is marvelous. Djoul's steak is as good.

And so, we head back into the night for what is now a very short walk back to our apartment. Israel, so many restaurants, so little time.

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