First it was Levana and Abigail’s. Then Joey Allaham’s two restaurants, Prime Grill and Solo, became the high-end “it” restaurants where kosher gourmets had to dine in Manhattan. A few years ago, Basil broke the mold by attracting both blacks and Jews — in Crown Heights, of all places — for its cool wood-oven pizza and tuna tartare.
Now, the restaurant kosher foodies are raving about is chef/owner Moshe Wendel’s Downtown Brooklyn bistro, Pardes, known for its French provincial fare.
Wendel’s love for cooking began as a young child, and as a young man he spent time working in restaurants in France. When he returned to America he found work in French restaurants in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, including Philadelphia’s once-famous La Boheme: “It was very radical French bistro food, and it was the first place where I had complete creative control.”
It was while working as a chef at small French restaurant called Django, that Wendel and his wife Shana became Orthodox Jews. “Once we became religious, [and would no longer work in non-kosher restaurants] there was not any work for me in Philly,” recalls the chef, “so we moved up north, towards New York.”
Wendel would go on to become the chef at Mosaica Restaurant, in Vauxhall, N.J., and Brooklyn’s Basil, before opening his first restaurant, Pardes, in October 2010.
At Pardes, Wendel uses locally sourced produce to prepare French provincial dishes that have a touch of modern flair. “My initial idea for Pardes was to have burgers, steaks, fries and a couple of cool things [on the menu] … nothing too complicated, and let the place be super-casual,” the chef says. However, after the restaurant started getting superb reviews, “people would come to this little rinky-dink place with broken tables and servers in T-shirts, and think they’d come to the wrong Pardes. It was freaking people out, so we’ve had to make it more of a fine dining [restaurant].”
Passover cooking can be a challenge to even the most accomplished home chef, and The Jewish Week recently sat down with Wendel to get a few recipes and a bit of advice that should help enliven anyone’s holiday table.
Wendel’s first piece of advice is to “get rid of all that processed [food] — like things made with cotton-seed oil, which isn’t even really a vegetable. There is a reason that no-one ever buys cotton-seed oil [except for Passover].” He points out that not only do foods “taste better when made from scratch,” but homemade foods are often less expensive than mass-produced kosher-for-Passover foods. “People already spend so much money on Pesach … they may as well spend it on making fresh foods.” (See Wendel’s recipe below for an easy-to-make fresh tomato ketchup.)
When it comes to cooking with wine, Wendel says that while wine may be a versatile ingredient, “you don’t want to use wine everywhere, and it really has to compliment the other flavors. [For instance], I usually use [a Cabernet or Rioja] wine when braising beef.” Wendel also says that unlike cooking with distilled spirits “when it comes to wine you don’t have to worry about cooking off all of the alcohol.” He warns though that too much wine in a dish can create a flavor that is “almost cloying” and recommends adding a tiny amount of vinegar to dishes containing wine, “red wine vinegar with red wine, and white wine vinegar with white wine,” in order to balance the flavors in the dish.
Wendel also recommends taking some of the Passover cooking outdoors: “I like to barbeque and smoke on Pesach.” He says that his favorite Passover dish is a smoked rack of lamb.
As a final piece of advice, Wendel says “keep it simple.” He suggests, for example, that is unnecessary to make complicated sauces for a dish: “For me, when you have a nice brisket, you have some tomatoes in there, some red wine, some onions, and a little horseradish; as it braises it creates its own sauce, and that sauce will be really good as it is just as it comes out of the oven.” ✦
Pardes is located at 497 Atlantic Ave. in downtown Brooklyn. (718) 797-3880. Pardes is open Sundays – Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Pardes will not be open during Passover.
4lbs. tomatoes, peeled
Handful of salt
1 apple, peeled and stemmed
3 jalapeños, peeled
12 oz. of red wine vinegar
3 cups of sugar
Bring ingredients to a simmer, reduce by 1/3, puree, strain, and adjust seasoning. Keep refrigerated.
1 side of a salmon, deboned,
skinned, seasoned with salt,
and cut into 2-inch cubes
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
3 jalapeños, peeled and diced
2 red bell peppers, peeled and diced
2lbs. of tomatoes, peeled and
2 lbs. of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
and sliced into ¼-inch rounds.
½ bottle of inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc
In a large saucepan, sauté the onions, peppers and jalapeños until they are soft and fragrant. Add the tomato, wine and potato, and simmer until just tender, season with salt, and lower the heat. Add the salmon, cover the pan, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until just medium rare. Taste, season and serve. (At the Wendel house, we forego garlic and cilantro for Pesach, but they would be lovely additions here for those who partake.)
Wendel recommends pairing the salmon with a good Sauvignon Blanc. (Gamliel Kronemer suggests that Hagafen’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Yatir’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, and Dalton’s 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc would all be good choices.)
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