Not long ago, the only way to experience a cutting-edge kosher culinary experience was to cook it yourself. But these days there are a growing number of kosher restaurants catering to the demands of the ever-more sophisticated kosher palate. The kosher foodie has never had it better.
Yet while this new breed of kosher restaurant — places like Tierra Sur, in Oxnard, Calif., where chef Todd Aarons popularized kosher lamb-belly bacon; or Brooklyn’s Pardes, which made beef-hearts hip — may have elegant ambiance or rustic bonhomie, none has the kind of vibrant, youth-driven décor that would make it the perfect place to film a scene for the next “Sex and the City” movie. Until Jezebel.
Jezebel (323 West Broadway, www.jezebelnyc.com) is the kosher eatery of Henry Stimler and Menachem Senderowic in Soho. Opened seven months ago and located in a converted, century-old carriage house, Jezebel has a look that is a bit more nightclub than kosher restaurant. Velvet curtains and gothic details mix with artwork that features the faces of of contemporary Jewish superimposed onto famous pieces of art (think Woody Allen photoshopped into “The Last Supper,” in place of Jesus).
Stimler, a London-born Jew, who has been a long-time fixture on the New York nightlife scene, says that since moving to New York he has found that “while kosher dining in New York was good, it lacked something with any pleasure in the place. … Kosher restaurants were not welcoming. I wanted to change that. I wanted to create a fun, cool restaurant that had a kosher kitchen.”
In Jezebel, Stimler seems to have succeeded. However, Jezebel is different than other nouvelle-kosher restaurants in more than just décor. In restaurants like Tierra Sur and Pardes, it is the chefs who have been wholly or largely responsible for creating the concept for the cuisine. But at Jezebel, Stimler seems to have a clear idea of what he wants from the kitchen, and this has led the restaurant to change its chef more than once since its launch.
The kitchen is currently headed by Chef Chris Mitchell, formerly of Chelsea’s trendy gastropub, the Breslin. “Mitchell really understands what we are trying to doing here,” Stimler says. “Our other chefs were either trying to be too Jewish, or too kind of anything but Jewish.”
Under Mitchell, the menu at Jezebel is updated American cuisine, made with local produce. Look for entrees such as lamb burgers, served with pickled onions, pickles and siracha aioli ($24), or grilled ribeye with kale chips and roasted carrots ($48). Jezebel also serves some unique dairy inspired-creations, such as its pareve mac and cheese, and mushroom risotto with pareve truffle butter. “Chef Mitchell uses molecular gastronomy to make his own take on take on different things,” Stimler says, adding that the chef embraces the challenges of kashrut.
Stimler’s and Senderowic’s vision also includes sophisticated beverages to match the food, and they brought in Gramercy Tavern veteran Nick Mautone to design their drinks program. It includes craft cocktails, with colorful names, such as the Brazilian Bikini — muddled cucumber and mint with sugarcane syrup, VeeV Acai Spirit and fresh limejuice ($16) — and perhaps the most extensive wine list in any New York kosher restaurant.
Jezebel’s wine list includes some of the most critically acclaimed kosher wines on the market: Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Leoville Poyffere, neither of which is mevushal. Indeed, Jezebel is currently the only kosher restaurant in the New York area to serve non-mevushal wines.
With respect for Jewish tradition, when one orders a bottle of non-mevushal wine at Jezebel, the restaurant’s sommelier will open the bottle at the table, pour everyone a glass and then place the bottle in a locked box, from which he will periodically refill the glasses — all without the patron ever touching the bottle. Stimler says that the non-mevushal wines have not sold particularly well. “It’s a nice gimmick but I don’t think it’s that important [to our business.]”
So far the proprietors’ vision is working, and according to Stimler Jezebel’s is filled most nights of the week. If that continues, the kosher food revolution will have officially gone chic. ◆
Note: As of press time, Jezebel is scheduled to be open on Passover. Stimler reports that the restaurant is looking into to a partnership with one of the local synagogues to have seders at Jezebel.