What’s the best kosher restaurant in New York?

I would hesitate to call myself a foodie, but being in the profession for a couple years now I’ve definitely an appreciation for good food and wine. The truth is, I haven’t had the chance to eat out much, I’m just getting over price shock and most of the time I come away so disappointed when eating out I would love to barge into the kitchen and cook it myself.This past week was different. Something came over me and I decided to go to what my foodie friends call the two best kosher restaurants in New York City. It seems that proportionately LA has better kosher food and definitely more restaurants that strike my fancy.  Now of course we can argue what in fact qualifies as the best kosher restaurant on a variety of factors, so maybe I should say that according to about half a dozen fellow kosher foodies – Mikes Bistro and Pardes are the only two restaurants worth eating at for the money.

Of course there are other decent or good restaurants, but when you add in my sensibilities like refusing to eat at a place calling itself a French steak house that serves Sushi, or any non-Japanese establishment that serves sushi for that matter, the choices get narrower and narrower. Let me also say that I found steak houses to be so cliché and boring that I also refuse to eat any place touting such a name. This means that anything that has Grill in the name just sounds so boring and 1985 that I want nothing to do with it. Anyone with a really hot grill and a good piece of meat could learn to cook it to a nice rare or medium rare, no need to pay a lot of money for something anyone could do themselves.

To compare Mikes Bistro and Pardes would be a crime, it’s simply apples to kale, cannot be done. In trying to display this, I told folks that Mikes is safe, Mikes is like a symphony – you can understand it, it’s beautiful and good, but it doesn’t blow your mind. Pardes is like avant garde jazz to someone who only listens to Mordechai Ben David. It’s not focuses, it goes everywhere and makes no sense, but somehow it works, the flavors come together and it blows your mind.

Pardes restaurant review:

This past Wednesday night, my fiancé and I went to Pardes. I have wanted to go for sometime, thanks to one particular friend who has been nudging me by saying that the menu was “revolutionary” and “pushing the boundaries” for a kosher restaurant. Since their menu is not available online, I figured that maybe pushing the boundaries at a kosher restaurant in Brooklyn meant that the men and women ate together or something.

Like any consumer I looked at Yelp and was dismayed at Pardes’s poor 2 star rating. I look at the reviewers, all non-seasoned yelpers (IE: very few friends and very few reviews and all about the service – none about the food) Yelp is dangerous, search for a restaurant and yelp comes up first, then open table, google reviews and all that good jazz which ruins a restaurant for customers before they even give it a shot. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Would the service be so bad that the amazing food couldn’t make up for it? Basil Pizza and Wine Bar in Crown Heights had fairly good food, but the atrocious service ruined it and made sure I would never return.

We arrived promptly at 7pm for our reservation, I cannot stress how important reservations are for good restaurants. The place was packed and we were seated at the corner table, which we were told was the best seat in the house, I soon realized why. The restaurant is very small and diners are forced to keep their conversations low and intimate. Our server didn’t drop the menus and leave like most kosher restaurants, she asked us if we needed anything explained and so on.

The menu was on clipboard because they change it daily, rare in the kosher world, but a good sign considering the first thing I noticed was that everything on the menu was in season. The menu instantly blew my mind, flavor combinations seldom thought of were jumping out at me, squash and cocoa nibs, salmon roe and fingerling potatoes, I noticed a lot of truffle usage and mushroom usage in general.

Instead of jumping to the entrees, we started with medjool dates wrapped in lamb bacon. While we were waiting we ordered 5 more items from the menu, a wide variety of salads, fish courses and anything that struck our eye so we could truly sample from Pardes’s bounty. I was willing to bet that a lot of people who didn’t quite “get” the menu came in and opted for the steak, chicken or burger dishes, passing over anything that seemed strange or that they were too afraid to ask about. I overheard one of the servers explaining endives to someone and then confit preparation to another. If people didn’t understand these basic everyday things, I would they understand the sunchoke flan we would receive later on for desert.

The bacon wrapped dates arrived on a large white bowl plate with a shmear of pistachio tahini. They were simply amazing, only 3 of them, but the dates and bacon were so rich, The tahini was sweet and I could detect some sort of acid or mustard on the back end, I guess to balance out the richness of the dates. Off to the far side of the plate, forgotten almost, was a pair of thinly slices pieces of kohlrabi with some mint on it. It was the palate cleanser one could hope for, the freshness was great to get the intense bacon and dates out of your mouth so you could move to the next course.

Our food began arriving, first the kabocha – apple salad. Thinly sliced (Chef Wendel must have many mandolins in his kitchen) apples were arranged on bottom of the beautiful plate, on top of this were wedges of kabocha squash, some fresh tarragon, cocoa nibs (it tasted like it was raw) and some sort of fig situation (I say situation because I’m not sure what it was) basically it was a salad that was touching all of my mouth. I had these tart apples on bottom, the savory squash, the tarragon added this salty tinge to it and the fig added this very sweet component. The plate up was beautiful and I now wish I had my camera to take pictures of it.

We then had this deconstructed potato salad. Simply roasted yellow fingerlings, arranged in a circle, with some sort of creamy citrus dill and shallot dressing with salmon roe floating in it. It was very simple, yet super delicious and well thought out. Next up on our Pardes food journey was the Mackerel, I don’t know much about mackerel besides for the fact that it’s a fishy fish. I did know that when I looked at the menu it caught my eye because pine needles were used in the preparation. I have thought of such things before, but have never used this method in my cooking and it was really clever. The chef also went against the cardinal rule of not using inedible garnish by placing a smoked piece of pine tree on the plate and I applaud him for doing that. The mackerel itself was full of subtle flavors and the petrus beer reduction at the bottom was very tasty, I especially liked the usage of dandelion greens on the top of the fish.

The only dish we weren’t totally satisfied with was the scallion risotto. We both thought it could have used a bit more seasoning and since there was no salt on the table (everything else was cooked to perfection) we wondered if that’s all it needed. However, I should add that the placement of a poached egg at the bottom of the plate was brilliant, because without the use of cream risotto just simply can never get that full effect, but upon discovering and piercing the poached egg, our risotto assumed the amazing consistency of creamy risotto.

The chef sent us out a lamb tartar which was the most beautiful plate I have ever seen. I sent the chef a message asking if he has a photo of this plate. We simply sat staring the plate for a good 5 minutes because we didn’t want to destroy the art. A thinly sliced cucumber was made into a small circle and the lamb was placed inside, several enoki mushrooms (long tentacle looking things) were sticking out of the lamb, three dots of mustard around the outer edge and several crunchy beet chips were scattered about. Words do not do it justice, the tartar was good, but raw lamb is a bit too much for me so my fiancé readily agreed to eat the rest which she said was good.

As the plates were piling up around us, we were taking our sweet time savoring every bite, I went to the bathroom to get a lay of the land. I immediately noticed that almost every plate was a burger or chicken. I’m sure the chicken is good, Pardes uses only organic free range meat and the chicken they get is really good, but I just felt like they should be stepping out of their comfort zone just a little bit.

We ordered 2 deserts and the chef sent one out for us to try. I don’t know the chef, but when I called up to make my reservation the woman taking my reservation said something along the lines of “is this THE Heshy Fried” so I think we got the VIP treatment from the kitchen. I ordered the walnut ice cream with rye-polenta shortbread. My fiancé ordered the pear- crème brule and we were both very satisfied. Nothing too whacky, just more beautiful plates and great flavors. The chef sends out this sunchoke flan and I’m not sure how to take it. It’s a simple plate up, but using sunchoke in deserts is not something you think of every day. Sunchoke aka Jerusalem artichoke is normally prepared like you would a potato, so we were intrigued. Apparently we were being used like lab rats because it was not yet on the menu. It was savory, but until I dug in with the kumquats I didn’t get it. The kumquats made it savory and gave these incredible sweetness that is very hard to get out of kumquats which are incredibly tart and acidic. To be honest, I would have liked some salty part, I’m that guy who liked salt on my ice cream and chocolate. The desert could have also worked as a brule.

We were both stuffed and the entire bill came out to about $130 with a tip (I always tip at least 20% for good service and the service was top notch) It is possible that the service has improved from it’s first months. The host was very good, our server was smiling, genuine and knew the menu well. The restaurant is tight, which makes getting out of your seat to go to the bathroom a chore. The décor is quite nice and I especially liked the original ceiling. The only thing I wasn’t too impressed with was the wine list, but it seems that the dishes mostly call for whites and those big bold reds aren’t too present. The beer list is extensive and I was shocked to so many IPA’s, I wondered if they had any double or triple IPA’s – too bitter for me.

It was a meal I will not forget, the food was excellent, the plates were beautiful and the service was very good. I would recommend going Pardes with an open mind and be prepared to try new things if you really want to make it worthwhile.

Mikes Bistro restaurant review:

Mikes Bistro has been on the mind for sometime, it’s not a steak house, they don’t serve sushi and I’ve never heard someone say anything bad about it. They also have a tasters menu which means I don’t have to go broke in trying to taste more than one or two things on the menu. If you want the tasting menu you have to reserve it 24 hours in advance, I did this and opted in for the wine pairing menu as well. The tasting menu is $100 for 7 courses and the wine pairing is for 3 courses at $20. I should mention here, that when I eat out price is not an option. If you look at the price it kind of ruins the event. Of course, in this case a very nice fan/friend paid treat my fiancé and I for dinner.

Since Mikes Bistro has a more familiar menu than Pardes, it’s easier to describe in plain word. Not being a food writer, I don’t think I did Pardes justice however I do think that I could describe Mikes well enough to give you an idea of their food and service.

Mikes is a nice restaurant, the décor is nothing special, but the servers treat you very well. We started off with tequila cocktail compliments of the bar (I called up a friend who used to work there and we were VIP’d) While sipping our cocktails, the server brought us a rectangular plate with two small coffee cups of pureed soup, one a cauliflower and the other a carrot bisque. Just two simple creamy soups, easy and very good. We liked the cauliflower better because it was more unfamiliar. A lot of people in the food world judge chefs based on their soup, because it’s such a simple thing to make, yet so many people screw it up.

Next up was the salad course, another safe and simple salad. Diced purple and golden beets arranged in a circle atop some bright red decorative sauce, some orange Supremes, endive slivers and one candied walnut at the top. Not something I would have ordered from the menu and almost too cliché for my tastes. It’s not that it was bad, I would have liked a couple more walnuts to add a bit of crunch, but my plate was chipped (not a big deal to many of you, but something uncalled for in a place charging upwards of $68 for an entrée) and I couldn’t take my off of the lame parsley garnish. Parsley may be the lamest garnish known to man and it didn’t do anything for the plate, maybe some endive tops, frisee or even some fennel chips would have been nice. I like garnish that wows the plate or the eyes, but a sprig of curly parsley does neither. I should mention that the beet salad was beautiful.

At the beginning of each course the server would explain it to us, but unfortunately some of them had such poor English I didn’t really understand much of it, so I apologize if I make any mistakes describing what we had. After each course was cleared, our cutlery was replaced, a simple yet super nice gesture which goes a long way. The servers were good and prompt, but they seemed a bit nervous for some reason.

Our third course was a really beautiful plate of roasted artichoke on a chickpea puree. Balsamic reduction was squirted on the bottom of the plate as well and it almost looked like chocolate. The dish was simple, yet beautifully arranged and the garlic bread crumbs really finished the plate well.

Right before our forth course, the wine pairing started. We were given glasses of Segal’s Chardonay, it was drinkable, but I guess you get what you pay for. Mikes Bistro has an extensive wine list, though by my calculations the markups were about 500% in some places. I didn’t ask, but I wondered if they had a corking policy, probably not considering the non-mevushal issues. They also have a full bar and quite a selection of bourbon, scotch and cocktails.

Our fourth course was where the meat began. Seared big eye tuna with some sort of chili oil on bottom. The flavor was great and somewhat smoky, the plate was beautiful. Our fifth course was homemade gnocchi with chicken and duck confit and it was simply heavenly. The gnocchi was perfect and the richness of both confit’s (preparation where you cook and store meat in it’s own fat) was balanced out by this bright red cranberry sauce at the bottom of the bowl. I began to notice a recurring theme in that the chef must love red on his plates as well as citrus. I wondered if he had someone on staff supreming citrus all day long.

After the gnocchi, the sixth course was a seared goose breast and this was all of our first times having goose. Goose is like duck, you can cook it rare and ours tasted very meaty for poultry. It was smoked and the three small slices were laid out in a fan over some roasted endive and some really good sauce but I’m not sure what it was or if it needed any accompaniments. The goose was smoky and reminiscent of pastrami yet somehow different. Definitely the meatiest foul I’ve ever tasted and delicious. We were later told that kosher goose is tough to come by and on Thursday nights it’s the special and it runs for $68. I’m glad we got to try and small amount of it as part of our tasting.

As if to welcome the meat, the 3rd wine pairing was a very dry cabernet, but not too big as I would have liked.

The seventh course was the best veal I’ve ever tasted and I don’t even do veal too often. It was practically white and it was absolutely delicious, simple and straightforward, no bells and whistles, just focusing on the meat here. The eighth course was a fairly large black angus rib eye. It was about 2 inches thick and cooked a perfect medium rare throughout. It was delicious and was super tender and buttery; I’ve never had steak this good.

For desert they served us our fourth glass of wine, a really yummy Riesling. We were served two deserts, the first being a simple yet amazing blueberry crumble with ice cream and the second a Belgian chocolate fondue platter.

The meal was amazing, the food, the service, everything is top notch, but it didn’t take me to new heights. The flavor profiles, the combinations or food and plates were beautiful yet familiar. Mikes Bistro has a safe menu, it’s comfort food cooked perfectly. Not one dish needed any seasoning, the meats were cooked to our requested medium rare and we walked away feeling very satisfied and looking forward to our next meal there. I was also a bit sloshed from 4 glasses of wine and a cocktail.

Find more kosher restaurants on 4torah.com