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Maison Kayser opens its first restaurant-bar in the world in Tel Aviv

SC 23/05/2021 1


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 Israel has always had a dearth of restaurants serving authentic, classic French fare and with the permanent closure of both Hôtel de Ville and Brasserie, the lack is even more pronounced. It was welcome news, therefore, when Maison Kayser — the international chain of French boulangeries/pâtisseries that expanded to this country just last summer — announced that it is opening its first-ever bistro in – of all the 30 countries in which it already had a presence, – Israel.

This decision in itself can be considered a feather in Tel Aviv’s cap: recognition that it is a cosmopolitan city whose citizens and visitors have real appreciation for fine dining. It may also be a thank-you of sorts to a city that welcomed the Maison Kayser bakery and pastry shop, and showed that it is willing to pay a premium for quality baked goods, even when there already existed a surfeit of worthy competitors. 
The new bistro is located adjacent to the Maison Kaiser boulangerie-pâtisserie at the beginning of Rothschild Boulevard (corner of Herzl St.), in the premises that had previously housed both Da Da & Da and Bar a Vin. The restaurant’s small, round tables extend out into a spacious plaza, giving the feel of a typical French outdoor café.
The Parisian décor dominates indoors as well, where there is a bar and two seating areas (one in a rear patio). Adding to the challenge of fitting both dinner-sized plates and drinks on the miniscule tables is coping with the very dim lighting when attempting to read the menus. 
Although we had spoken only English when we checked in with the hostess, we were quickly handed only Hebrew menus – something we noticed only after we were seated and then left alone to wait (and wait) for someone to attend to us. When we finally did get a chance to request an English menu, we received one that was indeed in Latin characters, but in a strange mishmash of French and English that is destined to leave speakers of both languages occasionally dazed and confused. 
The large fold-out menu combines food and drink, with a cocktail list comprising six specialty cocktails (NIS 34-46) and three classics (NIS 38-9). Unfortunately, menu chaos reigns here as well, as the inaccuracies and inconsistencies between the Hebrew and English versions baffled even our waitress. 
The food menu, meanwhile, consists of only two large sections, First Courses (NIS 36-88) and Main Courses (NIS 94-178), where translation mistakes and omissions continue. Included among the main courses are Side Dishes (NIS 24) and (listed separately but untitled) pasta dishes (NIS 78-94).

The entrées presented difficult choices between classic French starters – such as pâté and onion soup (the lone soup, listed slightly apart from all the rest) – and others reflecting local cuisine. Eventually, we settled on the Ceviche and the Grilled, Peppered Hanger Steak. 
The former, as I had suspected, was not really ceviche, but rather victim to the banal Israeli habit of attaching the label “ceviche” to whatever is a raw fish starter that is not tartare or Asian. Indeed, it was basically a tartare wherein the fish had not been chopped but rather cut into small morsels, then served atop a bed of burnt eggplant cream, onion, cilantro, chili, olive oil, lemon and pistachio. While it was not to my liking, my companion loved this dish. 
The latter appetizer was a major surprise, as it was served at room temperature and not hot, as the name suggested. In essence, it was a kind of beef carpaccio: very thin slices of recently grilled steak, seasoned with black pepper, olive oil and lemon, sprinkled with arugula leaves, and topped with ribbons of Reggiano cheese. The even bigger surprise, however, was how delicious it was: whatever they chose to name it, it was outstanding. 
One of the highlights of this course is a whole baguette, served in a paper bag, with soft European butter and coarse gray sea salt. Wonderfully crusty and fresh, it was difficult to stop eating it, even after our plates had been wiped clean. 
The wine list is adequate, if not extensive, with a reasonable percentage available by the glass. As we perused the vintages in anticipation of our main courses, we sought advice from the restaurant’s sommelier. To our utter amazement, however, we discovered that our (rotating) waitress did not even know what a sommelier is, let alone whether Maison Kayser had one. After she went to inquire – and we learned that there was neither a sommelier nor a wine specialist on the premises – we still managed to find some pleasant vintages among the selection of exclusively French and Israeli wines.
Although there were not a lot main courses, there was a reasonable balance between poultry, meat and fish. This time we started with a French mainstay: Steak au Poivre, with asparagus and gratin dauphinois. Each one of the components of this dish rated full marks: the succulent steak was grilled perfectly, the buttery pepper sauce was kept warm in a mini copper saucepan on the plate, the asparagus was al dente – and all the while, the cheesy, creamy layers of potatoes au gratin threatened to steal the show. 
Only after we had finished this dish did we realize that the side dish we had ordered never came. When we pointed this out to the waitress, she tried to convince us that the four spears of asparagus on our plate were actually the side dish of assorted grilled green vegetables whose ordered had been confirmed. When they finally came, the diverse vegetables were excellent, if highly seasoned.
Our choice from among the pastas was the Gnocchi Marinière, which turned out to have the biggest discrepancy between the English and Hebrew menus. Thus, when we ordered what we thought was potato pasta in a sauce flecked with chunks of fish, we were amazed when a plate of gnocchi arrived smothered by a huge fillet of drumfish. Only by referring to the Hebrew menu does one get not only the explanation, but the shock that there is a NIS 55 difference in the price.  
Regardless, while the gnocchi themselves were not optimal in texture – tiny, dense and rather chewy – they were still very tasty, and drenched in a light yet complex and flavorful sauce of fish stock, asparagus, broccolini, lemon zest, parsley and Reggiano.  
There is no dessert menu; rather it is the job of one waitress – and not the sole member of the wait staff who seemed to know English – to declaim the four choices of the evening. She recommended the lemon pie, apparently a house specialty. In fact, it was as memorable for its appearance as its wonderful flavor: deconstructed dollops of lemon cream speared with vertical pastry and interspersed with kisses of soft meringue, shards of crisp meringue and cubes of sponge cake. 
Finally, although crème brûlée is commonplace in Israeli restaurants, we had to taste the version in such a highly acclaimed, authentic place. Indeed, the sweet vanilla cream topped with the perfectly scorched sugar crust, was a cut above the local norm.
In sum, those diners with the patience to deal with flawed service will be rewarded with a divine meal. Or, one may choose to wait for the brand-new establishment to overcome its growing pains, find its footing, and bring the service to the level of the food. 
Maison Kayser Restaurant & Bar. 
Not kosher. 
7 Rothschild Blvd., Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 504-0567. 
The writer was a guest of the restaurant. 

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Co-Host for Coffee Mouth Scarecrow Show. Retired NAVY Chief/Flag Writer Psalms 118:24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

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