Building on the success of Rendez Vous, the kosher dairy restaurant in Neve Tzedek founded by olim from Toulouse, France, the same owners have just opened Carmen, a kosher meat restaurant located on the same street. The new restaurant serves dishes reflecting the cuisines of l’Occitanie and Andalusia—the southernmost regions of France and Spain, respectively.
The handsome, contemporary restaurant is bright, with glass walls fronting the street, and a pleasant courtyard in the rear. The menus are in Hebrew, English and French.
There are no specialty cocktails, but the full bar will mix many of the classics. Above all, there is an expertly curated wine list of kosher Israeli wines, although only a handful of these wines are available by the glass. The restaurant graciously allowed us to taste a few wines before ordering, and we enjoyed discovering several we had never heard of before: a very pale Grenache rosé from Pelter’s Matar collection, and an Italian-style rosso blend from the Lueria winery.
The food menu comprises four sections: Starters, Main Courses, Josper Grill and Desserts. The Starters category contains more dishes than both of the other non-dessert categories combined, so there are plenty of intriguing dishes to choose from.
We asked our waitress for recommendations of Starters, and we readily agreed with her choices. As we waited for them to arrive, we ordered the house bread: slices of fresh baguette, served with a smoky eggplant cream, and a slightly piquant sweet potato dip.
The first dish was rump steak carpaccio, with chili, ginger, ponzu sauce, peanuts and herbs. Unusually, the thinly sliced beef was served at room temperature, which detracted not at all from the excellence of this dish. In fact, so distracted were we by the magnificent flavors of this dish that we paid little attention to the fact that it owed its provenance more to Asia than to southwestern Europe.
Next came the foie gras with berry coulis, paired with spring rolls filled with goose confit. The novelty here was that the goose liver was cooked “au torchon,” a singular method that seals in the robust flavor of the meat. The sweetness of the plump berries cut the incredible richness of the foie gras, while the accompanying cylinders that oozed savory goose confit elevated this dish to sublime gastronomic heights.
Dollops of almond foam enhanced the presentation of this over-the-top dish, while not actually adding much in the way of flavor.
We were surprised when a third starter arrived from the kitchen unsolicited: mushrooms still in the skillet, topped with a large semi-cooked egg yolk. Following instructions, we broke the yolk and mixed it in with the assorted mushrooms, which—after having been seasoned with chicken stock and crispy garlic—were meaty and delicious.
From the four main courses we ordered the rustic French cassoulet, a classic stew of white beans, duck confit and sausage. The slow-cooked duck and mild sausage imbued the plentiful beans with mellow flavor, resulting in a hearty and eminently satisfying dish.
The dishes that come out of the Josper—a unique combination of charcoal grill and oven—are also main courses, of course, and mostly steaks. The one exception was the asado, beef ribs that were marinated in barbecue sauce and roasted for 72 hours. The succulent meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, while the zesty barbecue sauce—another departure from the cuisines of France and Spain, this time in the direction of the southern United States—had just the right amount of heat.
The asado was served with a generous side of hand-cut French-fried potatoes, which are among the best you will find in the city. And sharing the plate with the meat were gently grilled al dente vegetables: corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, parsnip, okra and onion.
Two of the four desserts are basically fresh fruit, so we opted for the ones that would reflect the talent in the kitchen. The Valrhona chocolate mousse was a giant mound of fluffy dark chocolate pudding, surrounded by miso caramel and cocoa crumble—a sinfully decadent combination.
The crême brulée, meanwhile, based on coconut cream and flavored with lavender, was dotted with dried raspberries sprinkled on the caramelized crust. Like the mousse, it was remarkable for being a superlative dessert despite the disadvantage of having to eschew dairy ingredients.
The excellent service at Carmen was the icing on the cake of a visit to a new restaurant whose authentic provincial European cuisine is a welcome addition to Israel’s culinary scene.
Lilienblum St. 24, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 933-8381