Can Jezebel Succeed as Kosher Hot Spot?

Restaurant Stakes Claim With High-End Menu, SoHo Address

Elegant Fare: A perfectly seared piece of Arctic char sits atop corn and fava beans in a dish that’s far from expected at a kosher restaurant.
Melissa Horn
Elegant Fare: A perfectly seared piece of Arctic char sits atop corn and fava beans in a dish that’s far from expected at a kosher restaurant.

By Rebecca Flint Marx

Published September 06, 2012, issue of September 14, 2012.
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From the street, Jezebel does little to announce itself. Save for a menu in the window, there’s absolutely no indication that there’s a new restaurant on this stretch of West Broadway in lower Manhattan, let alone an upscale kosher one. But on the other side of its door, yarmulkes abound among the plush furnishings, and choruses of “l’chaim” can be heard above the piped-in pop music. The probability of finding an impressively bearded rebbe sitting in the downstairs lounge, being served by a waitress wearing a pink cocktail dress, is above average. The intimate, dimly lit bi-level townhouse is decorated with an eye toward humor and the Tribe: One print renders Mark Zuckerberg as Ben Franklin; another depicts Woody Allen as Jesus partaking in the Last Supper.

But like most other restaurants in the neighborhood, Jezebel is first and foremost about being in SoHo: Everything, from the staggeringly beautiful 6’2” hostess to the sky-high prices, serves to remind you that you’re at a discerning, high-end establishment where appearances matter and luxury is common currency. The service is attentive almost to a fault: During the course of your meal you will likely be asked every six and a half minutes if everything is fine.

And usually everything is fine, because the food (from the James Beard Award-winning chef Bradford Thompson) is pretty much unlike anything you’ll find served in a kosher restaurant, at least outside of Israel. Though the intercontinental menu is predictably meat-centric, it doesn’t shy away from vegetables, which it treats with delicacy and kindness. An unfussy salad of arugula, pickled and roasted beets and horseradish is nuanced and beautifully balanced, while the corn and fava beans sheltering beneath an unbelievably succulent, generously portioned piece of Arctic char boast equal parts tenderness and bite. Even dessert, in the form of a semi-frozen peanut butter bar, is entirely respectable, thanks to an unholy union of chocolate, peanut mousse and just enough salt to keep everything on its toes.

Judged on these merits, Jezebel has succeeded in its mission to be, as its co-owner Henry Stimler says, “a fun, hip kosher dining environment” — a concept he describes as “the last bastion of luxury for the kosher observant community.” Most, if not all, kosher restaurants are built “for and with a kosher observant audience in mind,” Stimler adds. “We did the exact opposite.” When he and co-owner Menachem Senderowicz conceived of the restaurant, “we asked ourselves, would Madonna, Mayor Bloomberg, Lenny Kravitz and Amar’e Stoudemire enjoy having dinner here?”

The unspoken issue inherent in that question, of course, is whether Jezebel’s appeal will be limited to those looking for a definitively, not coincidentally, kosher restaurant. And that in turn poses a larger matter to consider: will the restaurant, in its efforts to give kosher dining a sexy revamp, remain an anomaly or will it succeed in helping to spawn more “coincidentally kosher” restaurants that advance the cause of the cuisine?

Certainly, Jezebel is far from the being one of a kind. This fall, Michael Solomonov, the chef and owner of the celebrated Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, will venture into the kosher world with a European-style restaurant, Citron and Rose. These restaurants are following in the footsteps of many before. To this day, New Yorkers have fond memories of Levana, the Upper West Side restaurant that introduced the concept of sophisticated gourmet kosher food to the city more than 30 years ago. Since then, restaurants like Pardes, in Brooklyn; Solo, in Manhattan; Herzog Wine Cellars, in Oxnard, Calif.; La Seine and Prime Grill, in Los Angeles, and the Kitchen Table, in Northern California, have opened and, in the cases of the Kitchen Table and Prime Grill, closed, spreading the gourmet kosher gospel to (mostly) urban areas around the country.


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