Grand Café in Jerusalem is a cross between a French pâtisserie and a high-end New York diner.
For many years I have been a groupie of chef Marcos Gershkovitch, so when I found out that he would be hosting us during the Benedict Festival at Grand Café in June, I knew we were off to a good start.
Gershkovitch and his partner Adi Talmor opened Grand Café in the Baka neighborhood two years ago, on the ground floor of a new apartment building on Derech Beit Lehem. It was the perfect opportunity to create a new restaurant from scratch that would equally appeal to the local Israeli, French and Anglo communities. In addition to a large, well-laid out main area, the restaurant has a comfortable outside seating area, stools at the bar and a conservatory at the side that can be rented for private events for up to 24 people.
Having worked with chef Udi Epstein in the past at Canela, Gershkovitch managed to lure him away to initially work for him at Angelica and subsequently made him head chef of Grand Café.
Epstein, who trained at Hadassah College in Israel and then at the Cordon Bleu in London, started his career at the popular French-style Café Kadosh. As well as managing the main kitchen at Grand Café, Epstein supervises the separate pastry kitchen and Café de Paris that recently opened in Rehavia.
The Benedict Festival was the brainchild of Epstein and is one of the many culinary festivals Grand Café hosts throughout the year. We sampled four of the nine options on offer. While my favorites were the herb Benedict (NIS 58) and the brioche Benedict (NIS 58), my dining companion preferred the Roquefort Benedict (NIS 64), which was topped with salmon caviar.
Simple dishes only work if the ingredients are of the best quality, and that was true of the two starters we tried. Both the gravlax (NIS 48), which is made in-house and came with sour cream, and the Caprese salad (NIS 40) were light and fresh, and the mozzarella almost crumbled in my mouth, unlike the usual rubbery mozzarella many places serve.
Next, we tried two of the eight salads on the menu. The fig and Roquefort salad (NIS 48) included delicious caramelized walnuts, and the goat and pesto salad (NIS 48) consisted of mixed greens, fried goat cheese and pesto balls with curried beets and cashews. The sweetness of the crunchy cashews balances well with the acidity of the beets.
The restaurant offers a variety of pasta options, and we opted to try the open fried eggplant lasagna (NIS 58) and the cheese ravioli with mushroom and cream sauce (NIS 62). We were pleased to see that they were not overly heavy or rich but were still full of flavor. The open lasagna is a twist on the traditional dish, which makes it more visually interesting and ensures that every mouthful is slightly different.
Our final main dishes were the mushroom quiche (NIS 48), with an irresistible crunchy crust and topped with crispy Kashkaval cheese; and the fish of the day (NIS 106-118), which we both agreed was our favorite dish of the meal. The generous portion of sea bream came with fresh peas, green beans, zucchini and a few crispy potato gnocchi, served on a delectable pea cream. The color combination made it a very attractive dish, and the flavors combined perfectly.
Of course, we could not leave without sampling some of the pastry kitchen’s delights. Pastry chef Tzur Vahad, along with his team, produces more than 40 types of desserts and pastries, which are served in both Grand Café and Café de Paris and are on sale to indulge in at home or to give as gifts. The macaroons (NIS 5 each), which are available in a variety of flavors, are perfectly crafted with the right combination of crisp outside and soft inside. My favorite dessert was the pistachio mousse (NIS 36) with a chocolate crunch base, topped with pistachio mousse and covered in white chocolate.
Another delicious option was the white chocolate and coffee mousse (NIS 34) – the name says it all.
Despite its moniker and the variety of lighter dishes on the menu, Grand Café is more of a restaurant than a cafe, but it offers the option to stop by for a full breakfast or coffee and pastry, spend the day working on your laptop or have a full-course dinner. If you have not had a chance to try it yet, we highly recommend that you do.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Grand Café, Kosher
70 Derech Beit Lehem, Jerusalem
Tel: (02) 570-2702
Sun-Thurs. 7 a.m.-midnight. Fri. 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. One hour after Shabbat until midnight.
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