Bon appetit

Simone is a tiny, unpretentious French restaurant with gourmet food that will delight your palate.

June 4, 2010 23:24
3 minute read.
Cod with citrus sauce

Cod with citrus sauce (food) 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Walking down the busy street of Derech Hebron in Jerusalem with cars rushing by, you could easily pass by Simone’s small storefront with its hand-painted sign. As far as curb appeal goes, there is very little that would intrigue the passer-by. But once you walk through the gate on the side, you enter a charming courtyard with a pergola that Claude, the owner, built himself. 

There were a few small tables and chairs set up, and then Claude took us to the back and up a set of stairs to their garden, where they play bocce ball and set up tables for special events and their Friday brunches.

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The atmosphere within the tiny restaurant itself is artsy and eclectic, with hand-painted orange walls and small wooden tables. Despite being French and everything that connotes, Simone is hip without being pretentious. The restaurant exudes charm, and it is clear that the owners are not just creating a restaurant but a destination, with regulars who come in as much for the warmth and friendship as for the food.  The dairy restaurant is kosher le’mehadrin because the owners want to have an environment where everyone is welcome to come and eat.

And eat there you must! Claude and his wife, Simone, the restaurant’s chef, came to Israel from France 30 years ago, bringing with them their love of great French food from Provence and the skill needed to prepare the region’s specialty dishes.

We started our meal with the Salade de Provence (NIS 59). This was a large dish with green salad and artichoke hearts in the center and small dips around the outside. While not all strictly French, the dips were a nice change from the standard Israeli salatim. The dips included pesto, walnut cheese dip and a delicious sardine salad. We also had a small bowl of chestnut soup, which had a full-bodied, earthy taste, topped with cream and parsley.

To clear our palates, we were served trou-normand (NIS 49), an apple sorbet with calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France. The sorbet was light and sweet, and the calvados gave just the slightest kick, leaving us refreshed and ready to continue our meal.

Next we had the pièce de résistance – a large steaming bowl of bouillabaisse (NIS 109). Simone is the only place that I have ever seen in Israel that serves a kosher version of this French fish soup. While Claude admits that there are sacrifices that need to be made because you cannot use shellfish, he assures me that their bouillabaisse is a favorite at the French Embassy, where they cater events. The flavors of the fish were artfully blended to create a full but light broth.  Pieces of fish, both large and small, shimmered in the soup and gently broke apart at the touch of my spoon.

Not to be outdone, the next course we had was cod with citrus sauce (NIS 89). While the name may be underwhelming, the dish itself was a delight. The cod was moist and tender, but the real surprise was the citrus sauce. It was creamy and thick but not heavy, with a citrus flavor that was strong but not tart. I asked Simone if she would tell me more about it. Unfortunately, the recipe is top secret, and I couldn’t even squeeze a clue out of her.

My dining partner is a meat and potatoes kind of guy but remarked that this was the first time that he ever felt full from fish alone. I enjoyed the meal because although I was totally satiated, the food was light enough that I could taste everything without leaving the table feeling heavy or weighed down.

When dessert was brought out, I wanted to politely decline. It looked fabulous but I didn’t want anything to interfere with the myriad of flavors that I had just experienced. Thankfully, my dining partner was game, so we had a slice of lemon meringue pie (NIS 32) and a piece of chocolate espresso mousse cake (NIS 32). As it turns out, along with being a superb cook, Simone is also a formidable pastry chef.

Topping off the meal with a shot of espresso (NIS 8), my dining companion and I agreed that we would be back because one visit was just not enough.

Simone, Rehov Derech Hebron 49, Jerusalem. (02) 672-9950. Kosher le’mehadrin.

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