(photo credit: courtesy )
As the eternal and undivided capital of kosher dining, Jerusalem is not pulling its weight. This does not mean that a kosher meal cannot be enjoyable. Such an assertion is ludicrous and I've enjoyed many a meal. But, with a captive audience, there seems to be little incentive for real innovation or dedication to the culinary ideals and traditions that go into the making of a truly great restaurant.
But a kosher-observant, carnivorous buddy of mine consistently raves about Hess of Switzerland - founded in Germany in 1795 and now of Jerusalem. I first visited Hess a number of years back with the same friend who celebrated his birthday in Hess's private dining area. When it came time for dessert, he opted for the corned beef sandwich. His rationalization was calorie parity. I assumed it was due to low expectations for non-dairy dessert facsimiles at a kosher meat joint. Either way, the kid left with a serious smile on his face.
It was with great pleasure that I invited the same buddy along with me to check out Hess, all these years later. In short, there were many surprises - some impressive by nature - while other aspects were what they were.
Starting with the King's Gourmet Platter, we were treated to a rather large sampling of many of the cold cuts and pÃ¢tÃ©s Hess has to offer. With various meats of a traditional ethnic sampling that would make the UN rage with envy, we found some delicious sliced varietals from roasts and salamis.
Of particular delight was cured veal that actually tasted like ham. It also appears as a sandwich with the tagline, "taste what you've been missing!" I don't see how this is not offensive to kosher eaters, but it is tasty. And, while the hickory smoked duck parfait with berry sauce and fried onions was hotly contested between the two of us, the chicken liver returned to the kitchen with the near empty plate. Apparently this dish just tastes like chopped liver without the added creaminess that dairy additives have to offer.
Alongside we also ripped away at the tasty house bread accompanied by an impressive garlic margarine spread - a vile substance I do my best to avoid.
From there we split the kneidel soup with lamb broth. Tasty enough, you had better like hard kneidel (my buddy does, I'm into the soft and fluffy variety) and lamb, of which the broth does an excellent job of taking its gamey flavor.
Sharing a main course, we had the choucroute. I wish we had not. One of my favorite dishes when authentically made with various types of pork, stewed in sauerkraut and served with spicy, Dijon mustard, this kosher interpretation was somewhat insulting. The pickled tongue did not work and of the various sausages present, a couple varieties were so dry that even cutting them with a steak knife was a chore. This was the most disappointing aspect to the meal considering I had the highest expectations given Hess's moniker as "The Sausage King."
For dessert, rather than the time-tested sandwich, we went with the apple pie. It was amazing; but only considering that it was non-dairy. My short espresso was abysmal. The Goldstar that accompanied the meal was great, as was the wine, to which decent attention was paid to detail in serving and storing the beverage.
If kosher is a concern, then Hess is a more than decent destination to spend your shekels - and here you'll spend quite a few - rightfully having earned its high-status amongst the religious community. A point all the more relevant this week as Hess offers take-out on its extensive meat menu, from steak to sausage.
Hess of Switzerland - 9 Heleni Hamalha St., Jerusalem; (02) 625-5515 is open Sun. 4 p.m. till 11 p.m. and Mon. to Thurs. 11 a.m. till 11 p.m.; glatt kosher lemehadrin. For more information regarding Hess' take-out and holiday specials visit hess-restaurants.com. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.