BALLOTINE OF SALMON with herbs, potato blinis and tarragon sauce..
(photo credit: SHIMON MALUL)
Every year, under the slogan “So French So Good,” France sends us a delegation of chefs to collaborate with our country’s leading chefs in creating gastronomic experiences in the best Gallic tradition.
This year, 28 chefs from various regions of France fanned out across six Israeli cities, where they were hosted by 20 restaurants and four bakeries. Prominent among them was the Olive Leaf restaurant at the Sheraton Tel Aviv, which served special dinners for three evenings.
The hotel also hosted a full day of master classes taught by three visiting chefs, one of whom is the leading baker in Paris, who supplies the Elysée Palace.
The Sheraton name has long been associated with this annual homage to French gastronomy. The venerable Shalom Kadosh of Jerusalem’s Sheraton Plaza (now the Leonardo Plaza), widely considered to be the doyen of Israeli chefs, was instrumental in launching this popular initiative. Now in its fourth year, the visiting delegation has doubled in size over the last two years.
The Sheraton is a trailblazer in another sense as well. The Olive Leaf has been one of the few select kosher restaurants participating in French culinary week. This year, resident chef Charlie Fadida welcomed Alexis Saint-Martin, the chef de cuisine of Le Viscos in the Pyrenees Mountains. Excited to be in Israel for the first time, Saint- Martin regarded his first venture into kosher cooking as an interesting challenge.
“Rather than view the rules as restricting me, I considered this an opportunity to learn another culinary language,” said the youthful Saint-Martin. “In preparation, I researched the cuisine of southern Italy, where they routinely use olive oil in recipes in which we French would use butter or cream.”
Fadida and Saint-Martin created a special three-course dinner menu costing NIS 350 per person.
French products were also featured as the accompanying beverages. Grey Goose vodka, one of the week’s corporate sponsors, took pride of place in three specialty cocktails, while the wines – three reds and one white – had been certified kosher in France. Even the mineral water was imported from the Loire Valley: Badoit, reminiscent of San Pellegrino but a tad earthier.
The pleasant surroundings of the Olive Leaf added to the ambience of a special dinner. The restaurant had recently undergone remodeling, featuring muted wood furnishings that gave the decor a subdued elegance. And the lighting was just right: dim enough to be romantic, yet light enough to see everything without the aid of a flashlight.
The evening’s specialty cocktails (NIS 52) were called Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. They starred Grey Goose, the French vodka that became a hit worldwide thanks to the marketing genius of an octogenarian Jew from New York.
Liberté blended the premium vodka with Grand Marnier liqueur and peach schnapps. Served in a flute glass and garnished with a fresh strawberry, the drink was perfectly balanced among the three ingredients.
Cod is a fish not often encountered in Israel, so I was delighted to see it on the trilingual menu as one of the two appetizers.
Served with white beans in a delicate vinaigrette and accented with capers, the flakes of white fish melded beautifully with the fresh farm produce. The decorative strokes of Dijon mustard on the plate stood up nicely to the strong-flavored fish and gave the dish an extra Gallic touch.
The second appetizer was an asparagus salad with lentils in a citrus emulsion. The al dente yellow lentils, suffused in a gentle lemony bath, joined the crisp baby asparagus spears to form a harmonious vegetarian duet.
For the main course, there was one fish and one meat option. The former was a ballotine of salmon in an herbed tarragon sauce, which duly filled in for the classic Bearnaise sauce (which requires clarified butter). This lighter sauce retained the element of tarragon that infuses Bearnaise without overwhelming the filleted and molded salmon. The fish was complemented perfectly by potato blinis – fluffy little discs of the least starchy potato crepes I have ever tasted.
The meat course was slow-roasted lamb (roasted for seven hours, according to the menu), paired with a pasta-less eggplant lasagna. Basted in its braising juice fortified with mustard, the lamb was pungently full flavored, while the rich tomato sauce layered between the thinly sliced baked eggplant served as the ideal foil for the tender, succulent lamb.
There were three choices of desserts, but the macaroon with Grand Marnier icing stole the show.
During the week that the confection had been on sale at Supersol, another key sponsor of French culinary week, I had developed an appreciation for the French macaroon (familiar to Jews in its Passover variation that bears scant resemblance to the real thing). In the hands of Fadida and Saint-Martin, the flaky pastry glazed with liqueurinfused icing encasing a filling of whipped cream that defied its nondairy origins reached new and glorious heights of delectability.
French culinary week is one of the highlights of Israel’s gastronomic year. Keep your eyes and ears open so you can mark the dates on next winter’s calendar.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
The Olive Leaf at the Sheraton
115 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 521-1111