City Bites: Romance on corner of Ben-Yehuda, Provence

Bistro Mimi brings the decadent delights of the French kitchen to the heart of Jerusalem.

Bistro Mimi 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bistro Mimi 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bistro Mimi is a study in contrasts. Located just outside the Mahane Yehuda Market, on Jerusalem’s Eshkol Street, the small restaurant is a romantic haven and a shrine to the mystical power of good food to transform lives. Despite the close proximity of the market, Mimi takes from the “shuk” only its excellent products, sifting out the coarse bustle. The understatedly elegant decor and exceedingly leisurely atmosphere are reminiscent, we would like to imagine,of any number of confectionaries dotting the hamlets of Old Provence. Sitting at one of Mimi’s tables, a Mendelssohn violin concerto quietly building up in the background and a chestnut-crème-filled crepe lying comfortably on your plate, you can’t go wrong.
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As cliche as it may sound, Mimi (Michal) Sinai, the bistro’s proprietress, is a bona fide French pastry chef trained at the Lenôtre school in Paris, one of the most, if not the most, prestigious institutions of its kind in the world. However, not unlike a good puff pastry, Mimi’s recipe for culinary success turns out to have been a rather time-consuming confection. In fact, her career path started with a Masters degree in theology, which is to the decadent excesses of French cooking as burnt offerings are to chocolate sauce.
After several years as a high school teacher, Mimi and her husband decided to immigrate to Israel, but first she needed a career change, and it was off to Lenôtre, where she was initiated into the arcanum of dessert-making. When the couple finally moved to Israel, Mimi picked up teaching again, this time instructing Israeli students, many of them already trained professional chefs, in the culinary arts. Although opening her own restaurant may have seemed like a natural next step, it was only in late 2010, after some 15 years as a cooking instructor and repeated promptings from her 450-odd students, that Mimi and her husband decided to come full circle and open Bistro Mimi in Jerusalem. They started out small, opting to go for a specific concept and ambiance than to splurge on a huge space. At this point, five months down the line and despite a smattering of well-deserved media attention, Bistro Mimi’s fast-growing customer base is mostly the result of word of, highly pampered, mouth.
Mimi indeed serves up an intimate, gemütlich ambiance, excellent Swiss coffee and a comprehensive lineup of salads, sandwiches, salty crepes, quiches and more, but the real stars of the show are clearly the desserts. The range of sweet crepes is fantastic, running the full gamut of fillings from butter and sugar (NIS 16), through banana and chocolate (NIS 29) and chestnut cream (NIS 31), to crème patisserie and fruit (NIS 34). The Belgian waffles on offer encompass a similar diversity of toppings, while those out for a more indulgent experience can sample treats such as the Mont Blanc, which consists of almond meringue with chestnut puree and whipped cream (NIS 39); or the chocolate fondue, served with a selection of cookies, kisses, fruits and marshmallows (NIS 58), which the menu quaintly states requires “at least a couple” to finish.
However, the true apple of Mimi’s eye is the tarte tatin (NIS 39). Almost like her roundabout route to restauranteurship, legend has it that this dessert was discovered purely by accident by sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, owners of the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, in 1898. The story goes that one day, when she was over-exhausted, Stéphanie began going though the motions of making an entirely regular apple pie, placing the fruit in a pan to cook with butter and sugar. However, due to her exertion, she forgot the apples in the pot, only realizing what she had done when the acrid smell of burning sugar reached her nose. In a desperate attempt to salvage something from the dish, Stéphanie put her pastry base on top of the apples and slid the pan into the oven. When she finally served the makeshift dessert, she was surprised to hear her guests raving about the delicious flavor the extra caramelization had lent the upside-down tart. The rest, as the French say, is l'histoire.
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