Full Steam ahead

The shuk’s newest restaurant wants to give you the best bite you’ve ever tasted.

Steam’s BLT with homemade mayonnaise, turkey bacon and a mustard steamed bun (photo credit: Courtesy)
Steam’s BLT with homemade mayonnaise, turkey bacon and a mustard steamed bun
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Chananya Rosenthal doesn’t mince words, or meat for that matter. He might roast it, fry it or pull it though for one of the three signature sandwiches at his new restaurant, Steam, which opened in the Mahaneh Yehuda market on August 17.
Rosenthal was raised in Passaic, New Jersey, and came to Israel two years ago.
He honed his chef skills working at Etc. Steakhouse in Teaneck. The owner, Seth Warshaw, was a mentor for Rosenthal.
“I worked 90-hour weeks because I wanted to; I wanted to learn and grow,” Rosenthal says. “Chef Warshaw gave me that opportunity. I was doing work that I wasn’t ready for, so instead of it taking a normal amount of time, it took double the amount of time. Up until I met my wife, that was the sole purpose of my life. In four years, I took two days off and worked seven days a week.”
Rosenthal started off as a line cook and worked his way up to sous chef. By the time he left, he was running Warshaw’s Lakewood restaurant. But once he got married, Rosenthal knew that he couldn’t keep up that kind of schedule.
It was time for a change. The couple’s initial idea was to come to Israel for a month as a vacation, but like so many others, they ended up staying. “When I came to Israel, my dream was to change the way people eat,” Rosenthal explains.
“I thought that as a personal chef, I would have a better chance of doing that. But then I realized that most of the people who hire personal chefs have a lot of money and don’t really care about changing their eating habits.”
This point was driven home when Rosenthal made a duck confit salad for a family who hired him. After cooking the duck for 12 hours in what can surely be termed a labor of love, the family commented on how much they enjoyed the chicken. “That’s totally okay, but it’s not what I’m looking for,” Rosenthal said. “So I started asking myself what the best way would be to showcase my food, and I decided at that point to open up a restaurant. I knew that I wanted it to be in the shuk because that’s the atmosphere that I wanted. I’m a firm believer that if you have a good product and you believe in what you’re selling, then you’ll be successful.”
So far, this has proven true, as Steam is filling its tables and reviews from customers have been consistently positive.
As for the menu, it’s comprised mainly of steamed buns, which is where the restaurant derives its name. The buns are called bao; traditionally used in Chinese cuisine. The word “bao” means “wrapper”. “That’s why I picked [them] because I wanted to showcase the fillings, so I needed something that I could do whatever I wanted with,” Rosenthal says. “I can make bao sweet or savory.
Right now, I’m making mushroom, pepper and mustard buns. I’m trying to work out a sweet one also, even though I don’t like making desserts. There aren’t many places in Jerusalem that have anything like that... So it’s a whole different experience.”
Steam, which is kosher, was built on the premise that there is a reason for every component that the customer puts into their mouth. The menu currently consists of Rosenthal’s takes on three, classic sandwiches: a BLT, steak and eggs, and peanut butter and jelly.
“If I’m making a BLT, I add a mustard bun because that goes really well with the flavor of the fried turkey,” Rosenthal explains. “Turkey is white meat and it’s a light flavor, so I wanted to add another light flavor that would complement it without overpowering it. I’m a firm believer in not serving non-kosher food in a kosher way. I’m not into that, like beefburgers with parve cheese. But actually, bacon is anything that’s been cured and fried. You can have apple bacon or turkey bacon and it’s real bacon. The second sandwich is steak and eggs. It’s roast beef that I make a two-day sauce for, then we reduce it to a gravy. We then add a fried quail egg and chimichurri sauce. The third one is peanut butter and jelly with cow tongue. We cook the tongue with white wine, dried fruits and herbs for about 10 hours. Then we pull it and mix it with homemade blueberry ketchup and top it with homemade peanut butter. Everything is homemade, that was something I said from the beginning when we opened. If I can’t make it myself, it won’t be on the menu.”
The idea at Steam is for people to order all three sandwiches and experience the full range of flavors. The buns are relatively small, so each one is a few bites.
But if a customer eats all three, they will definitely leave full and satisfied. Steam recently introduced specialty cocktails and beer as well. “I want it to be a complete dinner experience where everything is the best,” Rosenthal says. “It’s taking me time to get there, but I want every element to be the best. I even want the bathroom to be the nicest bathroom.”
Steam’s cocktail menu is a mix of classic and unique. Rosenthal would eventually like to see it change seasonally. One of the featured, specialty cocktails is called a Bourbon Lager. It’s a mix of Jim Beam, silan and IPA beer with a cinnamon stick and a dried rose. It’s yet another example of Rosenthal using a small amount of ingredients to yield a memorable result.
“People in Israel work hard for their money,” he says. “Minimum wage is very low here and a lot of people get paid minimum wage. If I’m going to charge someone NIS 50 for something, that could represent two hours of work for them.
How can I give them less than the best?” Rosenthal believes that we need to elevate fast food here in Israel. He puts the onus on restaurant owners as well as consumers to demand high quality ingredients.
“People get upset with me when I’m closed or when I run out of food,” Rosenthal says. “It would take one phone call for me to order six cases of readymade steamed buns and fill them with deli meat. But I’m not willing to do that. I’d rather people be upset at me for being closed occasionally, then the alternative.”
For more information on Steam: www.facebook.com/Steamshuk/?fref=ts