Capital steaks

Jerusalem’s Red Heifer steakhouse celebrates 18th birthday

Steak at Jerusalem’s Red Heifer (photo credit: BUZZY GORDON)
Steak at Jerusalem’s Red Heifer
(photo credit: BUZZY GORDON)
2018 was not a kind year for many restaurants in Israel. We witnessed a raft of closings, from restaurants that had been around for decades to some that had been open only a few months. Among those lamentably gone for good are Osteria da Fiorella, a kosher restaurant owned by Italian olim for more than 30 years, plus a number that were reviewed in these pages: Bellini, after a run of a quarter-century; Pundak Deluxe, one of the best to serve authentic American BBQ; and Shiratoya, Israel’s foremost izakaya (informal Japanese-pub style) restaurant.
On the brighter side, there were several impressive debuts, as well as noteworthy trends. Chefs Yogev Yehros and Avi Bitton returned to helm new restaurants in Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda added more great places to enjoy casual food. At the same time, top chefs continued to open street food places that attract customers with tasty fare at affordable prices.
For a perennial Jerusalem favorite, meanwhile, 2018 was truly a landmark year: premium steakhouse Red Heifer reached a milestone of chai years, pleasing carnivores in the nation’s capital.
The success of Red Heifer may in large part be attributed to the hands-on approach of proprietor Yossi Wuensch, who has been the boss from the beginning. Although he is not the chef, it is not surprising to see Wuensch emerge from the kitchen and make the rounds of the restaurant floor wearing an apron.
Wuensch’s background and attention to the quality of his raw materials are also key factors. The family owns two top steakhouses in New York, and all of the local steaks come from hormone-free and additive-free beef aged in-house for 28 days.
Finally, the restaurant’s understanding of its customer base has enabled it to dominate its niche. It has invested in the strictest kashrut supervision and sticks to a menu loaded with dishes beloved by American diners. Even that ubiquitous staple of Israeli meat restaurants – hummus – has been denied a slot on the menu. 
On a recent visit, we finally tried what we were told is the most popular starter: chicken tenders (NIS 79). I confess that my attitude to this genre has been colored by the plethora of banal fast food examples, like McNuggets and frozen shnitzlonim, so I was delighted to discover that it is possible to do this dish right. The version here consists of plump, 100% prime chicken breast lightly coated in a beer batter and served with a garlic aioli. The white meat was juicy and flavorful, and the portion large enough for two people to share. 
We had also never had the soup, but the cold Jerusalem night practically made that decision for us. The permanent soup is hearty beef and cabbage (NIS 69), and there is also a soup of the day (NIS 55). The former was thin and mostly vegetables – cabbage and tomato – with very little minced beef, while the latter was a very peppery potato soup. But they both got the job done, warming us up nicely.
There are enough steaks on the menu that one can eat there several times and still not get through the list. This time we got to taste the chef’s steak (NIS 225), distinctively seasoned with a coffee and brown sugar rub. My companion did not like the sweetness but I enjoyed the novelty.
On the other hand, we both agreed on the excellence of the filet mignon – a 250-gram medallion of succulent beef (NIS 210). It was so good that even the fine Cabernet mushroom sauce was unnecessary.
Desserts at Red Heifer are now the creations of a French pastry chef who supplies a small number of exclusive clients. Rather than from a menu, selections are made from a platter bearing five different desserts (NIS 48), up from the previous four, making an already tough choice even more difficult.
The newest entry is a dome of vanilla mousse with a center of Belgian chocolate, perched on a crunchy base of cocoa rice – a sweet interplay of flavors and textures. 
One of the longest-standing treats is the Snickers bar – a confection of caramel and peanuts covered with a rich chocolate ganache. This is one of the best hybrids of cake and candy you will ever encounter.
The Red Heifer
Kosher (Mehadrin)
26 King David Street, Jerusalem
Phone: 02-624-0504
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.