Maison Kayser's new menu is a taste of southern France

The updated menu was introduced by none other than Eric Kayser himself, the maestro widely considered France’s best pastry chef, who now runs a vast worldwide network of boulangeries (bakeries).

 Maison Kayser (photo credit: AFIK GABBAY)
Maison Kayser
(photo credit: AFIK GABBAY)

There is good news for local fans of French cuisine, which unfortunately is underrepresented in this country. Maison Kayser, which was reviewed on these pages when the restaurant was first launched last spring (see The Jerusalem Post from May 23), has not only introduced a new winter menu, it has finally ironed out the kinks in its service that plagued its opening.

The updated menu was introduced by none other than Eric Kayser himself, the maestro widely considered France’s best pastry chef, who now runs a vast worldwide network of boulangeries (bakeries). Remarkably, Israel is the only country blessed not only with two branches of a Maison Kayser café-cum-bakery, but also a full-service restaurant serving both lunch and dinner.

According to chef Kayser, the restaurant in Tel Aviv has been conceived in the tradition of a bistro in Provence, the region of southern France where he spent his childhood. Kayser himself has been overseeing the menu, while its execution is in the hands of consulting chef Ohad Levi and day-to-day chef Maurice Avitan.

The new winter menu actually represents a complete overhaul, including the redesigned physical menu – plus a newly introduced printed dessert menu, replacing the previous custom of desserts recited by the wait staff. Somewhat surprisingly, to make room for new regional specialties, a few classic national French dishes – such as steak au poivre – have disappeared from the menu.

The food menu comprises four sections: Starters (NIS 36-88), Intermediate Courses (NIS 56-78), Main Courses (NIS 86-145) and Desserts (NIS 42-56). There are very few vegetarian options, and hardly any vegan ones.

 Maison Kayser (credit: AFIK GABBAY) Maison Kayser (credit: AFIK GABBAY)

A meal at Maison Kayser commences with a [complimentary] basket of house breads containing one signature baguette, one roll and several slices of crusty dark bread. These delicious breads are served with soft butter and coarse salt on the side, plus black olives; the butter – and even the flour – are imported specially from Kayser headquarters in France.

Our first starter was the Truffle Croquettes, perfectly fried golden brown fritters of potato and burnt onion, stuffed with rich gruyère cheese. The only disappointment here was the insufficient truffle seasoning, and the lack of the traditional ham (or even another smoked meat substitute) included in some versions.

When we inquired of the chef as to the reason, he explained that the bistro does not serve any dishes in which meat is cooked together with dairy. This adherence to a singular kashrut restriction astonished us, coming as it does from a very non-kosher establishment; while no pork is on the menu, seafood certainly is.

Next came Artichoke Carpaccio with Bottarga – minced grilled artichoke, gently seasoned with olive oil, oregano and lemon zest, and topped with premium bottarga as well as ribbons of aged Parmesan cheese. This wonderful combination afforded a terrific interplay of flavors.

Our sole intermediate course choice was the Calamari and Chickpea Compote, in which grilled calamari were perched atop a generous portion of chickpeas that had been cooked for seven hours in a savory sauce of butter, sage and cumin. The calamari practically melted in the mouth, while the flavorful chickpeas were at the heart of this robust and hearty stew – in short, the perfect winter dish.

Among the main courses, ordering the classic Provencal fish soup/stew Bouillabaisse was a no-brainer. The Maison Kayser version consists of chunks of grouper and assorted shellfish – primarily mussels and shrimp – in an authentic creamy broth that was so good we mopped up every last drop with the large slice of toast that accompanied the dish.

Choosing among the remaining fish, meat and pasta main courses was not easy, so we asked the chef for a recommendation. Between his suggestions of the slow-cooked lamb and the sirloin steak we chose the latter – a succulent (albeit chewy) cut of prime beef that was drizzled with demi-glace that enhanced the steak without overwhelming it.

As befits a restaurant of this caliber, not only is the international wine list carefully curated, but they will even offer tastes of the various vintages while you are deciding which to order. In addition, the cocktail list has been modified to include several specialty drinks created specially to complement the new menu.

At a bistro that derives from a world-class patisserie, selecting a dessert among the eight tempting offerings is no mean feat. Our waiter recommended the tarte tatin, while my companion could not resist the fresh berries and vanilla whipped cream – chantilly, as it is called in French.

The tarte tatin was indeed as advertised: big chunks of dark glazed apple baked onto a buttery crust – in and of itself, a real treat; and when you add crème fraîche from the accompanying pitcher, it takes on a whole new dimension.

Finally, whether you eat the plump strawberries, blueberries and raspberries – red and black – together with the whipped cream or separately, you are sure to enjoy this light dessert even after a heavy and satisfying meal.

As mentioned, the service provided by Maison Kayser’s amiable, professional and knowledgeable wait staff is much improved. And lest you miss the experience of extracting your baguette from its paper sleeve, a pleasant bonus still awaits – in the form of a parting gift as you exit the door.

Maison Kayser.Not kosher5 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Tel. (03) 504-0567

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.