Rafael is a Meat restaurant in the 17th, under the same ownership as Les Ailes (which actually just closed recently 😦 for reasons of which I do not know). Josh and I ate Shabbat dinner at Les Ailes in the 9th arrondissement several times and were excited to have a mirrored experience at a restaurant closer to our home. The first time we at at Rafael, we ate alone and had a fabulous experience. We have since brought two other couples who visited Paris to dine at Rafael with us for Shabbat dinner.
Rafael is open during the week as a regular restaurant as well, however, we have only eaten there on Shabbat. It is 50 euros per person (5 euro more than Les Ailes) since it is in the 17th, and the restaurants here are some of the most expensive in Paris. The restaurant has a classy French ambiance with red velvet chairs, a large sitting room in the back and a narrow hall of tables in the front.
Like Les Ailes, the dinner includes unlimited bottles of wine, appetizer salads with Challah, a selection of main courses, and fruit for dessert. Every time we have been, a bottle of red Brouilly wine has been served for kiddush. It is a dry red wine, rich and tonic in flavor but very nice with the kind of food served at dinner. There are 10 varieties of various salads, typical Mediterranean cuisine salads (eggplant, roasted peper, carrot, potato, etc. and a weird dip that claims to be guacamole but tastes far from it.)
After salads are served there is a fish appetizer, which is typically chunks of filleted white fish that taste like cod, covered in a red tomato based and Mediterranean spiced sauce with olives. The sauce is quite oily and sometimes, there are small bones in the fish. Nonetheless, it is always very tasty and flavorful, and makes for a great challah dip (much like people dip their challah in meatball sauce during a shabbat dinner).
After the salads and fish plates are cleared, out comes the main course. At Les Ailes, the waiter gives each persona choice of one main to order. At Rafael, the waiter brings out all of the choices to the table, and seconds can always be requested. There is definitely no shortage of food here, and no one goes hungry! The main courses are typically a plate of chunks of roasted dark and white meat chicken, which is simple in flavor but usually processes a delicious, moist, and tender quality; a vegetarian tagine, which is essentially a pot of gravy or stew with mixed vegetables and chick peas; a large bowl of unflavored cous cous, meant to be eaten with the tajine (wonderful when paired together!!), and a plate of round ground meat stuffed balls, which I have never tried but they look like something you would see at a Sephardi Kiddish.
By the time dessert comes around, I am always so stuffed from eating the 3 preceding courses and almost an entire challah (since Josh has celiac and I hate to waste food!) Not to mention that at this point, I am pretty tipsy from typically having drunk half a bottle of wine by the end of the meal. Dessert is normally just a plate of fruit salad for the table. Sometimes if you especially ask the waiter for cake, he will bring you a plate of parve french cakes (usually different kinds of fruit tarts or puff pastry treats). I’ve learned that you must ask for the desserts early on because if you wait until too late, they run out, and you are stuck with only healthy fruit for dessert. Seeing that the rest of the meal is so plentiful and offers so many options, I am always surprised that dessert is so meagre. They really set your expectations high and let you down hard with an anticlimactic finale of fruit. That being said, the fruit is delicious, fresh, and healthier than eating a whole bunch of cakes.
If you are willing to spend 50 Euros per peson and don’t want to do take out for Shabbas in your hotel room, Rafael is a perfect option. The food is typical of you French North African Sephardi restaurants, but more delicious than most of this kind of cuisine that I have eaten at other similar restaurants in the area. The ambiance is lively and filled with Shabbat energy since both tourists as well as local Parisians eat there for Shabbat. It is a fun place to go with family and/or friends to eat yummy food and drink good wine. It also has a romantic ambiance for couples who wish to have a nice Shabbat evening out.
My family came to visit us in Paris. We were meant to eat at Rafael for Shabbat dinner but since Paris is pretty much empty for three weeks during the month of August, they didn’t have enough reservations to make it worth it for them to stay open on Shabbat. We decided to go there for dinner instead during the following week.
The restaurant’s regular menu definitely appeals to meat and fish lovers, however, there was only 1 chicken plate on the menu (as is very typical of meat Kosher restaurants in Paris). My family prefers chicken over other meats, so I am especially sensitive to this. The only chicken options on the menu were a chicken schnitzel and a chicken salad, which is served with sliced pieces of the chicken schnitzel. Josh and my dad fancied having a steak for dinner, and it seemed like every other restaurant we tried to go to was closed for August vacation. Further, Josh and I had only eaten there on Shabbat and were always curious how the food faired during the week.
The entire ambiance of the restaurant is different during the week than on Shabbat. The lighting is dim and romantic, candles are lit to decorate the tables, and the lights on the ceiling emit a purple groovy sort of feeling (excuse my sounding like a character from the Brady Bunch here). It is amazing how the contrast of lighting can make all the difference in a place’s appearance. On Shabbat, the lights are turned on brightly and the restaurant tends to be crowded with groups of families singing zemirot. Tonight, the tables were nicely spaced out and due to a mix of the lighting and light crowd, the dining experience was much more serene and classy.
There was a complimentary strange mix of small appetizers including olives, some version of French guacamole (or better put, avocado dip), popcorn, fried beet slices, and of course French rolls. In fact, the rolls here were extremely soft and fresh tasting.
My mom, my sister, and I ordered the fried chicken salad since the very sweet server guaranteed us that it was large and a main course sized salad. I always have a fear when I order chicken salads that it won’t be enough food and I’ll be starving after. The waitress was absolutely correct- the salad was huge with a very generous portion of fried chicken strips, half of an avocado, crushed crouton bits, and a honey mustard dressing. The salad is typically served with a poached egg and cherry tomatoes as well, but I ordered mine without. It wasn’t quite as good as the fried chicken salad at Vicky’s (and still not as mammoth in size) but it was definitely a satisfying main course. It was a good salad, but I wish that the chicken would have been more crispy. The breading was a bit soggy and reminded me a little too much of Israeli Schnitzel (I might be being a bit harsh) The dressing was a little less sweet than I would have preferred and in fact a teeny bit bitter. Overall, it was a tasty salad and a very healthy sized portion. I also like that the restaurant didn’t cheap out on the amount of lettuce and chicken.
Last week, I went to very expensive and gourmet Kosher restaurant in Prague and my chicken salad had 5 small strips of chicken, a lettuce garnish, and tons of tomatoes (I dislike raw tomatoes). Salads can be very risky contrary to popular thought, which is why my motto is, you can never ask too many questions about a salad!
Now I am going to conclude my salad rambling and move onto the meat dishes. Both my dad and Josh ordered steaks. My dad always orders his steaks extremely well done, whereby zero pink is visible. This time, he didn’t love his entrecote steak because I think it was too well done. The restaurant was not at all at fault for this, considering the amount of times that my dad said “bien bien bien cuit” while he ordered. Josh ordered his steak medium well and raved about it all evening. He says it was the best steak he has had in Paris. I recall him saying the same thing about a steak at another restaurant we recently went to (he gets very passionate about his food), so either he was really really hungry tonight, or this steak outdid the last one. Both steaks were served with potatoes, which my dad left on his plate so they could not have been the most outrageous of all.
Josh insists that we go back again soon so that he can have another steak. I left the restaurant full, which makes for a strong plus in my book. The staff was also very friendly and our waitress was patient with an American family with more questions and annoying requests than the typical French customer. As we left the restaurant, I saw frites on a child’s plate and they looked delicious! Frites were not an option on the menu, but now the secret is out 🙂