When we went to the Gross’s for lunch on Shavuot, one of their guests told us about a new Kosher restaurant called The Butcher’s Daughter which had recently opened up in the 17th arrondissement. He highly recommended it and told us that it was some of the best meat he had ever had. Even though I’m not a huge fan of la viande, Josh was craving a steak so we decided to try it. When we got there at around 9:30, there was a huge crowd of people standing outside the restaurant. The hostess told us that it would be an hour wait, so we decided to pass on eating there that evening. Had we come at 8pm, she told us, there would not have been a wait (since 8pm is like when senior citizens eat dinner in Paris.) We looked at the menu and laughed, since it actually looked almost identical to every other meat Kosher restaurant in the area. Since it’s new and there is hype around the opening of a new place, it draws in the crowds. However, there is nothing that appears to differentiate it from the others.
We continued to walk down rue Cardinet and came to a stop at Yayin. I had passed by Yayin before but it had never really appealed to me. This is because the menu has very little to choose from and is extremely gourmet. There are about 7 appetizers, 8 mains, and 5 desserts. Furthermore, the menu includes unconventional items such as Gefilte fish with coconut milk in a banana leaf, mango and foie gras confit, Crispy Rice Persian duck in charoset, and creamy polenta Veal roast. The French would refer to this kind of cuissine as la nouvelle cuissine.
Josh and I stood outside the restaurant and studied the menu for about 5 minutes. There were two chicken dishes on the menu, but neither of them were white meat so I was not really interested in staying. After some time, the owner of the restaurant poked her head out of the door and in a friendly manner said, “don’t worry, I don’t bite my customers’ heads off.” She explained that her menu changes every season and each individual order is prepared on the spot with only the freshest ingredients. There were two fish dishes that sounded appealing enough to try and Josh was interested in experiencing something new. I finally agreed that it would be fun and adventurous to try la nouvelle cuisine at a Kosher restaurant!
We sat down and were handed the most extensive wine list I have ever seen at a Kosher restaurant. They call themselves Yayin for a very good reason! What was most helpful was that each wine on the list had small symbols next to it to describe the undertones and flavors of the wine. For example, some wines had little pictures of cherries to imply a fruity essence, some had chocolate and cinnamon to imply a deeper and richer essence, etc. Josh and I drink a lot of wine these days, but I can never remember the names and makers of the wines that I like. My lack awareness about the wines I drink of makes it difficult to be able to decipher which wine to order off of a regular menu without pictures/descriptions of the wines. I remembered a chocolaty wine that I tried in Australia and LOVED, so I ordered a glass of the wine with the chocolate symbol next to it, an Israeli Organic Merlot Volcanic (8.50 euro). It was very close to the flavor that I had been searching for, so I was pleased with the choice. Josh ordered a Pinot Noir (7.30 euro) which was also quite delicious. The waiter was very helpful in recommending the right wine for me.
When it came time to order the meal, Josh ordered Charlotte lamb with eggplant puree and pesto (30 euro) and I ordered the Tuna steak with quinoa and Israeli salad (30 euro). Since I don’t like Israeli salad, I asked the waiter if he could bring me just regular salad instead. I also ordered in French since not only was his English not hot, but I like to practice speaking French in whatever capacity I am able to.
When our food came out, my tuna came with a bowl of salad and no quinoa. I thought that perhaps the quinoa was under the salad, but it was not. I called the waiter over and asked him where my quinoa was. Due to the language barrier causing miscommunication, he thought that I had asked him to replace the quinoa with salad. I was a bit frustrated since this was the second time in one week when I ordered in French and not been served what I thought I ordered (read the post about Chez Vicky for more information). At first, he was a bit defensive and insisted that this was what I had ordered, which is very typical of French restaurant service- “the customer is always wrong.” However, he kindly changed his attitude and told me that the kitchen would prepare a side of quinoa for me.
Subsequently, the owner of the restaurant came over to us to make friendly conversation. She asked us where we were from, why we were here in Paris, etc, and her English was perfect. We told her about the business that we are running in Paris and she told us about her culinary background. She has an impressive degree from Ferrandi, the most renowned culinary school in Paris. She personally apologized for the lack of quinoa on my plate and ensured that they would prepare it for me straight away. I was almost in shock at how customer friendly the service was.
The side of quinoa came quickly, and we both enjoyed our meals tremendously. I was especially pleasantly surprised since I expected to dislike la nouvelle cuisine, fancy foods in small portions. Everything that I tasted was fresh and made with high quality ingredients. My fillet of tuna was moist and flavorful, and came with a tasty and nicely matching garnish sauce. I also dipped my tuna in Josh’s pesto sauce, which made for a scrumptious combination! The garden salad was simple and fresh, with a light citrusy dressing that tasted like it was olive oil and lemon based. The quinoa was surprisingly plain, cooked with just grains of salt. However, it complemented the flavors in the tuna dish- sometimes plain and simple is better.
Josh enjoyed his lamb, but only when dipped in the eggplant and pesto sauces. Eaten alone, he expressed that it tasted overwhelmingly gamey, however, when dipped in the sauces, it was delicious. Since he was still hungry when he finished his dish (Josh was not made for France’s la nouvelle cuisine), he ordered a side of potatos, which was listed with one of the other mains.
Josh eats a lot of potatos since having celiac, potatos are one of the only starches that he can eat. He exclaimed that these potatoes were the best he had ever had in his life. The plate was a mix of crispy sauteed sweet and regular potato wedges with a sweet and salty flavor. When he quickly finished his plate all he wanted to do was order more.
We both definitely had room for dessert since our meals were pretty small and light. For dessert, I ordered the molten chocolate cake with a Merlot sauce. I was debating between the chocolate cake and the Semoule served with date compote and espresso ice cream. I had never tasted Semoule before, but the date and espresso part sounded good. I asked the nice owner which she would recommend and she told me that although their menu changes every season, the chocolate cake always stays on the menu since it is their most popular dessert (10 euro). That made my decision a lot easier! Chocolate cake it is! I don’t lie when I say that this was the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted. The inside was so gooey and delicious, and the merlot reduction contributed to its outrageous flavor! All I needed was a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I would have been in heaven!
Josh ordered the only non-gluten item on the menu, the iced jasmine sabayon with red fruit gelatin and hibiscus (10 euro). It was very creamy and a little too sweet for my liking, but it was beautifully presented. He also ordered another glass of wine since he was so pleased with the first glass. This time, he went with a white, a Pinot Gris (6.50 euro), but it was too sweet and he couldn’t drink more than half of the glass. The owner also offered me a glass of complimentary tea- another first time experience for me at a restaurant in Paris. Normally if a restaurant screws up your order, they refuse to fix it for you or apologize, let alone bring offer you something complimentary. This was a case of an owner who knows how to run a customer satisfactory business.
We met a couple for dinner at Rafael on The Friday night a few nights later who had also eaten at Yayin the night after we did. We discovered that the owner had offered them complimentary tea as well (we each thought that we were special but she must order all Americans tea). We spent a few minutes talking about how nice she was and how delicious the food and wine were at Yayin.
It was refreshing to go to a Kosher restaurant that didn’t really feel like a Kosher restaurant but rather, an authentic French upscale restaurant. Many of today’s French restaurants, and especially Kosher restaurants do not typically serve La Nouvelle Cuissine, since people enjoy eating larger portions and getting more for their money, despite the elegance of the presentation. The biggest shame is that the owner explained that her business is struggling since Kosher people don’t appreciate her food. It is difficult for me to understand why other expensive Kosher restaurants with the same boring menus continue to thrive, yet her unique and quality cuisine is under appreciated. The truth is, we are creatures of habit right? Even I didn’t want to dine at Yayin because the menu was too foreign and intimidating. It was the friendliness of the owner (and the fact that I would have a new entry on my blog) that pushed me to give it a try. I would definitely recommend Yayin for a special occasion dinner. It is not the kind of place that you would eat at every night, since it is expensive and a emits a special ambiance. And if you are someone who has a real appreciation for wines, you’ll really enjoy this!