Kosher dining has made many strides forward over the years. In the beginning, even having a place to eat outside of your kosher kitchen is an accomplishment. After that, the proliferation of delis and bagel places cemented the idea of Jewish Food in the American palate. Then we discovered pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza?
From there, the first Israeli restaurants started popping up, followed by Chinese food (well, our version of it anyway). Then came the first steakhouses and more types of ethnic cuisine (we can’t live without our sushi). The very last level are the restaurants that add authentic ambiance and the higher end places approach their non-kosher counterparts.
However, kosher restaurants still look pretty familiar if you sit down and look at a menu. That is, until you sit down at REN.
As the waiter explains the menu (don’t worry, it’s not long), you’ll notice that you probably don’t recognize it. At least, you probably haven’t had anything like most options. But unlike many other kosher restaurants, this isn’t a situation where the chef applies new techniques to dishes you’ve had in other places. This is not even a case of a chef making something kosher that has never been made kosher before.
At REN, Chef Ronen Morad curates an experience where he invents many of the dishes himself. Hailing from numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Italy, Morad has also worked in some of his native Israel’s finest establishments including the Rooftop at the Mamilla Hotel.
The menu at REN is a triumph that many kosher eaters cannot appreciate. But the same would happen to a non-kosher patron. The difference is that those who don’t keep kosher have long had the opportunity to go to a restaurant like REN and most choose not to. For the kosher consumer, REN is the first door to another type of dining. While there can often be a big rush to try the latest thing, prospective visitors should know that not everything is for everyone.
When I was invited to REN and faced with the menu, it was difficult to choose what to start. If it’s a true chef invention you’re looking for, try the Yafa Kalvana. They are dumplings made of kohlrabi, filled with almond cheese and pistachio, topped with white winter truffle and fennel seeds, and served with a smoked kohlrabi reduction with drizzles of chive infused oil. The use of kohlrabi as both the wrapper and the sauce is brilliant and the filling made with some of the best imitation cheese Ive combined with the slight crunch from the pistachio establishes a perfect texture.
There is another appetizer known as Tomato. The main plate includes a multi-colored tomato and strawberry salad served over a tomato consomme gel. The dressing is made of herbs, chili, pickled lemon, basil infused vinegar, and fish sauce. It comes with a cigar filled with sundried tomato, tabasco, yuzu, and crispy rice and dusted on the outside with powdered cherry tomato. Last but not least is a clarified tomato iced tea that is very effective and takes three days to obtain. The salad is light and has a good balance of acid and sweetness and the tobacco is crisp and spicy and pairs well with the tea. Eating like this is why you come to REN.
Lamb Bolognese Raviolo is simpler, but just as delicious. Large single pieces of pasta sit in a stock made of morel mushrooms while several whole specimens of exotic fungi also rule the bowl. Inside, the lamb is mixed with celery cream to mimic that milk/meat combination that is forbidden by the torah. As someone who loves mushrooms, tasting the use of the famous breed that usually grows on scorched earth is really something. The depth of flavor in the stock, as well as the texture of the mushrooms themselves made this dish worth it.
Beef Tataki can be found on menus in the kosher world, but RENs version is unusual. Thin slices of beef are wrapped in a mound of tomato, garlic, and parsley. This plate is a paradise for lovers of variable textures. Not only is it topped with garlic chips and pita crunch, but it’s also accompanied by a dried piece of raw black tapioca plant. Get it all in one scoop for a truly balanced bite. The beef is perfectly charred on the outside and extra flavorful thanks to being marinated in oil, thyme, and rosemary for 45 hours beforehand.
There may be fewer dishes there, but they still feature some real care and craft. Aged Duck Long Island is slices of skin-on duck breast served with apple confit and pickled mustard seeds and whole baby bok choy. Because almost all the duck used in the restaurants is frozen (since the suppliers only make two runs per year), REN has its own supplier that allows them to age the meat after receiving it fresh. Between the aging process and not removing the skin, the texture and flavor make this the best duck I’ve ever had. The apple and bok choy are a great pairing for sweetness and crunch, though the duck is the real star of the show.
If duck isn’t your thing, try the Rack of Lamb. Using sous vide reduces the flavor of the lamb more than other methods, and each of the pieces also has a nice mouthfeel that you can enjoy as you taste the oyster mushroom reduction that comes as a kind of gravy. An ingenious addition to the plate is what looks like some multicolored carrots. In fact, the ones in orange are carrots while the yellow ones are carrot fennel puree delicately laid out in the shape of a carrot. This is a great example of the chef using the plate as a canvas and using food as a way to surprise and delight the diner.
REN is an amazing experience, a great atmosphere, and unlike anything the kosher restaurant world has ever seen. If this sounds like something you need to see and taste for yourself, go there. If not, that’s fine too. There are many other places out there. One of the luxuries of today’s kosher restaurants is having options.
REN may be the only choice in its category. But maybe that’s just because it’s the first.
Ren is located at 1471 McDonald Ave, Brooklyn, New York. It is kosher-certified by Chizuk Hadas Kashrus – Rav Dovid Gornish.
Ren is open Sunday-Thursday 5pm – 10:30pm.
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Image Source : yeahthatskosher.com