Kosher dining has taken many steps forward over the years. In the beginning, even a place to eat outside the kosher kitchen was an achievement. After that, the proliferation of deli and bagel places confirmed the idea of Jewish food for the American palate. Then we found 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 ethnic foods (we can’t live without our sushi). The last level is the restaurants that add real atmosphere and the high end places move closer to their non-kosher counterparts.
And yet, kosher restaurants are still pretty familiar if you sit down and look at the menu. That is, until you sit down at REN.
As the waiter explains the menu (don’t worry, it’s not long), you realize you probably won’t recognize much of it. At least you’ve probably never had any, like most options. But unlike many other kosher restaurants, this is not a situation where the chef applies new techniques to dishes you’ve eaten at other places. It’s not even about the chef making something kosher that hasn’t been made kosher before.
REN chef Ronen Morad has curated an experience where he has invented many dishes himself. Morad comes from several Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Italy, and also worked at some of the finest establishments in his native Israel, including the Mamilla Hotel Rooftop.
REN’s menu is an achievement that many kosher diners fail to appreciate. But the same goes for the non-kosher patron. The difference is that those who don’t like kosher have long had the option of going to a restaurant like REN, and most don’t. For the kosher consumer, REN is the first gateway to a different kind of dining. While there might normally be a big rush to try the latest thing, potential guests should be aware that not everything is for everyone.
When I was invited to REN and faced with the menu, it was difficult to choose where to start. If you’re looking for a true chef’s invention, try Yafa Kalvana. These are kohlrabi dumplings filled with almond cheese and pistachio, topped with white winter truffle and fennel seeds, and served with smoked kohlrabi with chive oil. The use of kohlrabi as both a wrap and sauce is brilliant, and the filling, made with some of the best imitation cheese I’ve ever had, combined with the slight crunch of the pistachio creates the perfect texture.
There is another appetizer simply known as tomato. The main plate has a multicolored tomato-strawberry salad, which is served on top of tomato consomme gel. The sauce is made from herbs, chili, pickled lemon, basil and fish sauce. It comes with a cigar filled with sun-dried tomato, tabasco, yuzu and crispy rice, with a dusting of cherry tomato powder on the outside. Last but not least is the clarified tomato iced tea, which is very effective and lasts for three days. The salad is light and has a good balance of acid and sweetness, and the cigar is crisp and spicy and pairs well with tea. If you eat something like this, you go to REN.
Lamb Bolognese Raviolo is much simpler, but just as tasty. A large single piece of pasta rests in a broth made from morel mushrooms, and the bowl also holds a few whole exotic mushrooms. Inside, the lamb is mixed with celery cream to mimic the milk/meat combination that is taboo in the Torah. As a mushroom lover, using a famous breed that grows mostly on burnt earth was really interesting to taste. The depth of flavor in the broth and the texture of the mushroom itself made this dish worth it.
Beef Tataki can be found on menus in the kosher world, but RENs version is exceptional. Thin slices of beef are wrapped around tomato, shallot and parsley. This disc is a paradise for those who love varied textures. Not only is it topped with garlic chips and pita crumble, but it comes with a dried piece of black tapioca plant. Get it all in one scoop for a truly balanced bite. The beef is perfectly seared on the outside and is extra tasty because it has been marinated in oil, thyme and rosemary for 45 hours beforehand.
There may be fewer entrees, but they still show real care and craftsmanship. Aged Duck Long Island is slices of skinned duck breast served with apple and pickled mustard seeds and whole baby bok choy. Although almost all the duck used in restaurants is frozen (because suppliers only do it twice a year), REN has an in-house supplier that allows them to age the meat after receiving it fresh. Between aging and skinning, the texture and flavor make this the best duck I’ve ever had. The apple and bok choy are a great combination of sweetness and crunch, even if the duck is the real star of the show.
If duck isn’t your thing, try Rack of Lamb. Sous vide makes the taste of the lamb a little less gamey than other methods, and each piece also creates a wonderful mouthfeel, which you enjoy while tasting the oyster mushroom flavor that comes as a kind of sauce. An ingenious addition to the plate is multicolored carrots. The orange residents are actually carrots, while the yellow ones are actually carrot-fennel puree subtly spread into the shape of a carrot. This is a great example of a chef using the plate as a canvas and using food as a way to surprise and delight the eater.
REN is an incredible experience, a beautiful atmosphere, and unlike anything the kosher restaurant world has seen before. If that sounds like something you need to see and taste for yourself, head over there. If not, that’s fine too. There are plenty of other places. One of the luxuries of kosher restaurants today is that there is plenty of choice.
REN may be the only choice in its class. 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 from Sunday to Thursday from 17:00 to 22:30.
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