When in Park Slope’s newest French restaurant, eat as observant Jews do.
Sonia and Dan Halimi have transformed Belleville Bistro into the kosher restaurant Chagall Bistro, bringing dairy-free French dining to a neighborhood where it’s harder to find kosher fare than it is to pick up a fine cabernet for under $10.
The French-born couple are confident they will win over Slopers who keep kosher and neighborhood foodies who crave a taste of Paris — but they admit it will be a big change when patrons see a menu with no creme, brie, or camembert.
“Normally in a French kitchen you have milk and butter everywhere,” said Dan.
The kosher couple quietly took over the Belleville Bistro at Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue last April and kept the same name — a big mistake, they now admit, because they couldn’t shed the eatery’s mediocre cred.
“The restaurant had suffered a reputation. It had gone up and down a lot,” said Sonia. “It’s been a very tough beginning.”
At first, the Halimis weren’t sure about implementing a kosher menu — which would bar previous favorites including escargot, pork, and shellfish.
“When we first came here we didn’t know Park Slope, so we didn’t make the choice of kosher right away because we didn’t know if it was the vibe for it,” said Sonia.
But when their chef quit last month, the couple decided it was time for a change, opting to switch the menu to Kosher and rename the join in honor of the Russian-Jewish painter Marc Chagall.
The Halimis approached about 10 chefs before they found chef Jean-Claude Teulade, who weas brave enough to take the gig — his first cooking in a kosher restaurant. French food without dairy or shellfish.
Teulade quickly designed an upscale French kosher menu that includes braised duck leg served in a spicy cilantro sauce ($16), beef tongue ($14), seared hake ($24), and a 14-ounce grilled rib-eye steak served with house-made French fries and a brandy-pepper sauce ($39) — offerings that are more expensive due to the stringent guidelines for ingredients.
The next step was earning kosher certification — a strict process that forced the restaurateurs to trash their china and frying pans, flame their silverware, glasses, and pots, and give away more than $4,000 of cheese, milk, butter, shellfish, meats, and foie gras to a food bank.
Then came the schedule: keeping kosher means the bistro is closed for Jewish Shabbat on Friday and Saturday — the busiest days at most restaurants.
Finally, there was dessert.
“Good French food kosher is not difficult, but the sauces and the desserts with no dairy — that’s the challenge,” said Sonia.
Dan admits the restaurant is still working out the kinks when it comes to the sweets, acknowledging the old creme brulee — made with dairy, not soy — was superior to the current offering ($11).
Kosher Park Slopers are thrilled to finally have a dining option in the neighborhood.
“It’s a dream come true,” said kosher Park Sloper Barbara Gordon. “The neighborhood is big enough and diverse enough to support a restaurant like this.”
Chagall Bistro [330 Fifth St., at Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 832–9777, open for dinner Sunday through Thursday at 5 pm, brunch on Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm].