Another sampling dinner at Pardes Restaurant: I succumbed to the idea yet again, tightening my belt all of that day in prevision for what treats were in store for us. The only thing better than reading and drooling about this menu is actually eating it. I went last week with my lovely foodie soul sister dessert cookbook author friend Paula Shoyer. Did we behave like ladies? Hmmm, I don’t think so. For one thing, not a word about those pesky subjects that occupy so much of girls’ talks about diet and restraint. Instead, we mopped each of our plates clean, except for a lamb tartare the concept of which Paula couldn’t wrap her head around (Let’s call this lone leftover smidgen Zecher Le Churban, and leave it at that). Another alarming sign of un-ladylike behavior was, no guilt whatsoever, just pure undiluted thrill. For some people it’s bungee jumping, and for others it’s eating a feast, a rough sport of another sort. We were too busy with the customers that had been seated at their tables, minding their own business until we showed up, riling them up about this or that dish, causing a terrific din, exhorting the crowds from one table to the next, take this, take that, and sure enough, many of our recommendations obediently turned up at neighboring tables. At some point, Paula walked out to her car, escorted by some admirers seated next to us, picked up two copies of her book from her trunk, and inscribed them to the ad hoc customers, while I and our waitress watched the little transaction and giggled behind the plate glass.
Eating this dinner, we reflected, could Chef Moshe be some kind of wacky genius? Let this former restaurant owner and perennial cook and teacher tell you, my friends: If you are not a shtickle crazy, you just can’t compose dishes of this caliber and depth. So a borderline nutiness seems an absolute given in any good cook’s DNA. Consider what my assistant Flora once told me, urging me desperately on a day they cut our water supply while I was cooking up a storm for a customer’s party; I am even including her Latin accent so you get the picture: “Oy Labana, Dio Mio, don’t inbent no more new crazy dishes today cuz we don’t got no hot water no more!!! Claro patrona?”
When the cook is so reliably and consistently good, like at Pardes and at NoBo Teaneck (incidentally, these are the only restaurants where I would confidently make this decision), I simply never order, preferring to be surprised. And surprised I am, most pleasantly I assure you. Each of Chef Moshe’s tiny morsels tells a whole wonderful story of marriage of textures and flavors, and there is simply no flavor he doesn’t explore and tinker with, a cook after my own heart.
It doesn’t hurt that the waiting staff is so knowledgeable and helpful. Imagine they can rattle off even the tiniest secret ingredient that lurks in all those amazing dishes. I only wish Chef Moshe would relent about bringing sampling portions of his dishes in gigantic plates: this, incidentally, is my only gripe about the place. Seeing a bite of a dish arriving in a gigantic plate makes me almost feel pity for the great unused expanse of plate (the empty space must feel offended, I tell myself with some crazy logic), and for the poor harried kitchen help. Tasting dinners as I know them are served in small plates, or are grouped by theme in fewer large plates, without any danger of any sauces “bleeding” from one sample into another.
There isn’t a single tasting dinner I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed at Pardes. What a prodigious repertoire: I have never eaten the same dish twice. A dozen tiny heavenly morsels! No need to describe any of them, other than a. they are all fabulous, and b. they all appear on the restaurant menu as regular size main courses.
I so appreciate the fact Chef Moshe doesn’t drown his dishes in rich sauces, in fact there is just enough to bring the dish together, never a drop more: Food so good doesn’t need help from any emollient. Likewise, it didn’t escape us – especially Paula, the baker – that his desserts did not include any chocolate, so as not to allow any of his delicious goodies to be eclipsed by the move-over-banana chocolate bully we all worship and dread in equal measure.
When you go on one of these wild eating adventures, please be sure that your escort is a food enthusiast, and not someone who will put a damper on your joy by saying with a careless shrug that he or she is just as happy with a slice of pizza or a hamburger. Save that friend for the next hike or museum visit!