Over Father’s Day, my family traveled from north and south to meet in the mecca of kosher food, art, recent landscape architectural feats, and a Middle Eastern beach in the middle of a park in the biggest urban city in the US. After a delicious vegan dinner Saturday night at Blossom in Chelsea to pay homage to my lil sis’ dining preferences, we went to one of my favorite high-end kosher meat restaurants in my old haunt of the Upper West Side.
Mike’s is called a bistro, and if I have to have one issue with this restaurant, it would be its nomenclature. “Bisto” indicates to me an informal, inexpensive, neighborhood joint with wine flowing. Mike’s is indeed all of the aforementioned, save inexpensive.
A little digression about bistro history:
The rustic, unpretentious atmosphere associated with Parisian bistros reflects their origins. Most of the first bistros started out as cafés-charbons, shops that sold coal and firewood for heating, where neighbors could meet for a class of wine or cup of coffee. When the owners of these simple wine bars, usually workers from the Aubergne region in central France, began to offer a few modest dishes served family style to their guests, the bistro tradition was born. These first bistros were places for working people to eat quickly around Les Halles, the historic market district of Paris. By the mid-1800s, neighborhood bistros had popped up in almost every district of the city. Along with the laborers came artists and intellectuals, attracted by delicious, inexpensive [emphasis mine] meals.
For Parisians who lived in apartments with limited or nonexistent kitchens [um, sound like NY?], the closest thing to a home-cooked meal could be found at neighborhood bistros. And because the same patrons returned night after night, these restaurants offered more than old-fashioned country cuisine – they were also places where Parisians could escape the anonymity of the big city. In France, bistro cuisine is often called cuisine de grand-mère. The simple salads and steaks, braised stews and meats, and comforting, homespun desserts served in most bistros are the kinds of dishes you would expect to be served by a French grandmother.
…There are several theories about the origins of the word bistro. The most picturesque story traces the word back to the Russian soldiers who marched into Paris after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Legend has it that the hungry soldiers dashed into the city’s wine-shops and cafés, shouting “Bistro! bistro!“ — Russian for “Quick! quick!” Other sources suggest that the word was derived from bistouille, slang for a mixture of eau-de-vie and coffee , which was served in early cafes.
OK, you get the idea. I’m just not sure that there are many laborers (are Wall Street guys considered “laborers”) or artists who will be frequenting Mike’s “Bistro.” Perhaps I’m being too much of a purist when it comes to my French culinary terminology and I should grant Mike a little bit of poetic license. I mean, for New York kosher, it is not the most expensive place to have a meal. But when you tell your family that you’re going a bistro, they don’t expect to pay over $70 per person at the end of the evening (is it really gauche for me to mention $$ here? sorry…). Granted, the appetizers are large (see pics below) and many could serve as an entire meal.
On the positive side (and our experience as absolutely positive…and I did tell my family that dinner would be a little pricey) , we ate quite well, and no one left hungry. The menu is small but diverse and you get the sense that, unlike most kosher steakhouses that seem to think that a sushi bar is a requirement these days, Mike creates dishes that reflect a perspective and don’t try to be everything to everyone. In his own words (or at least those that are on the website), he “creates and executes a contemporary, internationally inspired, Glatt Kosher (OU) gourmet menu with seasonally-inspired nuances.” The service was attentive without being overbearing. In the past when I’ve eaten here, Mike has come around and greeted me at my table lending to the family atmosphere. Many of the dishes are slow-cooked, comfort foods aligned with “‘cuisine de grand-mère,'” and the wine list was fairly extensive and well-priced (we ordered a bottle of Spanish Ramon Cordova Rioja). It’s just that in my mind the word “gourmet” and the price tag seem a bit at odds with the word “bistro.”
We were fortunate enough to eat in the atrium – a greenhouse-like room at the front of the restaurant filled with natural light, affording me the opportunity to snap a few quick photos of some of my favorite dishes (yes, I did try almost everyone’s food) without annoying all my family members by letting their meals get cold.
So now I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
A couple of our appetizers:
Missing appetizer pictures:
– Baby Spinach Salad — dressed in a warm (veal) bacon & red wine vinaigrette, boiled egg, tomatoes, red onions, chives
– Roasted and Marinated Beet Salad — candied walnuts, fresh citrus segments, orange beet vinaigrette, shaved endive
A few of our entrées:
We sealed the deal with a few light and refreshing scoops of fresh sorbet — lemon, strawberry, and raspberry, if memory serves correct — and left dinner with nary a complaint.
My father was happy to treat on his day, saying, “Bubbie would have been glad to bring us all together here.”