“How could a kosher restaurant have opened in Park Slope without my knowing about it?” I unceremoniously asked of the first person to greet me as I walked into Chagall Bistro, who happened to be Dan Gicquel, the restaurant’s owner. Ten minutes before, I was settling in for a Sunday night dinner of hard-boiled eggs when a scan of my Facebook newsfeed turned up a friend’s posting: “New kosher restaurant on 5th Avenue and 5th Street!” I shared the news with my husband, who joined in my incredulity that this critical information had slipped past the vigilant watch we keep over all of brownstone Brooklyn’s Jewish news. A moment later, our phone rang. It was a foodie friend of ours who happened to be driving through the neighborhood. We shared the news, called the Facebook friend who had started it all, and a few minutes later, the four of us were scrutinizing the meat menu posted outside of the restaurant’s doors, its kosher certification prominently displayed, and I was demanding answers.
Gicquel explained that he and his wife moved to Brooklyn from Paris a year ago when they bought Belleville, the French bistro that had long occupied the space in which we were standing. “I am French and Jewish,” he said. “My dream was always to combine the two. And it’s opening night!” he added, possibly to help me feel less woefully ill informed. He told us there were plans to further expand the menu and he welcomed suggestions that would help him cater to the needs of the community.
Four hungry, opinionated Jews hardly needed such an invitation. Together we ordered about half the menu, starting with the duck pastilla, a classic Moroccan meat pastry that’s a sweet and savory mix with its sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar and spicy cilantro dipping sauce. We followed it with the beef tongue, served in thin, smooth slices, and the honey beet salad, with an unexpected fish sauce dressing. Our main courses were a juicy and flavorful rib eye with cognac sauce, a lamb cassoulet without quite enough lamb to be worthy of the name and a seared hake whose presentation and orange reduction sauce were the highlight of the evening.
As we were finishing our last bites of fluffy, tangy soufflé, Gicquel drifted back over to our table, eager to hear our thoughts. He seemed responsive to both our praise and suggestions, and even had a theory about the cassoulet. “My chef is from Toulouse, and people there are born with cassoulets under their arm. It’s their specialty. I think he is just frustrated because he can’t use his original recipe, which calls for sausage.” Hiring a well-regarded French chef was necessary for what he and his wife are trying to achieve at Chagall Bistro: delicious French food that is also kosher. Gicquel thinks this philosophy reflects the sensibilities of the neighborhood. “One of my regular Belleville customers, who I’ve known for a year, came in earlier tonight. He noted the menu changes and as he was eating, he asked what the “OK” on the menu meant. When I told him it meant the restaurant was now kosher, he wordlessly reached into his pocket and pulled out a kippa. He put it on and continued to eat.” Smiling, Gicquel said, “I love this, and you will only find it here.”