Having recently returned from a week-long sales trip to Paris, I can say with confidence that Jewish life—despite the challenges of anti-Semitism—is alive and well there. It’s mirrored in the kosher restaurant scene, where during lunch and dinner, the tables are filled with folks enjoying top-notch, sophisticated—yet not pretentious—cuisine. Much of it was Mediterranean-inspired, with grilled fish and meats, farm-fresh vegetables and olive oil as staples.
There was a freshness in everything on my plate, from the appetizers to the mains and even desserts. We’re talking pissaladière (the famous Niçois onion tart), Périgourdine (foie gras salad) and way more—like something called “Project Canard,” made with duck prepared numerous ways (including tartare), classic Provençal sea bream with eggplant caviar, and artfully conceived mega-plates of every kosher cut of meat imaginable.
What I really appreciated was the fact that there was a sensitivity to and appreciation of fine wine. Savory (except for dessert) was the watchword in most dishes. The menus were meant to pair with dry wine. Such a blessing.
And the wine lists were terrific, because unlike most American kosher restaurants, French kosher restaurants can serve non-mevushal kosher wine. Hooray! That opens up the options considerably.
But what’s really best about Paris is that the culture of food and wine is so strong, it transcends the cultural and emotional boundaries separating kosher from non-kosher. Every Frenchman—Jew or not—understands the importance of drinking and eating well. In fact, most apartments in Paris come with a wine cellar. Who knew? And nearly everyone—Jew and non-Jew alike—is atwitter about the best new restaurants, wines and latest trends in dining.
Restaurants—the kosher ones—are packed. Just like the non-kosher ones. French Jews want to chow down; and they want to do it in style; not just for Shabbat; and always with a good bottle of wine. Does this sound a little like heaven? To a food and wine geek like me, it is.
In several restaurants, I met diners who (when they saw the Covenant logo on bottles of our wines) came over to let us know that they collected Covenant and had actually visited our California winery. Really? That was pretty exciting, considering I don’t spend much time in Paris. After lunch in one restaurant, a collector dining nearby insisted I come over to his apartment to show me his Covenant wine collection. Indeed, he had vintages of Covenant Cabernet stretching back to 2010. (That was renowned British wine critic Jancis Robinson’s favorite Covenant vintage, by the way.) What a nice surprise. I think he’ll find that our Israeli Syrah ages as well as the Napa Valley Cab.
Experiencing this unbridled Parisian enthusiasm for wine and food, in retrospect, may have been the most important aspect of my visit. There’s a reason why wine is at the center of both Jewish spiritual and culinary tradition. Wine brings people together and highlights our shared traditions and beliefs. Personally, I can’t imagine a good meal without good wine.
Wine is the beverage that turns the wheels of conversation and connection. And maybe that’s part of the reason we call our wine, Covenant. The concept of connection—perhaps to something higher than ourselves—is why we start off nearly every important Jewish occasion or blessing with a glass of wine. If you’re making Kiddush on good wine, it’s a reminder to maintain an equally high standard for your quality of life. Drink up, not down, because quality does matter. And while you’re at it, remember to toast the French, who may not always be right, but they sure know how to eat and drink!
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, you’ll find as much Israeli wine as you’ll find French wine on the kosher scene. It’s a good opportunity to explore new labels you may not have heard of. In the spirit of eating and drinking well, I’d advise you to eat out as much as your budget allows. The dining scene in Paris is worth the price!
For great meals, try these restaurants, among others:
Kokorico (serious about meat)
68 avenue des Ternes
L’Atelier Deli (major league Mediterranean dining)
51 Rue greffulhe
92300 Levallois Perret
Kahn (innovative: somewhere between the Mediterranean and Katz’s New York Deli)
105-107 rue de Prony
75017 Paris, France
Vintner Jeff Morgan is the co-owner of Covenant Winery, in California and Israel. He’s also the author of nine books on food and wine and a former wine journalist. Jeff is available for select speaking engagements. To inquire about a possible speaking appearance, please contact Jodie Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.