Judaic dietary law dictates that in order for a kitchen to be considered kashrut, dairy products and ritually slaughtered meat (beef and chicken) need to be segregated. As a result, you won’t find cheese pizza at a kosher deli with a meat kitchen, or beef brisket at a kosher sandwich joint with a dairy kitchen. Olé Gourmet falls into the latter category, and because of the dearth of meat dishes (fish notwithstanding), it’s become a draw for area vegetarians intrigued by the mix of Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian and, of course, Israeli staples.
The small space is dominated by mustard and coffee-colored walls, not to mention a sizable open kitchen where owner Ed Leibowitz, as friendly and accommodating a chap as you’ll ever meet, along with his wife Bracha and sous-chef Meir Kokin, prepare a slew of items from the multicultural menu, often with mixed results. Fried falafel anchors the Israeli platter ($13.95) and while the crisp, greaseless chickpea croquettes met all textural requirements, the flavor had the distinct flavor and aroma of the sea, likely because they were fried in the same oil as the fish and chips ($8.95). Matbucha, a cooked salad dish brought to the Holy Land by North African immigrants, was the winner of the lot with its fiery mix of tomatoes, roasted peppers, olive oil and garlic. Tearing up a piece of pita bread and scooping up Turkish eggplant salad also proved enjoyable, but the hummus and vinegary red cabbage salad were both a tad ordinary. Baba ganoush, tahini and tabouli (items listed as part of the platter) failed to materialize, but I later learned that the platter includes falafel and your choice of five items. This isn’t evident from reading the menu, and nothing was mentioned, so the house made the selections for me.
Sesame-flecked bureka ($8.50), another Turkish staple, disappointed, but had it been served warm, it could’ve been the fulfilling, flaky, potato-filled pastry I was expecting. The ashen core of the accompanying hard-boiled egg marked it as a victim of overboiling, though garden-fresh Israeli salad – cubed cucumbers and tomatoes splashed with lemon juice and olive oil – made an ideal palate cleanser.
The mild brining and smoky essence of Nova salmon ($11.95) should please fans of the cured fish, though I can’t say I was all too crazy about the oily consistency. The platter also came with a toasted bagel, cream cheese and chopped salad.
Doughy pizza olé ($12.95) is a saucy number made all the more gooey by a liberal crumbling of feta and mozzarella cheese, and further burdened by a healthy dose of olives and onions. Ungluing a pie wedge from the plate was an exercise in patience; shoving it into my mouth required speed, agility and dexterous use of my digits. Ultimately, the slice collapsed under the weight of the toppings, but the flavors were good.
For dessert, the Mount Hermon ($5.95), a moist, chocolatey representation of the Israeli peak, is everything a warm homemade brownie should be, with two dollops of melting vanilla ice cream resembling the snowy summit. Cherry essence overwhelmed the thick slab of chocolate “mudcake” ($4.95).
Olé means “going up” in Hebrew, and it’s a fitting moniker, considering the Leibowitzes’ commitment to elevating the standards of the fare. Paring down their extensive menu and focusing on dishes they do best will help them get to that promised land.