Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kosher goes upscale at Pomegranate Bistro

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Chef Richard Tassiello toasts a table with dishes (clockwise from rear left: Cobb Salad, Pistachio Crusted Sea Bass, Ribeye Steak and Seared Tuna.
This story was corrected on May 14, 2008, from its print version.

Pomegranate Bistro

Cabin John Shopping Center

7943 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac


Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.Market hours: Mon.-Wed. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Style of cuisine: Kosher, meat and pareve

Entrée prices: $15-$45

Credit cards: AE, MC, V


Prepared foods to go

The demise of Bethesda’s Red Heifer three years ago left the kosher-observing community without a serious white tablecloth restaurant. Potomac’s Pomegranate Bistro, opened in January, now fills this gap handsomely.

Beyond the grab and go market in the front lies an attractive 80-seat dining room. A sinuous red neon strip draws the eye inside. Bright red glass lights complement variegated glass hemispheres that resemble upside-down mushrooms. Warm chocolate and mocha colored walls with interesting sconces and dark wood paneling add to the contemporary ambiance. Clear salt and pepper mills and a dish of olive oil with fresh rosemary and a grating of mixed peppercorns grace the table.

Pomegranate Bistro, under the supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, has two sets of everything — one for meat and one for pareve (food neither meat nor dairy). In keeping with kosher laws, it does not serve any dairy products. Of course, an innovative chef finds acceptable ways to achieve the taste and texture of a cream sauce without a hint of the genuine article.

We could have started with traditional chicken consommé with matzo balls or untraditional tuna tartare or Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce. Who says kosher cooking has to be boring? But we are saving our appetites for the main event.

Choices range from Bistro entrée salads ($15-$16), pasta primavera and Sicilian eggplant baked with a creamy pesto sauce (each $18) to top of the line Chateaubriand (eye of prime rib with a Cabernet demi-glace, $42) and grilled veal chop with hunter sauce demi-glace, $45). In addition to rib-eye steak ($37), the Bistro offers a petite rib-eye ($29) and London broil ($28). Chicken Pomegranate ($21) and Florentine ($23) both feature chicken breast. Glazed salmon with papaya mango chutney ($25) is one of many fish selections.

We narrow our sights on one meat and three fish dishes. The crisp-crusted halibut special (crushed cornflakes do the trick) is dressed up with Israeli-style cous cous. Grilled wasabi tuna loin ($31) is rosy pink in the center as requested, plated with wild rice, fresh herbs, mango slaw and al dente broccolini. The kitchen also handles the velvet-textured pistachio-crusted sea bass ($35) with finesse. The accompanying wild mushroom (baby bellas) risotto has an unexpected sweetness (apple cider is responsible for that). Not to be outshone, the braised lamb shank ($32) is a masterpiece with a rosemary demi-glace, risotto and vegetable.

These are some of the most popular dishes, I later learn. The night the cornflake-crusted halibut was introduced, 28 out of 50 diners ordered it. It is rightfully joining the regular menu along with other popular specials such as beef carpaccio, blackened salmon, lemon Cajun rainbow trout and a half-rack of lamb with mint sauce.

When it is time for dessert ($8-$12, coffee or tea included), you’ll want to share the good fortune. Helpfully, each comes with two forks. Butter and cream are a no-no here. But you won’t miss them with treats (from kosher-certified Eden Cake of Potomac) like the chocolate Pomegranate torte layered with vanilla custard and topped with pomegranate mirror glaze or the lush ganache-like chocolate tart spiked with Amaretto di Saronno and garnished with almond brittle.

Chef Richard Tassiello is adding his own chocolate mousse crepe and apple cobbler with Toffuti ‘‘ice cream” to the menu now and sorbet for summer.

Several days after dining there, I had a three-way phone conversation with manager Eli Verschleisser and the chef. Largely self-taught but with cooking in his Italian genes, Tassiello capped his education with classical French training at L’Académie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. He used his talents at the historic Georgetown Club and served as personal chef to Dan Snyder. As opening chef at The Harp and Fiddle in Bethesda, he won an award for his venison mold.

Talking about the challenges of operating a kosher restaurant, Verschleisser cites obtaining choice kosher cuts like buffalo (Tassiello puts in a plug for venison) and organic chickens and increasing his wine list (five reds and five whites from Bartenura, Baron Herzog and Barkan). What would the chef most like to find? Kosher truffle oil.

Welcome to the new look of kosher cuisine.