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Thursday, May 31, 2012 | return to: views, editorial


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Ode to a Kitchen Table

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For a region with nearly half a million Jews, it’s astonishing — and profoundly disappointing — that we have so few kosher restaurants.

And with the closing of the Kitchen Table this week in downtown Mountain View, after just three years in business, there is one fewer.

It’s not that so many Bay Area Jews keep kosher. They don’t. But this is the epicenter of the country’s foodie revolution and, more to the point, a major hub of the new Jewish food movement.

Jews here are experimenting with all sorts of morally based dietary practices, and many educational and activist groups are mining Jewish values for their spiritual potential. Jews of all ages are studying Jewish texts and planting community gardens. In the liberal world, how far one may stretch the boundaries of the term “kashrut” is a hot topic of conversation, here and elsewhere. More and more Chabad centers are opening, encouraging the practice of traditional kashrut.

It seems that with all this ferment, ours would be ripe soil for, say, a couple of world-class, Mediterranean/California fusion, vegan-friendly, locally sourced kosher restaurants that celebrate the region’s agricultural and culinary riches. They should have killer cocktails, as well, featuring house-made bitters and herbs from the back porch.

But no. We can’t get it done. With the demise of the Kitchen Table, just six kosher restaurants are left: Amba and Holy Land in Oakland; Shangri-La and the Sabra Grill in San Francisco; Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in Palo Alto; and the Jerusalem Grill & Bar in Campbell. And only the Kitchen Table boasted fine dining. Now we have to drive all the way to Los Angeles — Oxnard, actually — for a white-tablecloth kosher experience.

What went wrong? The same thing that always goes wrong: Folks don’t come in the door.

That’s what happened to Berkeley’s Bar Ristorante Raphael, the area’s last fine dining kosher eatery, which closed in 2007 after a fretful four years. Owner Noah Alper later opined that if he had served meat instead of dairy, he would have been able to stay the course.

But the Kitchen Table was fleishig, and it lasted a year less than Raphael’s. So meat’s not the solution.

The Kitchen Table has 1,700 Facebook friends. If each of them ate there once or twice a month, could that have saved the place? Is this enough of a critical mass for one more chef-investor to pony up the dough for another try?

We hope so.


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