By David Minsky
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By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
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By Laine Doss
Hell, I always screw this joke up. The rabbi and the psychologist own the sushi bar. Oh, crap, it's not a sushi bar either. It's a "kabbalistic lifestyle lounge and café."
Emunah Café: an organic-kosher restaurant/meeting space/retreat/lending library/shrink's office/Internet lounge/mini-temple of pan-religious holiness. Here, quoth the P.R., you will enter "an experience for the senses, & an oasis for the mind, body and soul...
"...a physical journey into your spiritual self."
With "access to a wealth of soul-shaking, earth-shattering, elevating, inspirational & interactive spiritual materials."
Feeling transcendent yet? Or is that Sheryl Crowe tune playing on the flat-screens interfering with your unobstructed path to bliss?
Seriously, Emunah Café is so more than just a restaurant. It's a way of being. I first heard about this place, which opened a couple of weeks ago, via the Gab Group; the Boca P.R. firm had sent me a couple of floridly written press releases. One trip to Emunah Café was enough to convince me that Emunah's concept had the Gab's fingerprints all over it. I wish co-owners Dr. Marla Reis, the psychologist, and Rabbi Moishe Meir Lipszyc had saved whatever bucks they spent on overwrought publicity. Personally, I prefer not to feel the Earth move or my soul shatter while I'm forking up my mahi-mahi. It's enough that the stuff just tastes good, thanks.
I mean, eating great food can be a highly reflective and spiritual experience; we know that, don't we? Just not so much when you're being simultaneously bludgeoned with smarmy pseudo-mysticism, ham-handed biblical references, and wide-eyed "Secret"-sharing come-hithers. My soul would have to be flatlining before it would need this much emergency resuscitation to bring it back from the brink.
All the blathering about souls and journeys ("only positivity is allowed" at Emunah; I'm not sure how we got in) is unnecessary and annoying. Because the food at Emunah Café is really good even special. A lot of care has gone into the composition of this menu, attention to detail in the plating and service, and imagination and delicacy in the ingredients and preparation. That those ingredients are both kosher and organic is another big plus. It's nice that the café is wired so you can bring your laptop and spread out your papers on the bar, as I saw one customer doing, and hang out drinking good tea and munching sushi rolls while getting a little work done. What else could you want from a neighborhood café?
I know it's hard work to make a successful restaurant, particularly when you've dumped $1.5 mil into it, but Reis and Lipszyc and the Gab Group are working so hysterically, in so many of the wrong directions, that the total effect is precisely opposite of what they'd hoped to create. They've aimed for enlightenment and attained spiritual pandemonium. As for the whole question of whether we ought to be seeking our deepest spiritual essence at an Internet sushi café instead of, say, in a monastery or on a wilderness retreat let's not even go there.
Let's go instead to the kitchen, where we'll find a little focus and clarity, some honest inspiration as opposed to a load of banal, recycled New Age claptrap. We ate a lot of food at Emunah, and I don't believe any of the six of us was even mildly disappointed although we were once left weeping in wounded disbelief. The menu at Emunah (which means "faith") is divided into silly, biblically referent subsections: "Foresight," for the appetizers (shouldn't that have been "Foreskin"?), "Revelation" for main courses, "After the Flood" for sushi, and "Garden of Eden" for desserts (they missed their opportunity to do a "Serpent's apple pie" here). And Lord help us, these silly subsections are then larded with equally inane dish titles: "Genesis salad," "Enlightened encrusted salmon cakes," "Wholistic snapper," "Most righteous roll," "Day 5 roll," "The Chosen" (a tapas plate). Which would be funny, in a heretical kind of way, if everything else weren't so damned earnest.
So, what would Moses eat? We did have a chazan among us (or cantor, a singing and chanting teacher who leads Jewish services that's the short explanation), and he wanted a half order of the Spirited Porcini Pasta ($13, $20 for a full) and a half order of the Jerusalem salmon ($15, $23). These half orders are a great idea, and they're pretty generous portions. Wide sheets of parpardelle had been tossed in parmesan and the sauce produced from cremini and portobello mushrooms sautéed with baby chard leaves, thyme from Swank Farms, and a little truffle oil. Interestingly put together, healthful, satisfying. The rounds of our cantor's organic salmon, set over lovely, large-grained Israeli couscous (I love this stuff) were moist and fresh. Bright notes of lemon and basil and the sharp saltiness of parmesan livened everything up. On the side: sautéed shiitake mushrooms, bursts of dark juices, set on slender spears of asparagus. Both dishes were light and subtle. As were all the flavors at Emunah it was as if all potential coarseness and excess had been mystically channeled out of the food and into the P.R. Nothing was too sweet or too salty. No ingredient was superfluous. We did encounter one garnish that some considered too hot, but more on that later...