Nestled in Manhattan’s Midtown East like a precious gem, Barnea Bistro affords diners an aesthetic delight, a feast for the senses. Fusing select seasonal ingredients and flavors with warm, impeccable service and sensuous design, the progressive, French bistro-style restaurant has garnered five-star Michelin-worthy reviews since its much-anticipated opening last July.
Located on 46th Street, off Third Avenue, Barnea Bistro is beautifully designed with natural materials — wood, leather, and marble — and also includes an open kitchen for a contemporary atmosphere. The restaurant’s extensive beverage menu includes three house-made cocktails, nearly 100 curated kosher wines from Israel, France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, California, and New York, and another 100 spirits and beers from around the world.
For owner/chef Joshua Kessler, Barnea Bistro is the celebration of a dream brought to fruition. Crediting family for fueling his passion for cooking, he explains, “Initially, it was my wife’s family who spurred my interest; they represent the third generation of bakers. Twelve years ago, I started helping out in the family business, Main Street Bagels. Although it represented a simplified, quick-service type of food establishment, the experience provided me with generations of expertise and talent in food and hospitality that guided and inspired my cooking ambition.”
Determined to follow his dream, he spent the ensuing years honing his talents in the kitchens of celebrated restaurants in and around New York City. Moonlighting while he continued working in the corporate insurance sector by day, Josh began working at Mike’s Bistro in Manhattan.
“I began at the bottom and worked my way up at Mike’s Bistro,” he says. “Mike became my mentor — he trained me and encouraged me to pursue my dream.”
Heeding his mentor’s judicious advice, Josh enrolled in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America where he received a degree in culinary arts. It was there, he says, that “I cut my teeth,” and mastered the art of fundamental French cooking and nouvelle cuisine and took his passion for cooking to the next level.
With his impeccable credentials and impressive culinary talents, Josh quickly became a sought-after chef, cooking in such restaurants of distinction as Gramercy Tavern and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality. “I opened my eyes to all different types of cuisines,” he says. But as much as he enjoyed the excitement and the challenge of discovering new cuisines and creating culinary masterpieces in upscale non-kosher restaurants, he felt “the Jewish market was ready for something new and exciting.” Blessed with an abundance of talent, charisma, and keen business acumen, Josh decided to fill the void by creating the ultimate dining experience, on par with the finest non-kosher restaurants. Thus the concept for Barnea Bistro was born.
For Josh, opening Barnea Bistro represents “a return to my roots. It’s a way for me to bring something unique and innovative to the kosher dining experience.
“It’s a challenge and I’m taking a very different approach. We are creatures of habit, and I’m mixing up the pot. I love working with vegetables. Every ingredient we use is 100% natural and usually organic. I believe in letting ingredients shine, so they can taste the way they’re supposed to taste. My theory is that people are eating differently.”
Barnea Bistro is unlike any other kosher restaurant you have frequented, which is apparent at first impression. Situated on the site of a Michelin-starred Indian eatery, the space was completely gutted prior to becoming a world-class glatt kosher restaurant. The décor has been planned to perfection—neutral shades and natural fabrics complementing the restaurant’s cuisine and culture.
“We’re filling a niche. And my menu can hold up to any non-kosher restaurant in New York or anywhere. We offer the same high level of service featured at any Michelin restaurant. My goal is to elevate kosher dining to the extent that some guests wouldn’t even have an idea they’re coming into a restaurant that’s kosher.”
That is precisely what happened recently when Josh observed a baseball-cap-clad guest who had abstained from eating at what was apparently a business meeting. His interest piqued as to the gentleman’s reluctance to partake of the menu, Josh waited for an opportune moment to approach and discreetly inform that he would gladly accommodate any special dietary request.
Thanking Josh for his gracious offer, the man politely declined. “Everything looks delicious, and the restaurant and food presentations are stunning,” he replied. “But because I keep kosher, I am not permitted to eat anything that is prepared and served in this restaurant, as much as I appreciate your kind offer.”
Imagine the guest’s reaction when Josh informed him that Barnea Bistro is under the stringent rabbinical supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and that all this time, he could have been savoring the most progressive kosher fine-dining experience anywhere.
Garnering five-star reviews from guests who text, email, and post on websites, blogs, chat rooms, and in person, Barnea Bistro has elevated fine kosher dining to an art. Consider the following two comments, representative of the many — all five-star rated! — found on Yelp:
“Terrific dinner!” comments Rena C. of NYC. “Décor is really nice and great vibe. Food was great. To start, we shared four appetizers and one pasta and loved them all. Drinks were great, too. My veal entrée was delicious; two of my party ordered the lamb and both loved it. Another of us had the salmon and said it was great. We all shared two desserts and they were yummy. Everything looked great and tasted better. Service was perfect and we truly have not one bad thing to say about Barnea. We have dined in top restaurants (non-kosher, too) all over the world and this could compete with any of them. Will definitely return for special occasions!”
“My husband and I go to all the top dining kosher restaurants in the City,” writes Sylvia K. in her September 2 comment. “We want to welcome Barnea Bistro into that group and say that while the others deserve five stars, Barnea Bistro deserves a five stars plus! This was the most incredible dining experience we ever had. To start, the décor was outstanding. The elegance and design of an open kitchen was very inviting.
“For dessert, my husband had a pistachio dessert with pistachio ice cream, lemon curd, and honey cake. He thought it was awesome. I had a strawberry tart. It, too, was delicious. This was a dining experience to remember. The floor manager was on top of the service and we got to meet the owner/chef Joshua Kessler. We wish him and the rest of the staff great success and we will be returning for many more delicious meals.”
For Josh, the most rewarding aspect of being at the helm of Barnea Bistro is the immediate feedback from the guests. “From the very beginning, the response on food, service, and hospitality has been incredible. I live off the adrenaline of hospitality.”
Indeed, it is with his signature hospitality and grace that Josh extends a warm invitation to our readers to savor the Barnea Bistro experience.
“I invite you to come to Barnea Bistro and take a chance on trying new and innovative cuisine that you haven’t tried before. It’s so much fun to experience food in a new and different way. Recognize the fact that kosher cuisine is elevated cuisine. Kosher diners can enjoy the experience as much as our non-kosher counterparts.”
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com. Read more of Rochelle Miller’s articles at 5TJT.com.