Rejoicing in quality Jewish cuisine

  • 2008-01-30
  • By Adam Krowka

SANCTUARY: Once you get passed the high security at Tallinn's synagogue, you'll find a simple and elegant restaurant.

TALLINN - In the ancient story of Moses ascending the mountain twice to fetch the Ten Commandments, there is no account of him visiting a classy restaurant in Tallinn following the event. If there had been, he would certainly have visited one on Karu street that now carries his name.
Moses Kosher Services is nestled in the rear of Tallinn's new synagogue, which opened in May 2007, the first and only in Estonia after previous buildings were destroyed in World War II.
The building is a breathtaking piece of modern architecture in a simple barn-like shape encased in glass and steel. Two massive, wooden doors open onto an airy lobby; the synagogue itself is located on the second floor.

The one and only unpleasant experience I encountered during my visit was when making my way past security at the entrance to the building. The metal detector aside, the guard's reaction to my presence was reminiscent of an Israeli border checkpoint. After gaining entrance, the experience completely turned for the better.
The atmosphere in Moses is very simple and elegant 's a total of eight tables scatter the quiet room, all prepared for a fine feast. Soft music plays overhead; acoustic guitar soothingly ranging in style from jazz to Middle Eastern to a surprisingly pleasing rendition of "Light My Fire."

Head Chef Alex Berg was eating at one of the other tables when I sat and began leafing through the hand-bound menu. A wide range of food is offered, including several appetizers (as well as an Israeli appetizers section), salads, soups, meat dishes, fish and desserts. 
Following one of the oldest and most closely kept Jewish laws, all of the food offered is kosher. These foods are specially selected, grown or raised and blessed, and have become trendy worldwide as fundamentally healthy and environmentally friendly products. Descriptions appear in three languages and are smattered with specific names of Israeli cuisine. Dishes including "Ashkenazi" style choices, falafel, chicken schnitzel, latkes, and buda ganush root the classy contemporary elements of the restaurant in an intricate and traditional Jewish feel.

Chef Berg came to my table after he finished his meal, bringing a kettle of green tea. We spoke of the difficulties in providing kosher foods to Eastern Europe (now eased with entry into the EU) as well as the non-exclusive attitude of the restaurant to all people of any faith.
In observance of Sabbath (the weekly Jewish holy day), the restaurant closes on Fridays at 3 p.m. and remains closed through Saturday. On Sundays, however, it reopens and maintains regular hours throughout the week.
"Our restaurant is open to everyone; it is not restricted to any specific nationality or religion. Whatever your background is, you can come and experience and enjoy Israeli foods; it is not a problem," said Berg.
He proudly described the deity-worthy range of wines that Moses carries 's 22 in all, many directly from Israel. Kosher foods may also be ordered for home use in the small shop at the side of the restaurant. The shop is staffed by Tsiona Shlick, herself from Israel. Also available there are several Jewish religious items, kosher snacks and souvenir Israeli army hats.

After our discussion I dove into my waiting meal, which had been set forth by a highly attentive and professional wait staff. The appetizer I chose was hummus with pine and champignons, set forth with a stack of pita bread for spreading. Israeli borscht followed, beautifully presented with a chicken leg gracefully rising from its center. The food was incredibly delicious, and came at an astoundingly low price given the elegant presentation, flavor and quality of service.
Moses Kosher Services is currently the only Jewish restaurant in the Baltic States 's apart from a small cafe in Riga 's and the company plans to expand. Menus are printed in Estonian, English and Russian.
To the restaurant and to all future patrons I would raise a glass of wine and say, "Lechaim!" 's "to life!"

Moses Kosher Services
Karu 16
Tel. 581-66207