A new Midtown restaurant raises the bar for kosher fine dining


Chef Josh Kessler is no stranger to owning and operating upscale kosher restaurants. Six years ago, he founded Barnea Bistro, a restaurant on East 46th Street in Midtown. The kosher fine dining establishment was so successful that, 18 months after opening, he purchased the adjacent space and doubled his restaurant’s size.

Earlier this month, Kessler opened Bonito 47 — a 7,000-square-foot restaurant that, like Barnea Bistro, seats 150. This new spot is on West 47th Street, conveniently located between the theaters of Broadway and the heavily Jewish Diamond District.

With both restaurants, Kessler aims “to raise the bar and build out facilities where kosher guests can be exposed to world cuisine,” as he recently told the New York Jewish Week.

Midtown West’s Bonito 47 is — dare we say this about a kosher restaurant? — a sexy spot. From the moment diners enter the subterranean space, they’re greeted with subdued lighting, dark wood floors, richly upholstered chairs, tables covered with heavy cotton tablecloths and jazzy music that is truly background.

In fact, the restaurant is as well appointed as many other fine eateries around New York City, kosher or not — and according to Kessler, that’s entirely the point. The restaurant, he said, “is designed beautifully, professionally done with service that would work at any other high end establishment in New York.”

“My long-term goal is to continue to add new concepts into kosher cuisine and to continue to elevate kosher dining,” Kessler said, “bringing exciting new concepts to guests, kosher and non-kosher.”

Kessler’s attention to quality shows up in every aspect of his businesses. He and his staff source the best USDA prime beef, fish (at Barnea Bistro, he buys from the fish purveyor used by Le Bernardin, what many consider to be one of New York’s great fish restaurants) and vegetables.

Elan Kornblum, founder of Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group, feels that Kessler’s eateries are a cut above, likening them to Prime Grill in its circa-2000 heyday, “where you would look around and half the restaurant is not even Jewish,” he said.

Kessler’s restaurants thrive, according to Kornblum, because the chef “puts his head down and does the work,” he said. “He’s consistent. Elegant. He lets the food do the talking. And what he promises, he delivers.”

At Bonito 47, Kessler is promising quite a bit — including two very different omakase menus. These chef’s choice menus (omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you” in Japanese) have become extremely popular in New York sushi restaurants — and kosher sushi restaurants are no exception. At Bonito 47, there’s a $275, 18-course omakase sushi menu, with fish flown in daily from Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market.

The sushi fish at Bonito 47 is flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. (Real Arch Media)

But he’s also trying out a concept that he said he’s never seen at another kosher restaurant in this country: steak omakase. “Why not do a steak omakase, where my guests could explore all different cuts of meat from around the entire animal?” he said of the 10-course, $250 menu. “We have cote de boeuf, entrecote, chateau, ‘surprise’ and skirt steak on the menu. Certain cuts of meat work better with different styles of cooking,  so there is an academic aspect to it — and there is also a fun aspect, which is the business I am in.”

“I know that our guests, who are part of my tribe, are very into steak and beef,” he added. “Kosher people are always going to the carving station [at events]. And I want to give my guests what they want.”

Kessler — who personally trains his restaurant staff — describes fine dining as “a dance.” What he calls the “sequence of service” begins the moment a guest calls to make a reservation and continues throughout the meal, from cutlery resets between courses to water refills at the ready. Even after a guest leaves, according to one of the waiters who has been with Kessler since he first opened Barnea Bistro, the waiter is expected to note the customer’s likes, dislikes and allergies on the guest’s profile, for the next time he or she comes for a meal.

The menu at Bonito 47 has elements that are “more palatable for guests moving at a faster pace,” Kessler said. If customers need to run off to a show or a business meeting, they can order sushi, hamburger topped with a remoulade sauce and served on a house-baked bun or chicken caesar salad, and be in and out of the restaurant in an hour.

Across town at Barnea Bistro, the menu “is predominantly food that most people are not going to make at home,” Kessler said. “And there are no side dishes on the menu. The plates are composed, ready to go, and a lot of thought goes into it — which vegetables go with which sauce and which protein.”

Although the menus are different, both restaurants share Kessler’s same philosophy: listen to the guests, curate the best possible meals for them and cosset them in a beautiful, luxe space.

Anthony Greulich, the general manager at Barnea Bistro, trained for seven years at the Paul Augier Hospitality School in Nice, France. “Even in Paris there are no kosher restaurants that meet Kessler’s level,” he said.

Kessler prides himself on the fact that, at Barnea Bistro and hopefully one day at Bonito 47, too, “on any given night, every language is spoken,” he said. “I have non-Jewish guests. It is a cross-section of society.”

The new Bonito 47 is an outgrowth of Bonito, an earlier restaurant Kessler opened in 2020 near Union Square. The size — it seated only 68 — did not meet demand so he closed it and moved to Midtown where, he said, he could serve more guests and expand on the concept.

Upper East Siders Alain and Ellen Roizen are huge fans of Kessler’s cooking and are regular guests at Barnea Bistro. The couple began keeping the laws of kosher eating relatively late in life; Alain was raised in Paris — where he had his bar mitzvah at the Ritz Hotel, no less — and his mother was an accomplished chef who made foie gras and bouillabaisse. Deciding to keep kosher suggested he might have to curb his epicurean enthusiasms.

But not at Barnea Bistro, the couple said. “It is decorated properly. It is elegant. The meat is absolutely perfect,” Alain said. “He cooks it the way I like it.”

Ellen concurs. The salade Lyonnaise — traditionally made with bacon but here made with kosher lamb bacon — is “just like in a French bistro,” she said, adding that at the restaurant, keeping kosher “doesn’t seem like a sacrifice.”

Of course, there are always sacrifices people are willing to make — and others they won’t. When asked if they are excited to try Bonito 47, Alain balked at the crosstown commute. Its location, he said, “doesn’t help me.”