Dining Out / The sausage master
Some of us came to know Vince Mustar in 1996 when he made it known at Fine Food that his Italian, Swiss and French-style sausages were good enough to cause carnivores to salivate merely in anticipation of tasting them. More recently at Vince and Tamar, it became apparent once again that sausages and a variety of meat dishes were indeed his forte. Now, having left Vince and Tamar and opening Charcuterie, that becomes even more evident.
A charcuterie, it should be understood, is a distinctly French or Swiss delicatessen or bistro that specializes in meats such as sausages, aged hams, terrines and pates, many of which are based on pork. Such places can range from the very fancy and quite expensive such as Paris' Au Pied de Cochon or Monte Carlo's Cafe de Paris, or to those very simple and reasonably priced places in almost every town in Switzerland and France.
Mustar's version, set as it is in Jaffa's flea market, falls somewhere in between, having been intentionally given an ultra-casual, almost run-down and well-worn appearance. With a long bar and a few tables on the ground floor, a narrow flight of stairs leading up to a somewhat larger dining area and a great many tables set outdoors actually in the heart of the market, the main pieces of decor on the lower floor are a room-length mirror and several old-fashioned light fixtures.
Above the bar and as part of the wall of the second floor are large transparent temperature-controlled glass cases, and in there hanging on meat hooks a variety of meats, especially prosciutto and jamon that have been set to dry and age slowly. Simultaneously capturing the flavor of the flea market and giving a feeling of being abroad, the atmosphere is both welcoming and lively.
My own choice as an opening course was the boudin blanc - sausages prepared by mixing together pork meat, including heart and liver, milk veal, spices and milk before stuffing the mixture into pork casings. It's a classic preparation, probably originating in the ancient days of Paris, the portion consisting of two plump sausages that are firm and just crisp enough on the exterior, with a fine consistency inside and bursting with flavor.
Topped with fried onions, the sausages were superb, and a bit of sharp Dijon mustard added nicely to the experience. The dish was served with potato roesti. In preparing this dish, potatoes are peeled, grated, formed into a thin cake with sliced onions and then fried in butter, pressed down all the while with a spatula until browned on the bottom. In this case, instead of a thin cake that formed a coherent whole, the potatoes were loose and piled fairly high. Despite that, with plenty of salt and pepper, the offering was quite tasty.
I continued with a main course of saltimbocca. This traditional Roman dish is usually made by lightly coating thin slices of milk veal with flour, covering them with even thinner slices of prosciutto ham and covering each of these with a fresh sage leaf. The combination is then fried in butter and finished by pouring white wine into the skillet until it is almost completely evaporated.
In this case there was no sign of the prosciutto; what appeared was little more than a coated veal escalope cooked in sage butter. Again, despite its variation from the norm, the dish was tasty. Also rewarding were the accompanying spaeztle, tiny potato dumplings made from a dough of eggs, flour, salt and water and then scraping that through a strainer into boiling water. These were fine, the miniature dumplings having been fried in butter before being served, which gave them an appealing crispy texture.
My companion, veering away from the meat offerings, did not fare nearly as well. In her opening course of sardines done in the Catalan style - with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and hot pepper - the sardines were distinctly overcooked, which robbed them of their texture and made them somewhat mushy. The sauce, which was rather diluted, did not add to the pleasure of the dish. Nor was there much improvement in the main course of pasta nero - pasta made black by adding squid ink.
Although the pasta was tasty, the shrimps, calamari and mussels that had been tossed in did not excel in taste or texture.
Especially disappointing were the mussels, whose texture was floury and their taste bland. The green salad we shared, alas, was also disappointing. Among the alfalfa sprouts was hard, pale lettuce, and the olive oil and lemon sauce was too diluted to express its flavor.
For dessert we opted to share the peach Melba. In this dish, devised by the great chef Escoffier, peach halves are poached in sugar syrup and then refrigerated, a sauce is made by heating raspberries and currant jelly together, and a dessert bowl is lined with a thick layer of vanilla ice cream. A peach half is placed on the ice cream, the sauce is ladled over the whole and is topped with sweetened whipped cream.
In the version we received, several peach halves had been placed around a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and the sauce ladled over the peaches. The peach halves had not been poached long enough, the ice cream was of a far too low quality and there was no whipped cream in sight. All in all, not very rewarding. Our espresso coffees were excellent, though.
Our food bill for two came to NIS 330 (we had brought wine from home), a bit high for a meal in a charcuterie located in the flea market. On the other hand, the pleasing ambience and Mustar's gift with sausages make the place well worth trying.
I recommend going mainly for the various sausages and other meat dishes (which change almost daily) and to opt for wine or cold draft beer with the meal.
Charcuterie: Rehov Rabbi Chanina 3 (in the Flea Market) Jaffa. Tel.: (03) 682-8843.