A waiter whisks platters of schnitzel and heaping challah-bun burgers to a large family, their laughter reverberating throughout the long dining room. We watch a pair of men beside us tuck into a Flintstonian-size steak as we try to fit our family-style vegetarian feast onto our small two-top. In spite of its quiet side street locale, Yossi resounds with a dinner party conviviality the moment you step inside.
Situated near Marseille’s most prominent synagogue and the Rue Saint-Suffren, aka Rue des Juifs (Road of the Jews), Yossi is a kosher restaurant serving up Israeli comfort food in an industrial chic space that bears all the markers of cosmopolitan cool: exposed pipes, brass light fixtures and an open kitchen decked out in subway tiles. At night, a playlist pumps raï (a type of Algerian folk music), pop and other upbeat tunes.
There are hints of cacher – customers in kippahs, kosher wine and the rabbi-stamped certificate tucked behind the bottles – but it isn’t over accentuated, creating an inviting space for Jews and gentiles alike. “I wanted to have an atmosphere that one doesn’t find at kosher restaurants,” explains Yossi Terboul, the restaurant’s affable and eponymous owner. His recipe has worked: Yossi has been perpetually packed since opening in 2019.
Born in Jerusalem, Yossi arrived in Marseille 20 years ago, lured by real estate opportunities. The entrepreneur got his first taste of the restaurant business in 2005 when he opened an Italian bistro in nearby Aix-en-Provence. Though he sold it after a successful run, he kept the idea of an Israeli spot in the back of his mind. When a snack bar in one of his Marseille properties shuttered, he jumped at the chance.
Yossi’s culinary passion started young, thanks to a mom who adored cooking. After leaving home, he missed her food so much she’d share recipes over the phone. These Israeli and Jewish classics form the menu’s foundation. Yossi likes to toss in some Mediterranean fusion, like breaded mushrooms stuffed with foie gras and chocolate mousse sprinkled with za’atar. “The 120 different cultures in Jerusalem are an endless source of inspiration,” he says.
Whatever the idea, the chef, Isaac, translates them into delicious dishes. Yossi calls him “turbo” for his speed, a much-needed skill considering the full reservation book and two dinner services – some customers sit down for a late-for-Marseille meal at 10:30 p.m.
“I wanted to have an atmosphere that one doesn’t find at kosher restaurants.”
Kosher restaurants fall into two categories: meat or dairy. From the moment you walk inside, you’ll know which way Yossi leans, the air perfumed with meat grilling on the lava-rock stovetop. A daily rotating menu has various cuts like entrecôtes (steaks) or the family-style côte de boeuf (prime rib.) A splurge-worthy lamb shoulder caramelized with dates and honey must be ordered in advance.
Since Israel imports a good chunk of kosher meat from Argentina, their slow-cooked, low temperature method has become a Jerusalem tradition. Yossi serves the melt-in-your-mouth assado piled atop a challah bun – a “shrunk down version of Shabbat bread” that is baked fresh each day at the restaurant. Topped with chimichurri sauce and a fried egg, it’s a “taste bomb in your mouth,” Yossi says. And, in our opinion, a strong contender for Marseille’s best sandwich.
Other not-to-miss plates are schnitzel, the popular breaded chicken cutlets brought over to Israel by German and Austrian Jews, and Meorav yerusalami, both served with fantastic, fresh-cut fries. The latter is billed on the menu as a “cocktail of chicken, chicken liver, turkey and beef.” When we ask Yossi what makes the succulent meat so tasty, he responds with a smile, “it’s flavored with Jerusalem,” explaining how he sources spices from his homeland.
In spite of the carnivorous standouts, vegetarians will also feel at home here. Try the sweet potato roasted with za’atar, olive oil and tahini, or the carpaccio aubergines. Made with smoky eggplant and preserved lemon, it is a lovely change from the typical baba ghanoush. The hummus is a must, its super-creamy texture typical to that found in Israel. When topped with ground beef, Jerusalem-style, the houmous bassar makes for a filling main.
Ninety-five percent of the menu is made in-house. Due to the small kitchen, Yossi ships in the pita from Israel. It’s worth the trip, and is perfect for dipping in the amuse-bouche of tahini, pickled cucumber, sumac onions and tomato flesh. To end your meal, the pavlova is a favorite – though we marvel at how anyone fits in the enormous portion after such hearty food. A lighter option is the chilled strawberry soup. To sip, choose from Provençal rosés and kosher Israeli reds. Yossi points out the vin rouge is made with French varietals – linking the two nations across Mediterranean.
Marseille has Europe’s third biggest Jewish community: At 80,000 they make up nine percent of the city’s population, compared to Paris’ three percent, and are well integrated into the city. “We get along well here,” shares Yossi, confirming how thanks to the city’s centuries of cultural intermingling, there is less anti-Semitism than in France’s capital.
Yossi also does his part to cultivate a welcoming environment in the restaurant: He’s on a first-name basis with many customers and even uses his personal phone number for the business, a sign of his sociability and hands-on management style. During the lunch and dinner services, he wanders between tables, chatting with diners and checking in if they need anything.
Each time we’ve dined at Yossi, there has been one or two boisterous ten-tops, filled with families and friends passing food around the table. It feels like you’ve jetted to the other side of the Mediterranean, while simultaneously getting a taste of the familial warmth of a Jewish home.
Published on October 01, 2020