Tarte Tatin is not just an upside-down tart in which the fruit are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked, it is a restaurant worthwhile visiting.
A while back my friend Shirley told me about her favorite restaurant but I never paid attention until, the day we decided to meet there so I could experience the reason for her love for this particular eatery.
At first, I did not take to the casual atmosphere in which the restaurant is run. But, over time, it became among my favorites in the city for breakfast or lunch. It has a charm no other restaurant I know has.
One day when I ask the owner, Kobi Tobianno, if anyone ever wrote about him and his restaurant, he told me ‘no’. So here I am reporting to my readers.
Kobi was born in the small town Giv’at Olga, Israel, to parents who arrives from Tunisia to Israel in the early 1950s, after being expelled from hostile to Jews Tunisia. His mother is a good cook so customary, Tunisian food is her expertise.
“When did you know that you want to be a chef”? I asked.
“In my past life I think I was a watch maker. I love watches and I am time conscious and precise,” Kobi tells me avoiding my question.
After high school, like all Israelis, Kobi served in the military as a health inspector. Upon ending his military service he signed up to study in Tadmor Hotel and Culinary School, pastry division, which he completed with honors. During his studies, for practice, Kobi worked in the Tel-Aviv Hilton hotel’s kitchen. For the young man, from a small town, the experience was an eye opener. The hotel’s kitchen staff liked him and asked him to join their team after he graduated. And so he did. He worked at the Hilton for three years. During that time the hotel sent Kobi to take advance pastry courses in the Geneva Hilton, Switzerland. After leaving his post at the Hilton, Tel Aviv, Kobi took pastry chef posts with several restaurants in Tel Aviv while also teaching courses, as freelance and continuing his advance studies courses, which he took in several European countries.
One day, at the age of 32, Kobi decided to pack up a suitcase and arrive to the United States. It was just after 9/11 disastrous event and new immigration was the last issue the government wanted to deal with; staying legally and permanently and getting a job was not an easy task to achieve. “People did not see correlation between an Israeli and French pastries,” he recalls. Kobi made his debut in San Francisco where he spent his first three years in America. Luckily, one of the top and best restaurants in San Francisco asked him, among other chefs, to prepare few sample pastries, as part of an application for a position. He was selected for the position and was sponsored by the owners so he could work legally.
Eventually, “Unique Pastry” in the San Fernando Valley sponsored him, through which Kobi obtained his USA permanent residence.
Free to do as he wants, Kobi decided to open his own restaurant, offering mainly pastries. However, as it turned out, he now offers more food than his pastries specialty.
Opening the restaurant in Beverly Hills was a lucky fluke. “I was looking for a partner to invest but no one jumped on the offer; it turned out for the best,” he admits. Kobi took loans and used his credit cards to open his small, but charming, restaurant where you can sit inside or outside. ”This mall was empty till I opened,” he tells me. Today to park one’s car in the small mall’s parking lot one needs to use the valet parking service.
Kobi’s restaurant is constantly busy and the list of permanent patrons is forever growing. It has become a social center for people with Israeli and European background as well as Americans with European-Middle Eastern finesse.
The food is unique and reasonably priced, with French-Tunisian and slight Middle Eastern injected flair. It is prepared from scratch, served in small quantities, with decorative, elegant finish. “The most people like is my plum galette and almond croissant. I make my own jams and confitures. Whatever I can I prepare on the premises,” Kobi, who is always in a pastry chef apron attire, tells me.
Looking back, after four years since he opened his restaurant, Kobi smiles. “If someone tells you NO, simply walk away.” “Why?” I asked. “Because people told me it is impossible so many times and I went after what I wanted to accomplish nonetheless. For example, the immigration lawyer told me that it will be easier to be struck by lightning than to get the permanent residence ‘green card’. I did not listen and search for the lawyer who will tell me no problem and I found him. People told me not to open a restaurant, no one wanted to be my partner but I was adamant and I have done it single handed.”
“What message do you have for the readers, for the world?” I asked.
“Do what you can at the moment even though you know you can do so much more.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My restaurant is tiny and thus has its limitation. I only use 10% of my talent and culinary knowledge here. Sometimes I look at my patrons and I feel bad as I know I can and I wish I could offer them so much more.” But Kobi needs not to worry; the restraints are definitely complimented by the lovely taste and the ambience experience, which will grow on you just as it grew on me.
While I was getting ready to leave, a patron sitting at the table next to me approached me saying, “You have a fabulous restaurant and the food is delicious.” I guess she thought I was the proprietor, never mind, she was right.
To many patrons Tarte Tatin reminds a café in a trendy street in Israel. It is kind of little fashionable Israel in Beverly Hills.
They say the American dream is NO longer available?! Remember, Kobi tells you to walk away when people tell you ‘NO’.
Go experience Tarte Tatin; you may like it just as much as I and so many others do.