Capsouto Frères’ Jacques Capsouto Discusses Being a Bistro Trailblazer and the Importance of Serving Israeli Wines


New York City is a fickle restaurant city. Most places barely last five years. So when a restaurant is in its 31st year, it’s clearly doing something right. Capsouto Frères has been a Tribeca mainstay since 1980, so we called up founder Jacques Capsouto to learn more about the secret to his success.

Tell me a bit about the restaurant’s origins.

The restaurant has been around since 1980. We were three brothers — Albert, Sami, and Jacques. We opened as a French bistro, which at the time there weren’t too many of. We started a trend: the trend of bistro and classical bistro fare.

What’s the secret to the restaurant’s staying power?

Perseverance and persistence.

Do you think restaurant culture has changed since you started the restaurant?

People are more aware of food and restaurants and especially quality food. When we started, people didn’t know what a leek was. People are more knowledgeable about food and wine than several years ago. And “green” food and organics. You never heard of organic or biodynamic a few years ago.

Capsouto Frères has an annual Passover Seder coming up next week. How did that come about?

We are Sephardic. My parents were born in Turkey and we can trace back [our lineage] to Portugal during the Inquisition. In the mid-’80s the synagogue in Istanbul got destroyed so we wanted to do something. We found a Jewish organization that would send the money and it was successful so we keep doing it.

What do you serve?

We have a cantor who conducts the service. It’s pretty contemporary. We do haroset with dates, walnuts, apples, wine, raisins, and dried apricots. And then we serve three kinds of frittatas: spinach, zucchini, and leek. And we’ll do artichokes in lemon broth. Mains are poached salmon with vinaigrette, baked okra with a garlic tomato base, baked string beans, and we do layers of matzoh filled with mina. We wet the matzoh and fill them with mashed potato, eggs, and cheese, and then it’s baked. And for dessert, fresh fruit sorbets and cookies without flour. And Israeli wines — I started serving Israeli wines about 10 years ago. The industry there is very young and really going up.

What are some of your favorite Israeli producers?

Yarden is good, and they also own Galil Mountain. Castel. Binyamina. I have Margalit on the list, and I have Flam. By serving Israeli wines, I’m making people aware of the region. Not just customers, but the industry. They’ve been making wine there forever — since the Byzantine empire! When the Ottoman empire came in, that’s when wine production moved to Europe.

Do you celebrate Passover there or at home?

We come as one big family to the restaurant. But we had a lot more food growing up. My grandmother was a great cook and we had our whole family in the house. My father was the eldest brother, so there were 20 or 30 people.

What do you make at home now?

Simple things. Eggs. I love eggs. Eggs with cheese, eggs with sausages, eggs with tomato.

Check back in tomorrow, when Jacques reveals the secret to restaurant longevity.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 13, 2011

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