Russ & Daughters Cafe

127 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002(212) 475-4881russanddaughterscafe.com

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The kosher deli is like the tiger of restaurants, loved, but rapidly nearing extinction. As cited by the documentary Deli Man (an obscure Netflix gem), kosher delis in New York alone, have gone from over 1500 in number back in 1931, to today’s very depressing stat of just 21 establishments left. So, call it my Jewish guilt or moral obligation, but I felt the need to help turn the tides by turning my kids onto the glory that I lovingly call “Jew Food.” A cuisine unlike any other, that I have adored since childhood. But sadly, like many other bad Jews (apparently), I haven’t been back in years. Which is a shame, because there’s really no good reason. It’s not like going to Synagogue or anything. It’s actually quite enjoyable. And downright sinful.

Well, also turning the tides is a modern-day twist on the kosher deli, paying faithful homage to its diner roots, while also feeling contemporary somehow at the same time. That’s Russ and Daughters, a beacon of hope for the “chosen” cuisine.

Speaking of chosen things, our first choice was the Pastrami Russ, a small but crazy good sandwich made with their unique salmon pastrami, cucumber, coleslaw and deli mustard all on a cigar-sized pretzel roll, served next to a mountain of homemade waffle potato chips and a half sour pickle that also rocks. Mad mazels on this one.

But as good as the Pastrami Russ was, the Latkas stole the show. Easily the best I’ve ever had, done up at least a half inch thick with a hard, crusty outer layer and moist, fuffy innards. It’s Ultimate Latka perfection. Also, we had ‘em both ways, the new fangled crème fraiche and salmon roe way, as well as the ole tried and true apple sauce way. Both are good, but the kid in me still leans toward the classic A-sauce.

And while we’re on the topic of classics, the Classic Board with Nova, tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese and an everything bagel was also very good. Not quite as inventive as some of the other twists, but as solid as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, Essa included. Granted the Nova is very lightly cured though, so nowhere near as salty as you might be used to.

Lox, eggs and onions were good, but not great. Partly due to the less salty lox, which is what makes this dish normally shine, ya know, cuz salt and eggs and all. That said, the rye bread that comes with it is another Ultimate. So flavorful and packed with texture. In fact, we loved it so much we walked up the street after breakfast to the Russ & Daughters store on Houston to buy a loaf. And my god is that thing dense. One loaf probably ways as much as a Mini Cooper.

We ended the meal on a duo of dishes from the “Sweet” column, the first being the Chocolate Babka French toast. Yes Challah, you just got trumped. Topped with fresh strawberries and sidled up next to a ramekin of sweet cream- no need for syrup on this thing. It’s richer than Daddy Warbucks.

Yet as wonderific as the Babka French Toast was, the kosher purist in me still found the Noodle Kugel to be the shiznet. It’s like muscle memory for your taste buds, bringing you back to that sweet noodle lovin’ fro your childhood that you just can’t deny. And wow did that sound way more child molesty than intended.

All in, Russ is tops in my book. Even if Gweneth Paltrow likes it too. From the incredibly fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices to both Ultimates I mentioned above to their caviar cream cheese that needs to make its way from store to café (hint-hint Russ).

4 teeth

Friedman’s

132 W 31st St. New York, NY 10001(212) 971-9400 friedmanslunch.com

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Hark! There is a ray of sunshine in the land of the lost. Yes, in case you didn’t know, Friedman’s has opened another location right by Penn Station, which I resoundingly applaud. Too many restaurants always do the same old tired thing, Upper East, Upper West and something south of 23rd Street. And while that business model certainly must have its merits, so does the notion of spreading the love. And spread it they do, all over Herald Square and all over your plate. Which doesn’t sound as appetizing as I was hoping, but if you’ve ever dined at one of the other locations than you need very little convincing. If not, let me elaborate…

The décor is very inviting and casual with a rustic contemporary flair, which comes from the use of lots of wood, mixed in with stainless steel, wrought iron, a bright tile wall, a high table near the front for walk-ins and a half open kitchen.

The service is friendly and on top of their game, although I do find them to be a touch aggressive when it comes to squeezing by you in the alley by the kitchen. In other words, get the fuck out of their way or you’ll find yourself bent over a nearby table or in another patrons lap.

The food is excellent as always, from the wonderfully fresh squeezed juices in both orange and grapefruit variety (I usually get the two mixed, half and half. I like cutting the sweetness of the orange back a bit with the tartness of the latter. It’s my thing) to the amazing pastrami, caramelized onion and mustard omelet served along side some solid hash browns and a couple of slices of toast. The eggs are always money here though, so no surprise there. In fact, everything is always good here. The only surprise is that upon expansion, Friedman’s still hasn’t lost a step. Oh, there was one other surprise- a nit actually. The bread was served sans jam and with an anemic portion of butter, which would’ve been fine had the bread been so special it didn’t need it, but that was definitely not the case. This bread needed something on top of it more than a nymphomaniac taking Spanish fly.

But that one nit aside, if you’re in need of morning grub and you’re near Penn Station, your ship, bus and train just came in.

4 teeth

Glasserie

95 Commercial St. New York, NY 11222(718) 389-0640glasserienyc.com

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Being that it is currently a James Beard nominee, this was way up on my list of Brooklyn bites, so when the chance arose to dine here on an expense account, I was in Ferocious heaven.

Regrettably, heavenly is not exactly how I would describe the aroma upon entering. Rather the word dishwater comes to mind. Such a turn off right out of the gate to be hit by a wall of wafting stank from the kitchen opposite the foyer. Not great planning on that one. Nor on the chairs, which make you feel like you’re auditioning for the shrinking role in Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately the rest of the setting is nice, with its exposed brick, charming divided-light windows and mid-century touches, mixed with a little rustic industrialism.

In terms of food, I really appreciated the inventive fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Not that there isn’t already an inherent overlap between the two, but the way the chef blended those elements was truly original.

Not wasting any time, our painfully hip waitress delivered a series of wows, the biggest and Ultimatest being the flatbread with labneh. Served piping hot, so much so that no one could even tear it apart for the first several minutes. And the labneh (yogurt) is unbelievably thick and creamy, filled with a lagoon of wonderful olive oil and harissa. The grilled bread was also good, but next to the flat, it was Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

I also loved the mixed nuts with leblebi. The latter are dried, crunchy chickpeas that are popular during cocktail hour in Turkey. The olives were also nice. Home marinated I’m guessing, because the stems were still on many of them.

After that the courses started hitting the table fast and furious, with a lot of hits, but unfortunately a few misses as well. The hits for me would be the lamb sweetbreads, done grilled as opposed to fried, which I really liked. Feels like a more faithful preparation. The rabbit tacos were also quite nice, served in what I believe was a jicama taco shell. The stuffed cabbage was such a blast from my past that I almost had to love it. And it did Bubby proud, granted a much more inventive spin, made with hanger steak inside, as well as couscous.

In the middle of the field I would put the chicken entree, the leaves and leaves salad, the Syrian cheese plate (pictured) and the Brussels sprouts. All are good, but the fact that sprouts are on every friggin’ menu these days is growing a bit played. And while I appreciate the brown bag serving vessel, I can’t get past the “me too” factor. It’s like kale and Brussels sprouts are being mandated by some sort of foodie mafia overlord.

Bringing up the rear would be the cauliflower and the hanger steak. The former for being way too basic to the point where you could make as good or better at home, and the latter because it was undercooked and chewy, without enough flavor to make the jaw work worthwhile.

In terms of cocktails, they all sounded better than they tasted and the Arak, while served up on a silver platter, literally, is as basic as it gets at its core. The only inventive twist being an actual twist- and a shot grapefruit juice to mix in with your ice, water and anise booze. For a better Arak cocktail try the Hana at Balaboosta.

During dessert things went a little off the rails. The cookie assortment was easily the best. The ice creams went 1 for 3, pistachio being the only one anybody touched. The cardamom and tahini both melted in the bowl like a lonely Wicked Witch of the North. And the chocolate mousse was so bad it shat the bed, or should I say the diaper, which is what it looked like once you opened the bag, like a diaper with shit in it. Not sure what they were thinking on this one, or more than likely it was a lack thinking that lead to this abomination of presentation, but unless you want to test the fortitude of your constitution, I’d take a pass.

So while the performance most certainly ended on a foul note, the earlier winners were enough to carry it over the mid-line.

3 teeth