My knowledge of Jewish cuisine, or severe lack thereof, has always been about what the Jewish people cannot eat rather than what they might actually enjoy eating. Ask a random New Yorker about famous Jewish restaurants in New York, and you’re unlikely to hear a response beyond Katz’s Delicatessen.
From an outsider, there’s also the confusion between what’s Jewish defined as a secular culture, kosher-style cuisine, and what’s considered fully kosher. If you Google for a list of truly kosher restaurants, you’ll realize that the list are mostly deli’s and casual eateries, with only a handful of fine dining destinations. In fact Katz’s Deli is a kosher-style eatery, and not fully kosher.
Kutsher’s Tribeca takes an even more worldly approach to Jewish cuisine. The restaurant is named after the famous Kutsher’s Country Club in the Catskills region. Owner Zach Kutsher, the 4th generation Kutsher, partnered with race car driver Alan Wilzig and restaurateur Jeffrey Chowdorow to bring Modern Jewish American cuisine to the masses.
The effort is certainly ambitious: Kutsher’s is located in the heart of Tribeca dining, just a few steps away from Nobu and Locanda Verde. The 140 seat restaurant was designed by architect Rafael de Cardenas, using bold geometric designs while channeling the communal and family friendly spirit of Kutsher’s historic dining room. You won’t know it’s Jewish unless someone told you…. but then again, what’s your mental image of a Jewish restaurant?
The menu is kosher-style fare, with modern day preparation and ingredient sourcing techniques. Certain items on the menu, such as the dry-aged steaks, are labeled as kosher. However the restaurant is not kosher, as the rules for full kosher certification is too restrictive to achieve the intended style of cuisine.
I started the meal with a pastrami reuben spring roll, which features pastrami cured in house. This reminded me of the pastrami spring roll at Red Farm, which was a Chinese restaurant displaying an affinity for Jewish flavors. Here it was reversed, with traditional cured meat wrapped in a spring roll skin, then dipped into oil for the crisp surface texture. I raved about the spring rolls at Red Farm (another Chowdorow backed restaurant), this was just as impressive – the house cured pastrami with Chinese honey mustard provided a burst of flavor once you bite through the crispy skin.
Next up came three latkes, hash brown like flat potato cakes topped with sour cream and caviar. The latkes were surprisingly moist and flavorful, and the three types of “caviar” (I would really much prefer to call it roe, as caviar implies value) gave the flavors some contrast and variety.
Chopped chicken and duck liver was quite flavorful, though not particularly unique. Instead of toast, you get pumpernickel, rye, and unleavened matzo. Old Testament approved bread with pate.
I’m not sure what inspired me to get pig in a blanket, maybe it’s all those Hebrew National ads I see, that I was hoping for a dish that answered to a higher calling. The house made dough was quite impressive, although the dog, was just a ordinary hot dog.
At this point the appetizers resembled more of my limited vision of Jewish cuisine, so I was eager to see what Kutshers does for the entrees. The pan roasted organic salmon was a fine piece of seared fish, but it was the pairing that truly made it special. The Tabouli (or Tabbouleh) salad and tzatziki (greek yogurt like sauce) provided a refreshing change of pace to the naturally oily salmon.
Beef short ribs (called Flanken on the menu) is cooked with traditional Jewish spices in a pot, and topped with a sweet carrot based tsimmes and some horseradish mashed potatoes. While the flavors are not particularly ethnic, it’s fall-off-the-bone tender and seasoned masterfully.
The meal, and writing this humble blog post, has been perhaps my most enriching learning experience in the past year. It’s still a long ways to go before I’m able to fully understand Jewish cuisine, but at least I’ve experienced many new ingredients, and picked up a few Hebrew vocabulary words along the way. Either way, Kutshers only proves once again my belief that flavor, at least among people, is universal.
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