This past December I had the pleasure of attending for the first time the annual Latke fest held at the Metropolitan Pavillion in New York City. The event was a Jewish food lover’s dream – I was overwhelmed by delicious latke choices, even after two months of latke testing in my own kitchen. I was also somewhat surprised by how orderly the event ran: the guests were polite, there was ample room to move around and I was able to sample almost everything I wanted. I am still blown away by the creative combinations dreamed up by chefs from all over the New York City area including my own favorite: a chopped liver topped latke from Shelsky’s in Brooklyn. I went home happy, full, a little buzzed and inspired from the innovative approaches to Jewish food.
Two weeks ago I attended the Annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience, also held at the Metropolitan Pavillion. But to walk through the doors you wouldn’t recognize the same room. The civilized, jovial atmosphere was gone, replaced by pushy hoards of people vying to get their money’s worth from the event, or single women decked out in their finest looking for a husband. I had to elbow my way in to get a taste of wine; I said excuse me to deaf ears; and several times as I tasted some of the liquor offerings I was chastised like a teenager to ‘be careful.’
I expected a lot of people. Fine. What I did not expect was the fighting I only ever see at the baby lamb chop station during a bar mitzvah shmorg. Silly me – throw a bunch of otherwise normal Jews into a room with meat and wine and everyone will revert back into pack behavior. I was joined by fellow food and wine lover Liz Rueven of Kosher Like Me who helped me traverse the treacherous terrain. Here we are taking a selfie while tasting some red wine.
And aside from the jostling crowds, there were a few food highlights: I was finally able to try The Wandering Que’s much talked about brisket, and it was divine: well seasoned and fall apart tender. I also fell madly in love with the chipotle and cinnamon prime rib from T-Fusion Steakhouse, and not just because the guy serving me was a shameless flirt. It was amazing, I could not stop talking about the great flavor and perfectly cooked meat.
The wine was overwhelming, and due to the massive crowds, it was nearly impossible to speak at any length with the wineries. Nevertheless two of my favorites were the Drappier Brut Champagne Cart D’or ($49.99) and the Shiloh Shor Cabernet Franc ($29.99).
In other Jewish food news, there are two new kosher food carts that have recently hit the streets of NYC: The Shuka Truck, serving up different kinds of shakshuka and Holy Rollers, serving up some interesting combos of hot dogs and sausages. I haven’t been able to try Holy Rollers yet, though plan to go soon. But I can say with confidence to check out the Shuka Truck. The food was delicious and the three Israeli friends running the shop are adorable and hysterical.
Another exciting piece of news from the kosher food world: a new food delivery service called KitchenSynch has launched – the first and only Glatt Kosher meal kit delivery service that brings you all of the pre-measured ingredients you need to prepare a complete meal from scratch. So for those of you who get nervous about cooking, or want to branch and try new things, but with some of the guess work removed – this is a great option to try.
Kitchn Sync provides the seasonings and ingredients for the main course & side dishes, all individually wrapped and pre-portioned. Each delivery comes with a recipe card with step-by-step instructions that can be saved for future use. Sample dishes include Bimbimbap Bowls, Sangria Chicken with fruit glaze, and Roasted Tea Infused Chicken with cauliflower fried rice. All chicken, meat, veal, lamb, and turkey used in the meals are locally sourced and under Glatt Kosher national kosher supervision. Kitchn Synch is the brainchild of Douglas Soclof, founder of Dougies BBQ & Grill who shares “I saw a missing niche in meal delivery kits for them. It’s for anyone looking for great quality, delicious food delivered to their door.” For more information check out their website, Kitchen Synch.
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This time of year, I love thinking back on the highlights of what I ate, what I made and what I want to create in the coming year. I focused a lot this year on my cakes, which I will be sharing on the blog in 2014 (stay tuned!), and I expanded my vegetarian repertoire significantly. And meanwhile, the Jewish food scene was busy with its own 2013 agenda, some of which I found exciting, and some that I would be happy to see not make a re-appearance in 2014.
Gluten-Free Everyone and Everything
If one more person tells me they are going gluten-free or their doctor has told them they have a gluten allergy, I am going shove a loaf of challah right into their mouth. Ok, I know that might sound harsh. But it seems like everyone around me has gone gluten-free this year, no!?
If you ask me, Jews have always been the kings and queens of gluten-free cooking and baking, since it’s pretty close to a Passover diet! For example, my Passover Sweet Potato Pie with Macaroon Crust is also…gluten-free. A happy side effect.
But aside from my snarky attitude about the gluten-free fad, there are great resources out there including Rella Kaplowitz’s kosher gluten-free blog and even an entire Jewish cookbook dedicated to classic Jewish baked goods called Nosh on This. And don’t forget to check out our very own recipe for the Ultimate Gluten-Free Challah.
Pop-Ups Popping Up
Pop-up restaurants have been, literally, popping up all over the country for the past couple of years. In fact the first time I experienced a pop-up was in New Orleans about 3 years ago. The general concept of a pop-up is for a chef or group of chefs who want to try something different, or who don’t have their own space, will use a traditional restaurant space or other space and open a restaurant for a short amount of time. And in 2013 pop-ups have taken on a distinctively Jewish flavor. Devra Ferst wrote in The Forward that “New York Pop-Ups Deliver the Country’s Most Exciting Jewish Fare.”
Earlier this year The Kubbeh Project from Naami Shefi made the biggest headlines, opening for three weeks in the East Village of New York City.
And Danya Cheskis-Gold has run a Shabbat dinner series called Pop-Up Shabbat since July 2013, an intimate Shabbat dinner with innovative food, music, drinks and new friends. When Danya created Pop-Up Shabbat it wasn’t just about the food, it was also about creating a different kind of Jewish experience. She explained,
“I’ve got 15 years of Jewish education, summer camp, and USY under my belt, and my grandparents met at a Zionist meeting, so you might say I’m pretty identified with my religious and cultural background. I’ve tried out synagogues all over the Manhattan and hippie minyans in Brooklyn, but nothing’s been quite the right fit. So, I started Pop-Up Shabbat. It’s my DIY Judaism – it makes me feel connected to the community and traditions that I most love about being Jewish, but in a way that’s relevant for me, others like me and fits in with my lifestyle.”
A Return to Meat
I am not anti-meat by any means, although I do eat a mainly vegetarian diet these days for health and environmental reasons. So when I do eat meat I want to know that it is quality which is why it was great to find out that in 2013 the Prime Hospitality Group started serving certified Angus Beef at most of their NYC restaurants, a trend I expect to see spreading in 2014 as people become increasingly concerned about the quality and origins of the meat they consume.
But there were several other exciting meat-centric trends this year including a focus on BBQ and upscale steakhouses, which Dani Klein from YeahThatsKosher.com was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about:
Smoking meat isn’t something commonly found in kosher restaurants until recently. Smokey Joe’s in Teaneck, NJ has been pleasing Bergen County residents with their flavors for a few years now, but BBQ has truly exploded in 2013. What was formerly known as “Hakadosh BBQ” (currently “Wandering Cue”), originally a pop-up BBQ event in Westchester County hosted by caterer Ari White, turned into a year of appearances throughout NYC and beyond, especially at street fairs and events. One of those events was the 2nd annual Long Island Kosher BBQ Championship, where professional and amateur BBQ-ers battled it out. Outside of the NYC area, Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed opened in Chicago to rave reviews.
Lots of NY kosher steakhouses in the news this year. The Prime Grill moved to a new, larger location further north in midtown east, in addition to giving “Prime at the Bentley” a permanent home at the Bentley Hotel (which was originally a pop up restaurant in late 2012). Mike’s Bistro announced that it is leaving the Upper West Side and moving to Midtown East. In addition to the opening of Chagall Bistro in Brooklyn, two new high end kosher steakhouses opened their doors in the second half of 2013: La Brochette, a French steakhouse on Lexington Ave, replacing a previous kosher restaurant; and Reserve Cut, a beautiful, modern steakhouse opened up in the Setai downtown by Wall Street. This year also saw the close of J SOHO (formerly “Jezebel”) which was open for barely more than a year.
The Croissant Craze
If you haven’t heard of the Cronut, a donut-croissant hybrid that took over NYC this year, you might have been living under a rock in 2013. The cronut even hit Israel, with multiple varieties sweeping the country. And just recently in NYC, a new croissant hybrid came onto the scene at Bubby’s: the crnish, a croissant-knish combination.
I predict there are many more Jewish food mash-ups in store for 2014, and I can’t wait to see what crazy combos are born.
Grub Street is calling it a “Jewish Food Revival,” while I happily named it one of the top Jewish food trends of 2011. Bottom line: Jewish food is “in,” and of course I’m schepping nachas for the traditional foods of my people which are being reclaimed and reinvented to the delights of foodies in New York and beyond.
Earlier this year I was thrilled to visit Kutschers Tribeca to sample their updated Castkills fare at the Tribeca restaurant. I was pretty excited by almost everything I tasted but I was totally blown away by the simple genius of the rainbow cookie ice cream sundae I devoured for dessert.
This past week, New York Magazine highlighted another new, Jewish-inspired eatery, Jack’s Wife Freda, whose menu features updated classics such as Matzo Ball Soup, Green Shakshuka and Freda’s Fried Fish Balls.
And this weekend, a new eatery is launching – Gefilteria! Besides loving the name itself, the “pushcart start-up” will specialize in “sustainable Jewish foods like gefilte fish made with pike, whitefish, and salmon; kvass, a fermented drink; borscht; horseradish; sauerkraut; black-and-white cookies; and matzo.”
I can’t begin to predict what’s in-store for updated Jewish fare, but I am excited to see what my fellow food enthusiasts dream up next. Any great Jewish food cropping up near you? Let us know!