Have you heard of the cronut, a donut-croissant hybrid that is all the rage currently in NYC? On any given morning I log in to Facebook and at least one of my friends has been standing on line (sometimes in the rain) since 6:00 am in order to procure one of Dominque Ansel’s much-coveted cronuts. Well, the cronut craze has officially landed in Israel! The Forward reported earlier this week that Lenchner bakery in Tel Aviv has made the first kosher version; and now other bakeries in Israel are coming up with their own versions. Will the cronut be the new cupcake? It doesn’t have my vote yet, but then again, I have yet to wait online at 6:00 am to actually taste one. Looks pretty tempting though, eh?
On Chosen Eats this week Mari Levine presents us with the results of a kosher hot dog taste test “throwdown.” Many of the hot dog brands are ones I haven’t even heard of including International Beef Frankfurters and the winner, Shor Harbor Beef Franks. My own favorite from the list? Abeles & Heyman! What’s your preferred kosher hot dog brand – we want to know!
Are you a fan of the Food TV show ‘Chopped’? If not then you might have missed Chef Katsuji Tanabe, the chef of kosher restaurant Mexikosher in Los Angeles, take the win last week! The Jewish Journal has a full write-up of the chef and his TV appearance, including his tips for winning – don’t drink the coffee!
In other kosher restaurant-related news, The Prime Grill Cookbook is coming out in mid-September. The new cookbook by Chefs David Kolotkin (a Nosher contributor!) and Joey Allaham, takes you inside Prime Grill and will include some of the restaurant’s signature dishes including Smoked BBQ Short Ribs, Texas Style Rib Eye, Chicken & Waffle Nuggets with Maple Syrup Dip, Quinoa Cake “Latkes,” among many more.
Last but certainly not least, did you hear about our Rosh Hashanah Ingredient Challenge?! Our own version of Top Chef, High Holiday Edition, we are asking our favorite contributors and YOU, our readers, to submit your best Rosh Hashanah recipe and photos. Your mission – use two of the following traditional New Year ingredients and send us the recipe by August 23rd: pomegranate, honey, apples, dates, gourds, beets, fenugreek and black eyed peas. More info here.
Have you heard about The Hester? Operating out of the Ditmas Park, Brooklyn home of Itta Werdiger Roth and her husband, the writer Matthue Roth, The Hester is part speakeasy, part pop-up locavore restaurant, part music club and 100% kosher. Crain’s called it a “Secret Schmooze club” back in December.
But what is it exactly? How does one go? Where did it come from? And what is in store for its future?
This week I had the chance to chat with Itta and learn more about how The Hester was born and what lies ahead for the one-of-a-kind kosher food venture.
Melbourne-born Itta comes from a large, Lubavitch family for whom “community entertaining” was just part of her upbringing. Itta is one of seven children and credits her love of entertaining to her large family who was always opening up their home for celebrations, including a large Purim party they held for their community each year.
“I feel like I was just born into it,” she shared. “The act of opening up your home. A lot of people grow up that your home is a private place, but that’s just not how I grew up.”
But what makes The Hester unique isn’t just about the space it’s operating in: it’s also very much about the food, which focuses on local, seasonal items. “It’s a celebration of really good vegetables” says Itta. The menu features dishes that are dairy but also items catering to those with special diets. At one of their last events they featured a seasonal rhubarb cocktail, and Itta herself has been churning out homemade ice cream in flavors such as lavender vanilla. Drinks and music are an integral part of The Hester experience, but Itta herself focuses on ensuring the quality of the food that is served.
Like her love of entertaining and opening her home, Itta credits her love of cooking and fresh ingredients to her family, especially her mother and grandmother.
“I always had an interest in food, especially eating it. Everyone in my family was a good cook. My mom is a great cook and grows fresh herbs in her garden. Freshness is one of the biggest things I learned from my mom, in fact, I cannot even remember a dish that she used dried herbs for.”
It may seem like a big leap to go from a general love of food and entertaining, to running a kosher speakeasy out of your home. But Itta makes it sounds like it was the most natural of evolutions.
Itta accidentally fell into a personal chef type of job and it ended up suiting her quite well. She went on to have a number of different food related jobs including working at the Brooklyn kosher restaurant Pardes, which she credits for teaching her about how a restaurant runs and the importance of presentation of food.
After moving into their Ditmas Park home, Itta started putting the pieces of The Hester together, talking about her vision for the project, collecting random things like extra wine glasses and tables and chairs from local restaurants. When Itta’s cousin, who is a musician in Melbourne, told her he was coming to NYC and was looking for a venue to perform, Itta exclaimed, “I know just the place.”
They had no idea how many people would show up on that first evening, but in the end there were over 100 people crammed into Itta and Matthue’s home, definitely too tightly packed in, but having fun all the same. “The food was great. The music was great. People had a great time. I kept thinking, ‘this is totally where I want to be right now,’” said Itta.
Sometimes the name of a band or restaurant is completely random. But that’s not the case with The Hester, whose name has an awesome story behind it. Itta explained to me that it was pretty close to opening night, and they still didn’t know what they were calling the new endeavor. Itta started researching the names of different speakeasies and Jewish gangsters for inspiration. And pretty soon her sister discovered a woman named Kate Hester, a real woman, who had owned a saloon in Pittsburgh that continued to operate even after a ban on liquor. Kate operated the saloon illegally, and whenever her patrons would get too rowdy she would say, “speak easy boys.”
Itta says “she was like the mama of speakeasies.” And thus the name, “The Hester” was born. But the name is also a biblical reference to Esther as well as a nod to Jewish Eastern European immigrants who settled in New York on Hester street. Any way you slice it, a pretty cool name. And Itta is a pretty cool kosher speakeasy mama in her own right.
When I asked Itta about her and her husband, who is a writer and video game designer, and whether she thinks they are out of the box for the orthodox community, she pushed back, saying, “There’s lots of different kinds of people, and some of them are orthodox. Maybe we are unique in some ways, and maybe we aren’t so unique also. But it’s time that people stop stereotyping. There are a lot of Jews who think that what we are doing is just for kosher people, but it’s not. It is a unique experience for everyone, not just kosher-keeping Jews.”
So what’s next for The Hester? Itta shared that she is ready for her vision to move from operating out of her house and into a more permanent space. And while she has thus far operated without official kosher supervision, she recognizes that it won’t be practical not to have a hechsher moving forward.
She has enjoyed hosting small sit down dinners of 20-25 guests in the past couple of months and aims to do more of those, while still hosting larger events from time to time. Not surprisingly, the smaller events are more manageable for Itta and her staff and take less out of the busy mom.
“Let Jezebel dismiss all of your previously held notions about Kosher dining” reads the Soho restaurant’s website, a lofty claim since so many have tried but almost none have been able to achieve. While the NYC kosher eatery may have had a rough opening this summer, its website promise may now actually be true.
Like many others here in NYC with an eye on the Jewish and kosher food scenes, I was eager to experience Jezebel when it opened. As I wrote last week, prior to my recent re-visit to the restaurant, I wasn’t impressed when Jezebel first opened its doors; in fact I had easily written it off.
But with a new chef (Chef Chris Mitchell), updated menu and attitude overhaul, I can happily share how impressed I was with the establishment. Others have tried to break the mold before without success, but it just might seem that Jezebel has finally done it.
To look around the dining room upstairs at Jezebel, it truly could be any other downtown eatery – young crowd, attractive waitstaff, low lighting, ironic wall art. And then you start to realize the subtle ways in which Jezebel’s kosherness peeks through: the chandelier made of shofars (very cool – where can I get one!?), the faces of famous Jews looking down from the walls, and of course the occasional table full of bearded, payos- wearing men.
There is very little I could critique where the menu was concerned – the risotto was a pretty perfect consistency, good flavor and topped with delightful, crunchy porcini mushrooms that made a nice contrast with the creamy rice. I also loved the “mac n cheese” side dish which was really impressive considering it had no dairy in it.
By far the stand-outs were actually the wine and the dessert. Before I am a cook or a writer, I am a baker and a well-known snobbish skeptic of pareve desserts. But Jezebel’s chef has truly mastered creating “non-pareve tasting” pareve desserts. The husband and I shared the granita, bread pudding and semi-freddo and all three were exceptional. But among the three the hands down winner from the entire meal was the semi-freddo, made from a base of non-dairy creamer! Like the mac n cheese, the silkiness of the dish was a real surprise. I nearly had to fight my husband to give it back to me.
I was less impressed with the hamachi, which I thought could have been sliced thinner and flavored a little more strongly. The lamb chops were good, if not a bit sweet for my taste (the husband, however, loved them) and the braised short ribs were not a disappointment. The flavor of the cumin-spiced meatball appetizer was right on point.
The sommelier was incredibly knowledgeable (and very nice) and the wine list is impressive. My favorite was the O’Dwyers Sauvignon Blanc, which interestingly enough, was also Time Out New York’s favorite wine when they reviewed Jezebel over the Summer. Great minds think alike.
So what next for the ground-breaking eatery? Beginning Monday, January 7th Jezebel will be hosting Havana Nights each week featuring a live band and cigar rollers among other features. Don’t want to cook for Passover? They will be KP and featuring a full Passover Seder for the first two nights of the holiday this March.
You can check out Jezebel’s updated menu, located at 323 Broadway in Soho. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, that is, unless you are looking to kvetch.
Over the Summer a new restaurant made waves all over the New York area media – a new, super-chic kosher restaurant called Jezebel was opening in Soho. This was going to be the restaurant to eat at, to be seen at and the kosher restaurant to finally break the mold – as trendy as a non-kosher restaurant; as delicious as a non-kosher restaurant; and as expensive as any other restaurant in the Soho neighborhood attracting a hip crowd, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
I tried to get a reservation at Jezebel, and couldn’t. So I just showed up, and was rudely told I wouldn’t be able to order anything at the bar. I asked around, and didn’t hear rave reviews about the food (or the treatment of staff) from my fellow bloggers and Jewish foodies, and so I just moved on. While I don’t exclusively eat in kosher restaurants, I have sampled enough kosher fare in NYC, LA, Washington, DC and Israel to know the difference between the kosher restaurants that will last, and the ones that will open and close as fast as you can say chutzpah.
My own preferences for kosher establishments in the New York area include Soom Soom (UWS and midtown), The Hummus Place (multiple locations), and Chopstix in New Jersey – places that are unpretentious, consistently good and where you can get a decent, kosher meal for less than $15.
I recently had an email exchange with the PR manager from Jezebel, and he shared that the restaurant had made some significant changes since their rocky opening over the summer and I should come and give them a second chance – new chef, lower priced menu (no more $18 cocktails!) and what seems like a new attitude.
So in the spirit of the holidays, forgiveness and new beginnings, my husband and I are heading there this weekend to see for ourselves. Date nights being scarce in our house with a 6 month old…I am hoping our night out will be worth it! Stay tuned for my update next week.
In the meantime…Shabbat Shalom everyone!
Food trucks have cropped up all over the country, having strong presences in Los Angeles, Austin, New York and DC and made even more popular by the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. But a kosher food truck is hard to find…
And what I wondered was, does Philly need a kosher food truck? As Joshua Katz, President of Max and David’s, explained recently, “it’s not just about serving lunch on the street – it’s also about serving kosher food at festivals, stadiums, special events, parties. etc. Having a food truck gives us so much flexibility to accommodate our current customers…and start reaching new customers that may not know what we have to offer.”
Their food truck menu isn’t up yet, but they say the truck will be serving upscale burgers, brisket, fries, and dairy-free gelato and shakes.
Max and David’s Food Truck is planning to launch in early Spring once they get their licensing – hopefully in time for a post-Passover burger and fries I suppose!? For menu updates and their daily location you can follow them on Twitter @MDFoodTruck, on their Tumblr blog or on Facebook.