Jewish Dining in NYC

Julie Besonen

New York City has a pastrami-rich heritage of Jewish cuisine. Traditional spots like Katz's Delicatessen, Russ & Daughters, Ben's Kosher Restaurant & Delicatessen, 2nd Avenue Deli and Barney Greengrass are still thriving. Mile End and Shelsky's Smoked Fish are newer, and already indispensable, neighborhood institutions.Taking a less orthodox approach are restaurants like Kutsher's Tribeca (pastrami Reuben spring rolls), Traif (chopped chicken liver with balsamic-bacon toast) and La Vara, which explores the Sephardic influence on southern Spain. Before Passover commences at sundown on April 14, familiarize yourself with some of the City's Jewish restaurants—where to break fried matzo, order your knishes or luxuriate in the schmaltz. (Note: not all restaurants are kosher.) Read on for more details.

Photo: Evan Sung

214 Mulberry St., 212-966-7366, NoLIta, Manhattan
Einat Admony triggered New Yorkers' taste for delicious Tel Aviv street food several years ago when she opened Taïm, and went on to wow a fashionable, multilingual audience at Balaboosta with her Middle Eastern–Mediterranean cooking. Balaboosta is Yiddish for the perfect housewife/mother/cook/hostess, so what better place to spend Passover if you're away from home? This year, guest chef Missy Robbins (ex-A Voce) will be working alongside Admony on an Italian-influenced Passover dinner on April 15 at 6:30pm sharp. A live band will entertain diners arranged at family-style large tables in the comfy 55-seat space. The four-course menu runs $125 per person and includes wine pairings. Look for leeks and Swiss chard cakes topped with poached quail eggs, chicken vegetable soup with artichoke-scallion matzo balls, braised short ribs with walnuts and sweet garlic, and for dessert, petite flourless chocolate cake with milk chocolate halvah mousse and smoked almond meringue.

Photo: Paul Wagtouicz

Joe & MissesDoe
45 E. 1st St., 212-780-0262, East Village, Manhattan
Gefilte fish did not make the cut for executive chef Joe Dobias's progressive Passover menu at the East Village's Joe & MissesDoe. He isn't Jewish, but his bride and beverage director, Jill, is, and they've found middle ground by hosting a secular Seder over three nights, April 14 to 16. Elijah's Punch, a blend of rum, Manischewitz and soaked fruit, will get the party started. Courses include a sampler of fried matzo boosted with herbs and a touch of sugar, maror, charoset and chicken liver laced with crispy chicken skin, followed by red and yellow matzo ball soup, then thinly sliced, peppery, slow-roasted brisket; chocolate matzo and red grape sorbet are among the assorted desserts. It's $75 per person, not including tax, tip or beverage. The heartwarming, 26-seat space, formerly JoeDoe, was retooled last fall around the time of the owners' wedding and now has a more nostalgic, comfort-food focus at lower price points. And that fried matzo? If you can't make it for Passover, it's on the menu year-round.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Sammy's Roumanian Steak House
157 Chrystie St., 212-673-0330, Lower East Side, Manhattan
The Borscht Belt comes to the Lower East Side at this old school Jewish steak house with a troubadour who goes by the name Dani Luv. With "Hava Nagila" he can get even the stiffest goys and shiksas dancing the hora between courses of chopped liver and skirt steak. Stuffed cabbage, karnatzlack (grilled garlic sausage) and broiled, meaty half chicken are other soul food essentials here. Diners at tables celebrating birthdays and bar mitzvahs tend to be from New Rochelle or New Jersey, and they live it up with icy vodka and golden schmaltz smeared on rye bread. Parents kicking up their heels in a conga line typically embarrass their children, who bury their faces in cell phones and pretend it's not happening. There is more sedate seating upstairs, but the hilarious nightly party is always in the fluorescent-lit basement space plastered with business cards. Take note: Dani Luv is off on Mondays.

Photo: Ian Ference

Yerba Buena Perry
1 Perry St., 212-620-0808, West Village, Manhattan
Chef Julian Medina grew up Catholic in Mexico and converted to Judaism for his wife; he now reinterprets Jewish holiday foods at his two Yerba Buena restaurants and three locations of Toloache. For Passover this year at the West Village's Yerba Buena Perry that means an à la carte menu of brisket tacos, matzo ball soup spiked with jalapeno, and guacamole blended with smoked whitefish and served with matzo instead of chips. The pan-Latin boîte has a dark, stylish setting with creamy leather banquettes and Edison bulbs over the bar, conducive for intimate dinners as well as festive groups. Since wine is an obligatory part of Passover, it's nice to know there's quality kosher wine on hand—as well as kosher tequila.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery
137 E. Houston St., 212-477-2858, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Most Jews don't kvetch about the trace of flour in Yonah Schimmel's knishes and latkes, says proprietor Alex Wolfson. "Eighty percent have them anyway," he said of his Passover customers. He hasn't altered the dog-eared shop much since his distant ancestor Yonah Schimmel founded it in 1910, and the laminated photos and yellowing newspaper articles lining the walls are a testament to the march of time. Racks of knishes baked in the basement appear in the dumbwaiter and are reheated in a microwave to a soft and steamy state. Spicy brown mustard gooses the flavor. Potato and kasha knishes are the most traditional, as big as grapefruit and one of the most filling ways we can think of to spend $3.50. Lower East Side policemen on patrol opt for them over doughnuts, but kids towed in by their parents are more eager for old-fashioned chocolate egg creams and cherry lime rickeys.