Russ & Daughters Cafe – review


Leave your number with the host and WAIT!

There isn’t a single cliché about patience that I can relate to. “Good things come to those who wait.” Nonsense! That’s the lament of a procrastinator. “Patience is a virtue.” No it’s not. It’s a complete misuse of other people’s tolerance. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve never been much of a “let’s go fishing” type, as the thought of waiting around for something that might never show up seems like the perfect time trap to me. But perhaps there are some unforeseen rewards that require the temporary suspension of my immediate expectations. One example that regularly tried my endurance was standing in the very cramped Lower East Side smoked-fish success story, Russ & Daughters, clutching a little white slip of paper bearing an irresponsibly high number that seems to stretch well into my next decade, or closing time, or both – just for a few slithers of Appetizing. (Oh trust me, the first time I heard that word I ardently illuminated the glaring error, but have since been schooled to accept it as a widely used tri-state term for a wondrous Smørgasbord of smoked fish).



Russ & Daughters Cafe

And so after a mere 102 years of waiting around patiently, the family run institution felt that the time had come grant the public its first dinette to serve their legendary Lox, Sable and Shmear on little wooden boards at the bright and retro-chique bistro Russ & Daughters Café, appropriately situated in the shade of New York’s nostalgic tenement neighborhood. (A second restaurant and take-out counter has since opened inside the Jewish Museum.)



The bathroom walls are decorated with service tickets

And just when you might have logically assumed the wait to be finally over – the “no reservations/first-come” seating policy plants you back on the sidewalk for a good 40 minutes to contemplate your well being, rethink your shoes, revisit your life’s choices, clear your mental in-box, count your blessings or whatever it is one is supposed to do while waiting. But once seated, things do happen remarkably briskly for an institution so hopelessly reliant on testing your patience. The service is snappy. The kitchen is prompt and the bill materializes in sub 60 seconds. But the bathroom walls are decorated with radiating plumes of service tickets as an almost-adorable testimony to the eons of misspent hours.



Transparent slices of Gaspe Nova Salmon

Don’t be fooled by the simple looking menu printed on a single sheet of fishmonger’s wrap. It confidently runs the gamut from an $8.00 Blintz to a whopping $990.00 serving of Osetra! (Is it just me, or are the people who make you wait seldom shy?)


Clockwise: Egg Cream Malt, Matzo Ball Soup, The “Classic” Bagel & Lox, Holland Herring

Unlike many of the city’s beloved deli’s, the authenticity of the food doesn’t get in the way of its freshness, flavor and presentation. The flawless Matzo Ball Soup has the ideal salt-to-chicken ratio, and the light, fluffy and moist dumpling is neither too tight to chew, nor too disintegratingly mushy. I was thrilled at not having to share my Holland Herring, which was thankfully whiskerless with a perfectly briny bite and as buttery smooth as an expensive Italian glove, but the Classic Bagel and Lox is the game changer here. A curiously smaller than normal Bagel (perhaps to be more proportionate to the other scant accoutrements) provides the delivery mechanism for 3 or so gossamer-thin slithers of the most impossibly delectable Gaspe Nova Salmon – silky, smooth, barely salty with just a whiff of smoke that melts apart with every bite of tomato, sliced onion, shmear and capers. And what better way to wash it down than my first ever Egg Cream Malt. Dispensed from an authentic soda fountain, the surprisingly mouthwatering combination of chocolate syrup, seltzer and malt felt like something out of a borrowed comic book from the depression era.

And so, (loathed as I am to admit it) perhaps there might be some merit to waiting around for certain things after all. But I can assure you I intend to keep that list incredibly impressive, markedly memorable – and shockingly short.


Bar Bolonat

Trying to secure a table at one of New York’s “hip/hot/in/now/happening/trendy/it” restaurants once the reviews have been printed, feels like that exercise in futility that leads to insanity – where you perform the same action over and over again expecting a different outcome each time. It doesn’t matter if you call a month in advance, at midnight or noon, using a Scottish accent or pretending to be Steven Spielberg’s assistant. The news is always the same. “We are fully committed,” or “I have nothing between 5:15pm and 10:45pm!” (Did I ask for a blue-plate special or a midnight snack?)

Oddly enough, when all of a sudden the unthinkable happens and you land a prime time four-top on a Saturday night, the only thing larger than your joy is the nagging sensation that the chef must have walked out or the health department found a critter and slapped a big, green “B” on the door – or (more tragically) that everyone has already lost interest in the place and moved on to the next “hip/hot/in/now/happening/trendy/it” spot.    I know. I know. These are real problems.

But this time persistence was on my side and I finally found myself crossing Hudson Street and stepping into Bar Bolonat’s U-shaped dining room with middle-eastern aromas emanating from the kitchen. The décor pulls off a bit of a hodge-podge of every construction medium available, from exposed iron beams and ducting, to wood veneers and bleached face brick, to a row of bay windows to amp up the curb appeal. If Taim and Balaboosta were her warm-up laps, then Bar Bolonat is chef Ainat Admony’s main race. The menu draws from some of her former successes, but judging by the litany of foreign or just plain unpronounceable ingredients, it’s clear that chef Admony has shifted into high gear, and New Yorkers are enthusiastically waving her on to win.

The wine list is approachable and varied with a few organic options as well as a few unfamiliar offerings from the Mediterranean/Middle East – like a Serbian Prokupac, a Moroccan Syrah and a couple of Israeli Cabs and blends.

Jerusalem Bagel - Bar Bolonat

Jerusalem Bagel

The menu grows in plate size, and comes with the caveat (which should become the unofficial anthem for the tri-state area) that “the food is designed to be sharable and arrives when it’s ready”. First out the door is the obligatory Jerusalem Bagel. It’s a longer, flatter, lighter and fluffier version of a sesame bagel. You tear off a chunk, dip it into the fragrantly grassy olive oil bath, towel it off with a dunk into the za’atar (which is Dukkah on steroids with sumac and herbs) and the taste and texture combination is almost biblical.

Balaboosta Fried Olives - Bar Bolonat

Balaboosta Fried Olives

It’s tough to resist the Balaboosta Fried Olives that arrive resting on a puddle of labneh (strained yogurt) and harissa oil. They are encased in the thinnest of velvety crumb crusts which give way to the wonderfully salty, green olives stuffed with cheese.

Hudson Street Kibbeh - Bar Bolonat

Hudson Street Kibbeh

Moving on to some of the medium sized plates, the trio of cone shaped Hudson Street Kibbeh is presented with a pine nut and citrus yogurt dipping sauce. Inside the bulgur wheat crust is a delicious mélange of meat spiced with cloves, cinnamon and all spice, while being sweetened with currants and spiked with pepper. A truly masterful balance of Mediterranean flavors in an auburn teardrop.

Shrimp in Yemenite Curry - Bar Bolonat

Shrimp in Yemenite Curry

Not having ever heard of a Yemenite Curry before, I braced my lips and palate for hell-fire and brimstone, and was rather surprised by its coconut milk modesty given how extroverted its brothers and sisters had been up till now – but we tore through the Wild Mushroom Pasta like soldiers home from the war. Large, floppy ribbons – almost the size of lasagna sheets – snaked around the most delectably umami fricassee of mushrooms, colored and flavored by Persian garlic, charred onions, nigella (onion seed) and a refreshing dollop of labneh here and there.

Wild Mushroom Pasta - Bar Bolonat

Wild Mushroom Pasta

It might have been my intention to try each of the dessert options on subsequent visits, but once the Fried Baclava Ice Cream swooped in, and I cracked through the crispy envelope of filo pastry allowing the soft ice cream to ooze out and mix with the syrup and nuts on the plate, I realized that for the next 10 years, I’m never going to order anything else.