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.