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Kutsher's Tribeca


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As a restaurateur, Jeffrey Chodorow is perpetual punch line, the huckster behind such flops as Mix, Kobe Club, English is Italian, Wild Salmon, Rocco's, and Brasserio Caviar & Banana. When I heard he was opening a "Catskills Jewish" restaurant in Tribeca, I thought, "Here we go again."

 

Chodorow is (thankfully) in the background at Kutsher's Tribeca, run by Zach Kutsher, a fourth-generation descendant of the family that founded Kutsher's Resort in Monticello, NY, the last such outfit still operating year-round. It nearly shut down a couple of years ago, when a New Jersey businessman swooped in and saved it, at least for now. Mark and Helen Kutsher are still on hand, providing historical verisimilitude, but they no longer manage the place. The reviews on various Internet travel sites paint a sobering picture: it is in terrible shape, after decades of neglect. One gets the sense that the reprieve is only temporary.

 

Until about the 1950s, the Catskills were the favored vacation destination of New York Jews. The region faded after assimilation, airplanes, and air conditioning made it practical for Jews to go wherever they wanted. My girlfriend has a weekend house in the area, so I've been there a lot lately. One readily sees how far it has fallen. Most of the old resorts are either abandoned, no longer Jewish, or operate as summer camps for the ultra-Orthodox. Even those sites that are still in business look like they have seen far better days.

 

I've never been to the original Kutsher's, but my girlfriend has; she even worked there one summer. According to her, Kutsher's Tribeca has no resemblance to any Catskills place she has ever seen. To me, it looks like a generic Manhattan decor. Perhaps this is the requirement of any Jeffrey Chodorow investment, given his prolific failure rate. If Kutsher's goes belly-up, he could re-open within days with a completely different concept, and he'd hardly need to change a thing.

 

If youre Jewish, youll recognize a lot of the menu: charoset, knishes, latkes, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, potato kugel, chopped liver. Most of these are re-interpreted, served not quite the way you remember them. Theres no traif, but the restaurant is not kosher. Chef Mark Spangenthal adds a handful of neutral items like tuna crudo, beet and goat cheese salad, grilled duck breast, and the Creekstone Farms bone-in ribeye for two that mysteriously finds its way onto every menu in town, regardless of cuisine. These dishes are like the maroon sweater in your closet: they go with everything.

 

To me, this menu has a great nostalgic appeal. It remains to be seen how it will play to non-Jewish diners. There is something slightly comical when you hear an obviously non-Jewish bartender say, I just love the kreplach. Really?

 

The food is all pretty good (photos and descriptions on the blog), but it's not destination cuisine. Restaurants need a steady streem of regulars, and with 167 seats this place will need a lot of them. The problem with Kutsher's is that it feels like a gimmick that people will try once, and not feel compelled to try again. The Theater District would probably have been a perfect place for it. I am not sure if it works in Tribeca.

 

The restaurant doesn't feel quite as obnoxious as most Chodorow productions. Potato latkes topped with caviar are so utterly ridiculous that only Chodorow could have thought of them. But the day-to-day operation is in the hands of Zach Kutsher, who seems like an earnest, sincere fellow, who really believes in what he is doing. The question is whether the public will come along for the ride.

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I believe I was at Grossingers their last fall in operation (family reunion.) I have no memories of destination food, but loved the idea of being there. This was 1983. (WIKI says they closed their doors in '86.)

 

My Dad grew up in Monticello. Worked at the gas station and as a soda jerk. At 92, his mind does ramble into days gone by. One thing he has asked is if is possible to go eat at a Jewish run hotel so he can have food like his Mom made. In Seattle? Not even close. We have some deli food available, but that's not what he is after. I wish I knew if anything would suffice. If we were in NY, I'd take him here, at least once.

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Sammy's.

 

I've been (and loved the experience). I can't imagine that is what Dad has in mind. I'm thinking fresh baked chicken and homemade bread, but we've made that (and do it well) so I just don't know.

 

Or maybe that wasn't in response to me.

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I would be very interested in a comparison between the food here and the dinner-menu food at Mile End. Is there anyone who's eaten at both?

 

PS -- You've just never had good Gefilte fish. Buy some at Citerella sometime. You'll thank me.

 

we have some sort of antiquated grinding apparatus with which to process carp for fresh gefilte fish. i'm not convinced that this "sashimi grade halibut" stuff is any better than real homemade gefilte fish. in fact, i would be willing to bet that it sucks in comparison.

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Sammy's.

 

I've been (and loved the experience). I can't imagine that is what Dad has in mind. I'm thinking fresh baked chicken and homemade bread, but we've made that (and do it well) so I just don't know.

 

Or maybe that wasn't in response to me.

 

It was -- but I was joking.

 

I'm SURE that's not what your dad has in mind.

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I would be very interested in a comparison between the food here and the dinner-menu food at Mile End. Is there anyone who's eaten at both?

 

PS -- You've just never had good Gefilte fish. Buy some at Citerella sometime. You'll thank me.

 

we have some sort of antiquated grinding apparatus with which to process carp for fresh gefilte fish. i'm not convinced that this "sashimi grade halibut" stuff is any better than real homemade gefilte fish. in fact, i would be willing to bet that it sucks in comparison.

 

To be clear, Citerella doesn't use sushi-grade carp or anything. It's more like what my grandmother used to make, with that hand grinder.

 

I was just speculating that maybe Oakapple has only had (gasp) (I hope I'm not insulting him) Gefilte fish from a jar.

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I would be very interested in a comparison between the food here and the dinner-menu food at Mile End. Is there anyone who's eaten at both?

 

PS -- You've just never had good Gefilte fish. Buy some at Citerella sometime. You'll thank me.

 

we have some sort of antiquated grinding apparatus with which to process carp for fresh gefilte fish. i'm not convinced that this "sashimi grade halibut" stuff is any better than real homemade gefilte fish. in fact, i would be willing to bet that it sucks in comparison.

 

To be clear, Citerella doesn't use sushi-grade carp or anything. It's more like what my grandmother used to make, with that hand grinder.

 

I was just speculating that maybe Oakapple has only had (gasp) (I hope I'm not insulting him) Gefilte fish from a jar.

 

last year i had gefilte fish from a can --let me tell you that was an experience

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I'm not convinced that this "sashimi grade halibut" stuff is any better than real homemade gefilte fish. In fact, i would be willing to bet that it sucks in comparison.

It stands to reason that, after you adjust for all other variables, a dish prepared with better ingredients will be superior to one prepared with lesser ingredients. It is, of course, possible that Spangenthal is such a terrible chef that, even with better ingredients, he makes a worse dish. But you would only know that by actually trying it.

 

The NYM piece I linked to on the blog provides some evidence that gefilte fish does not have the best reputation, even if, like anything, there are comparatively good and bad versions of it. It exists to make something edible out of what would otherwise be a relatively uninteresting fish. There are certain dishes that simply don't make sense if you have the best ingredients, unless you are trying to pay homage, as they are doing here.

 

I was just speculating that maybe Oakapple has only had (gasp) (I hope I'm not insulting him) Gefilte fish from a jar.

The last time I had it, yes, it came out of a jar. But it was just about the worst food of any kind that I had ever had out of a can or jar. I mean, SpaghettiO's aren't as good as fresh spaghetti, but they aren't as terrible as this stuff was.

 

I've had a lot of gefilte fish over the years, and though I cannot say for sure, I don't think all of it always came from a jar. I never loved the stuff, though I have certainly had better than what came out of the jar.

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I'm not convinced that this "sashimi grade halibut" stuff is any better than real homemade gefilte fish. In fact, i would be willing to bet that it sucks in comparison.

It stands to reason that, after you adjust for all other variables, a dish prepared with better ingredients will be superior to one prepared with lesser ingredients. It is, of course, possible that Spangenthal is such a terrible chef that, even with better ingredients, he makes a worse dish. But you would only know that by actually trying it.

 

The NYM piece I linked to on the blog provides some evidence that gefilte fish does not have the best reputation, even if, like anything, there are comparatively good and bad versions of it. It exists to make something edible out of what would otherwise be a relatively uninteresting fish. There are certain dishes that simply don't make sense if you have the best ingredients, unless you are trying to pay homage, as they are doing here.

 

 

I think this analysis is totally off. 1) A dish prepared with better ingredients is not the same dish, if the original dish's essential character derives from its lesser ingredients. 2) "better" is a very broad descriptor and could apply to the taste or to the entire experience of the dish. will gefilte fish out of sashimi grade halibut taste better? maybe. carp is not a bad tasting fish by any means. i like carp. maybe better than halibut. i don't like halibut that much. will the experience of gefilte fish made out of halibut be better? no. it will not be an experience of gefilte fish at all. it will be an experience of some messed up fancy forcemeat.

 

it's like comparing chicken liver paste that we get from a kosher deli and spread on tam tams to foie gras on brioche. neither tastes 'better' or 'worse' compared to each other--you can't compare cross-categories like that.

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Kutsher's serves a dish recognizable as gefilte fish, with a very similar taste. It was no falsehood to call it gefilte fish. Whether you prefer it to the gefilte fish of your childhood is a whole other question.

 

Burgers are a good analogy. Traditionally, they were made with "off-cuts" of meat that really weren't suitable for steaks. Nowadays you see burgers with prime short loin, kobe beef, and so forth. Despite the differences, they are recognizably burgers. Whether you prefer them to the old fashioned kind is a whole other question, but it's no lie to put them on the menu by that name.

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Kutsher's serves a dish recognizable as gefilte fish, with a very similar taste. It was no falsehood to call it gefilte fish. Whether you prefer it to the gefilte fish of your childhood is a whole other question.

 

Burgers are a good analogy. Traditionally, they were made with "off-cuts" of meat that really weren't suitable for steaks. Nowadays you see burgers with prime short loin, kobe beef, and so forth. Despite the differences, they are recognizably burgers. Whether you prefer them to the old fashioned kind is a whole other question, but it's no lie to put them on the menu by that name.

 

oh no I'm certainly not saying it's a lie to call it gefilte fish or to call it a burger, but it's unfair and inaccurate to compare them even w/in their named categories, because despite their shared name they're really not the same thing.

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I think it's a different thing to make a burger with a higher grade of beef than to make Gefilte fish with a different kind of fish. It would be more analogous if the Gefilte fish were made with higher grades of carp and pike. Making Gefilte fish out of halibut is more like making a turkey burger than it is like making a Blue Ribbon Burger.

 

(And I'm not saying it's fraudulent or even wrong or anything, either. Just trying to be precise.)

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