By Zachary Fagenson
By Bill Citara
By Laine Doss
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By Carina Ost
By Valeria Nekhim
By Hannah Sentenac
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As a food reviewer who does not keep kosher (I'm not Jewish), but who fields many requests for truly tasty kosher noshes from diners who do, I was excited early this year when new Kosher Gourmet opened with ads touting two things that run-of-the-mill kosher bakeries rarely have: prepared foods and artisan breads. Faxed store menus were even more encouraging; the list included not just the kind of caterer-type prepared food you'd serve for full sit-down dinners, but kosher finger food for casual get-togethers. And not just sweets, either, but fresh-baked snacks like roasted vegetable napoleons, empanadas, and chicken phyllo triangles.So my first impression of the place when I recently visited was, frankly, disappointment to find that absolutely none of the menu items that had intrigued me were there. Turns out that each day, several different full entrées plus sides (none necessarily corresponding to anything on the store menu) are available, but the savory snack foods are only made "for catering" despite their inclusion on the store menu. "But you can order them in advance, as few as half a dozen," a very nice server said.
I'm a spontaneous eater. I hate ordering in advance. I wanted a veggie strudel -- now. Fortunately, though, I thought the items Kosher Gourmet did have were superior to anything I've bought from a kosher bakery in years.
First off: Pastries, to the relief of religiously observant folks used to suffering sweets that look either spartan-plain or Greek diner-garish, are as elegant in appearance as those in an authentic French bakery. The tarts I tried tasted good, too, except for an inevitable toughness of crust (butter really is better, not to mention lard). A mini tarte tatin featured apples that were sliced elegantly thin yet retained a lovely fresh crunch, and the tart, though beautifully glazed, was neither too sweet nor sticky, as is often the case with glazed pastries. Something my two servers called a caramel tart for unknown reasons (there was no discernible caramel) was even more exquisite-looking: clouds of piped chocolate mousse that looked alarmingly light but tasted far fuller, contrasted with a glazed pear piece, a dab of fruit jelly, and generous shavings of dark chocolate. And a blessedly normal-sized chocolate chip cookie (anyone else over those humongous sawdusty cookies?) both looked and tasted comfortingly homemade.
The not-on-any-menu entrée items I tried in lieu of the snacks I'd wanted, small stuffed salmon roulades, were delicate, different, and quite good, though the grouper stuffing was decidedly more like gefilte fish than fish mousse (as the chef described) in texture and taste. The dish also would've been more pleasant moistened by the dill sauce that was supposed to accompany it but didn't. Also good were two vegetable sides, tomato Provençal (slices topped with tart, herbed breadcrumb stuffing) and nicely nongreasy grilled cauliflower flavored predominantly with tarragon.
But best were breads. Challah was unfortunately "N.A." (it's only made on Thursdays and Fridays). But as opposed to the insubstantial cottony-soft "French" breads one finds in most North/South American bakeries, and the leaden sinkers kosher bakeries typically carry, the country-style white and dark loaves (with or without raisins) and baguettes, with thick crunchy crusts and gratifyingly chewy insides, could give the breads in many bakeries in France a run for their money. At lunchtime a generous vegetable-garnished sandwich of chunky (though a tad celery-overloaded) chicken salad with home-made mayonnaise on a baguette is especially recommended; you can even eat it at two outdoor tables ... also not advertised on the store menu.