Russ & Daughters at The Jewish Museum – Upper East Side, Manhattan – September 11, 2016
Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Mr. Horn’s (That’s what I called him because when people called their house when I was little they would ask for, “Mr. Horn.”) house on a Sunday morning. Bagels, lox, cream cheese, blintzes, and seltzer. Visiting Russ & Daughters at The Jewish Museum brought me back to those happy times eating Jewish food with my family at my maternal grandparents’ house.
My husband and I visited The Jewish Museum to see a specific exhibit that closes on September 18. But, to be honest, I was more excited to dine at Russ & Daughters. (All prices on the menu include gratuity. So, while it is pricey, this is something to keep in mind. Also, this is a popular venue. We waited 45 minutes for a table, so we visited the museum’s gift shop during part of that time.)
“Russ & Daughters is one of the last remaining appetizing shops left in New York City, or anywhere in the country, for that matter… ‘Appetizing,’ as a noun, is a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers…Used as a noun, ‘appetizing’ is most easily understood as ‘the foods one eats with bagels.’ Its primary components are a variety of smoked and cured salmon, homemade salads, and cream cheeses.” (http://www.russanddaughters.com/whatisappetizing.php,2016)
The restaurant in The Jewish Museum is one of two restaurants opened by Russ & Daughters that are separate from the original Lower East Side store.
I started with a chocolate egg cream. This is a drink made with seltzer, whole milk, and Fox’s U-Bet® chocolate syrup. There are no eggs in it, contrary to the drink’s name. It was like drinking a fizzy chocolate milkshake, but it was not as thick.
We split a bowl of the smoked whitefish chowder. The creamy chowder was topped with dill, aleppo pepper, and crumbled matzah (unleavened bread). It was filled with chopped potato, carrot, and celery which were cooked just enough to be tender but still have slight crunch to them. The smoked whitefish was tender and smoky, and my husband found some bones in the fish. The matzah was salted, and it was served on the side and sprinkled on top. I really enjoyed this soup’s mix of flavors (smoky, spicy, salty) and textures (creamy, crispy, crunchy, and smooth).
For our entrees, we shared a Shtetl (pronounced shteht-uhl, Yiddish word meaning, “small towns with large Jewish populations, which existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtetl,2016) and a Pastrami Russ.
The Shtetl came with five slices of smoked sable, goat cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, capers, dill, and a choice of bread (we chose an everything bagel). The sable was smoky, buttery, and rich. The goat cream cheese had more tang to it than cream cheese made from cow’s milk. The bagel was toasted and crisp, and it had the flavors of salt, onion, garlic, poppy, and sesame (from all of its toppings). This dish took some traditional flavors and put a slight twist on them. Quite enjoyable!
The Pastrami Russ is made with pastrami-cured salmon (“…cured in brine, coated with a mix of spices such as garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed, and then smoked. Finally, the meat is steamed until the connective tissues within the meat break down into gelatin.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastrami,2016)), muenster cheese, pickle, sauerkraut (we asked for no sauerkraut), and mustard on a pretzel roll. It came with a halved sour pickle and a small green salad. The sandwich really evoked the flavors of a pastrami sandwich. The mustard was incredible! Slightly spicy, pungent, and tangy. It complemented the smoky salmon beautifully. The mixed greens were dressed in a light vinaigrette. The sour pickle tasted like it had been pulled right out of the wooden pickle barrel just moments prior to it being served.
Finally, to cap off this great meal we split an order of blintzes (pronounced blihn-tzehs). “Blintzes are a type of blini (light, thin pancake). They are thin, usually wheat-flour pancakes folded to form a casing (as for cheese or fruit) and then sautéed or baked. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blini,2016) The sautéed farmer cheese (pressed cottage cheese) filled blintzes were sprinkled with powdered sugar and came with sides of sour cream and blueberry compote. The slightly crisp and chewy outside was filled with tangy, grainy farmer cheese. The tangy sour cream and the sweet and tart compote were the perfect toppings. Grandma Lillian used to make phenomenal blintzes from scratch, and these were very close to hers.
I really loved this meal that brought me back to my childhood as well as to the flavors of my culture. It definitely was a comforting meal with classic flavors and new twists.
Accessibility Rating for Russ & Daughters at The Jewish Museum
I used my wheelchair to visit Russ & Daughters at The Jewish Museum.
- Entryway – 5: There is an accessible entrance to the museum just to the right of the main entrance on East 92nd Street. There are elevators down to the basement level (where Russ & Daughters is). The floor is level, smooth, and seamless. There are stairs in the museum in addition to the two elevators.
- Bathroom (Men’s, basement level) – 3: The dimly lit accessible stall has two grab bars on either side of the toilet. (This format in the accessible stalls is the same in all of the Men’s rooms in the museum.) I was unable to make a 180° turn within the stall because it was narrow. I could only pull in forward and back out. I was unable to lock the stall door with my wheelchair in the stall. The sinks had automatic faucets at standard height. There is a longer sink that I was able to fit underneath.
- Walkways/Space – 3: The takeout area presented a number of challenges. While the refrigerated glass case is at eye level for most wheelchair users, there is only one small counter space that is low enough for wheelchair users to access. The rest of the counter is high. Furthermore, due to limited space the metal stanchions and wire rope are placed in a way that makes a narrow space that would not allow a wheelchair to pass.The restaurant itself has banquettes and moveable tables and chairs. The tables have central pedestals. I was able to fit underneath the table comfortably with my footrests raised up. The main aisle is wide, but other spaces in the restaurant are narrow and could be challenging for some users of mobility assistive devices to negotiate. The space is brightly lit, and it was noisy while we dined there due to a lot of talking.
Video Description: Interior of Russ & Daughters at The Jewish Museum September 11, 2016 in Two Segments – Segment 1: Showing Entrance to restaurant on right behind wooden host stand and takeout line at the silver metal counter with glass paneled refrigerated case on the left with stanchions and wire rope separating this line from restaurant entrance line. Segment 2 – Showing seating area of restaurant with central aisle. There are tables on either side of the aisle with people eating and talking at them as people walk up and down the aisle.
- Staff – 2: Within the restaurant, the staff moved a chair away from a table they selected for us so I could access the table.One problem I encountered a few times during my visit was that I repeatedly had to wait to use the accessible stall because male museum staff members who appeared to be able-bodied were using it. All of the other stalls were empty each time this happened, so they had chosen to use that stall specifically. Once they finished, they neither apologized nor excused themselves. I filed a written complaint before leaving the museum. The staff should be better educated that the accessible stalls have a purpose such that they should make every effort to choose a non-accessible stall over the accessible ones. This way, people like me, who require that stall, have access to it when we need it.
- Braille Menus: They do not have Braille menus.