Kutsher’s Twist on Borscht Belt Favorites

 

Finally, someone has reinterpreted our favorites and created Jewish food with a twist.

I heard Alan Wilzig and Zach Kutsher in conversation at the 92STY/Tribeca in January. They were chatting about the legendary Kutsher’s Country Club in the  Catskills, the namesake and inspiration for the recently opened restaurant, Kutsher’s Tribeca.

These business partners summoned up images from a different era, one where vacationers ate heaping piles of whatever tasted great, without any concerns about fat, chemicals or origin of ingredients. And it was unlimited.

Ah, the good old days!

There were close to 50 senior citizens in the room, all listening intently and grinning knowingly as these boyhood friends reminisced about their summers “in the mountains”.

The great, great grandson of the founders of original Kutsher’s Brothers Farm House, (1907), Kutsher enjoyed telling what it was like to grow up a quarter of a mile from the resort and sit at the “family table” while his grandparents greeted everyone and managed everything.

“Guests” enjoyed long days recreating on the 1500 acre property in Monticello, NY, which included every imaginable outdoor and indoor activity plus a sports camp, golf course and fully equipped lake front . Kutsher’s was the last of the grand resorts from the heyday of this era spanning  from 1920-the late 1960’s.

Today, Zach Kutsher welcomes guests to his restaurant that pays homage to that era.  He greets diners, peering over their tables, showing concern for their experience, like his grandparents did when they presided over up to 1200 diners at any given meal at the resort.

At Kutsher’s Tribeca, Executive Chef, Mark Spagenthal, has done away with fatty, bland and colorless foods that some associate with their immigrant grandparents.

He has completely transformed the old European Jewish dishes that graced the tables at Kutsher’s Hotel in its heyday.

Still, the references are all there: kreplach, kasha varnishkas, pickled herring, potato latkes and much more.

The reinvented classics are mostly modern and reflective of our times, with a focus on local and organic ingredients when possible (micro greens in an airy pile atop newly conceived gefilte fish of poached wild halibut), and spare, artistic plating.

My dining companions were keeping Kosher Like Me for the eve and allowed me to order. We stuck mostly with first course choices and added two entrees, eager to continue exploring these reinvented dishes.

Gefilte Fish was recognizable and upgraded. The chef uses wild, poached halibut and composes a modern plate with micro greens and bright parsley vinaigrette.

I yearned for more distinction in flavor though, perhaps an herb or some clean fish flavors would have accented the upgrade that went beyond the cheap karp originally used by our grandmothers.  The fresh horseradish (beet tartare in modern speak)  added the requisite sharpness as counterpoint.

Pickled Herring Two Ways brought me back to my childhood. One half of the split plate presented herring bathed in sour cream with pickled onions. The other half brought the dish forward and sharper with wasabi and yuzu. Herring isn’t for everyone but I love it and was glad to see it offered here.

Of the salads, we opted for Borscht Salad, a clever reference to the aforementioned Borscht Belt and the once favored (by our grandparents) magenta root veggie. Marinated, tangy goat cheese accompanied simply prepared beets and fingerling potatoes on a bed of greens with a colorful dressing of macerated beet vinaigrette.

Latkes are another familiar side dish and are offered under “Noshes for the Table”. This reference to “ordering for the table” was mentioned by Zach Kutsher in his midday talk I attended. When hotel guests wanted to take advantage of the “all you can eat” policy, they often ordered extra dishes “for the table”, in order to not appear glutinous.

Here, “Crispy Potato Latkes” are just the right size, offering up a surface to be topped with “local apple compote” or “sour cream with 3 caviars”. Beautifully browned and crisp, the latkes are fun to share and summon up memories of family dining.

All around us, platters of “Friday Night Roast Chicken”, “The Works”, a loaded delicatessen platter, and “Mrs. K’s matzo ball soup” were being served. These dishes were  not in the cards for me, since this Kutsher’s (unlike the resort)  is not kosher.

Interestingly enough, the restaurant pays homage to the original kosher dining room by not serving pork or shellfish.

For entrees we ordered the “Wild Mushroom and Fresh Ricotta Kreplach”, another twist on the meat and onion filled dumplings we often ate floating in chicken soup for holidays. These were ravioli like and rich, with walnut pesto, olive oil shmaltz (a reference to chicken fat) and sharp sheep’s milk cheese.

I was anticipating more exciting flavors in the “Falafel Custed Salmon”, a great idea touching upon our Israeli connection and served with harissa and red pepper relish alongside cooling yogurt (raita?) infused with cucumbers and dill.  If the crust were spicier and needed the cooling, I would have liked it better.

We finished with tea and a plate of assorted cookies, including ruggelach, apricot jam filled hamentaschen, and chocolate dipped macaroons. We were stuffed but just needed “ a little something”.

Other traditional desserts with inventive twists included Rainbow Cookie Hot Fudge Sundae and Chocolate Babke Bread Pudding with pear brandy caramel sauce.

Not to be overlooked is the cleverly appointed interior with plenty of  broad swaths of honed wood hearkening back to the wooded landscape of the resort. Groovy lighting from the 60’s is part of the fun and heightens the nostalgic vibe.

All in all, Kutsher’s Tribeca is well worth a visit. With the first three entrees on the menu being fish or veg, and plenty of starters and side dishes to choose from, eaters who are veg or Kosher Like Me can manage easily and happily here.

By the way, I suggested to the chef that he consider making a rich veg broth so that others who are Kosher Like Me might have something to float those gorgeous matzah balls in.  If anyone finds this on the menu, let me know.

all photos: Evan Sung


13 Comments

  1. I am a foodie and a photographer and I loved reading this blog. The pictures are gorgeous(there is an art in of itself to food photography)
    The diverse and organic menu is very appealing and based on this wonderful blog , on my next trip back East I will try this restaurant, and better yet I will suggest it to our many members who travel back to New York for the city culinary adventures.

  2. Liz — you and I MUST go here. I will hop into the city for lunch with you if you wish to do that also. I have been reading about this guy and this restaurant and dearly want to go. Your blog entry is wonderful and the photos are fabulous. My husband’s family stayed at Kutscher’s every summer when he was at sleepaway camp.

    Call me if you want to go here again sometime.

  3. Thank you for this review! I used to live in Tribeca where the restaurant is located and rolled my eyes when a friend mentioned its opening. I mean, who wants to eat food like that–the heavy kind I spent my adulthood trying to update or avoid? But this restaurant’s fresh take on the traditional accompanied by your gorgeous photos (a real feast for the eyes!) make me want to try!

    • Everything is so clever here, from the interior to the names of the cocktails, and certainly the twists on the traditional dishes. Try it and let me know!

    • So glad I am helping you to build your “go to” list! Feel free to post comments when you eat at any of the places you read about here.

  4. I’m not sure what brand of ‘kosher’ you are keeping, but for anyone who actually keeps the laws of Kashrut, this restaurant would not be on the approved list. Its very nice that you stuck to the more ‘vegetarian’ choices, but that is not considered kosher in any sense of the word. All of your choices have been cooked in the same kitchen, in the same pots and pans and using the same utensils as the obviously ‘non Kosher’ choices. While they may not use pork or shellfish, the commandment to not eat milk and meat together is a more stringent Kashrut law than that, and surely milk and meat products are not being kept separately, and may possibly even have been in some of those ‘vegetarian appetizers’ that you have tried. They do offer the choice of adding emmenthaler to burgers and other meat dishes. Obviously, the meat and poultry are not being killed according to Kosher slaughtering laws. Of course, they are not billing themselves as a Kosher restaurant, but you have tried to elevate them as a viable option for people who are Kosher Like You. There are so many actual Kosher restaurants in the city that are working hard to serve actual Kosher dishes in many different price points and many different ethnic cuisines and it behooves you to encourage Kosher Like You people to explore those options. Nostalgia is great. I spent many summers in the Catskills and they did have their charm but the laws of Kashrut are absolute and timeless and can be followed no matter where you live. I would love to review some actual Kosher restaurants for you if you don’t feel the need to try them yourself.

    • Thanks for your comments. While I LOVE eating in certified kosher restaurants and feel very lucky to have access to them because of my locale, my intention HERE is to make recommendations to diners who honor the rules of kashrut by eating fish and vegetarian dishes when they are away from their kosher kitchens. MANY Conservative Jews eat this way while fully understanding that they are not actually keeping the laws of kashrut. Hopefully, my ABOUT and FAQ’s will help to clarify my intention. Fantastic kosher magazines, blogs and apps exist to review the kosher spots and are are a valuable resource for those who are more strictly kosher than I am. Feel free to e-mail me if you would like to discuss other things.

  5. Pingback: Let’s Talk Gefilte | Kosher Like Me

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