A great article appeared today in the New York Post about restaurants spinning classic deli fare in delicious new ways. It’s written by a friend named Kiri Tannenbaum, who is a food writer and scholar, and also a serious deli researcher who is working on a project similar to mine.
Skip ahead a century, add sophisticated palates, a taste for nostalgia and superstar chefs, and you’ll discover modern appropriations in the most unlikely of places.
WD-50 chef Wylie Dufrense, known for his progressive cuisine, reinvents beef tongue and applies traditional brining methods to his corned duck breast cooked sous-vide, served with a side of crispy thin rye, purple mustard and horseradish cream.
Executive chef Patricia Yeo cures a hankering for Yonah Shimmel’s knishes with her dressed-up variation of mashed Yukon golds and crème fraiche, fried in a spring-roll wrapper, finished with a dollop of American paddlefish caviar which landed on Sapa’s menu when Yeo headed the kitchen. As the chef diaspora continues, Yeo’s mini knishes followed her to the Monkey Bar.
In the article, Tannenbaum mentions, among other places, Amazing 66, a new Chinese restaurant I discovered last November, shortly after they opened on Mott (#66), just south of Canal St. It’s owner, a delightfully vibrant and hillarious woman named Helen Ng is a bold risk taker. The result: the ultimate Jewish dream. Amazing 66 features dishes like corned beef and Chinese greens and pastrami fried rice (made with pastrami created by the Chinese chef). Finally, Jews have somewhere to go where all their culinary cravings can be fulfilled.
Another deli fusion I encountered in New York takes a prominent place on the menu at the swank L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, the sleek entry into the Big Apple by the famous French chef. On his menu, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Robuchon featured a dish called “New York Pastrami” (no longer available), which was in fact cold, lean corned beef, mixed along with Alsacian potato salad and shaved curls of foie gras. It was delicate, sensual, and stupendous, and undoubtedly the finest interpretation of deli I’d ever seen. Supposedly Robuchon got the idea from a Jewish friend of his in Paris, and incorporated foods found traditionally in Alsacian-Jewish cooking.
For deli fans this doesn’t change too much. It’s unlikely Ben’s or The Bagel will be adding foie gras or Chinese broccoli to their menus anytime soon. But it shows that deli foods, long dismissed as a basic and crude slice of culinary life, are garnering serious respect in some of the finest kitchens of the land. If Joel Robuchon is a deli fan, perhaps there’s something in the mustard that makes for great cooks.
*also, it was noted to me by Kiri that the editors f**ked up some facts. It is Barney Greengrass who is celebrating 100 years and Katz’s with 120