There's an old Woody Allen joke that goes something like this, and I'm paraphrasing here:
Two people are dining together at a Catskill's hotel. One looks at the other and says, "The food is really lousy here." The other responds, "And such small portions."
Philosophically, I don't know whether that joke has anything to do with my post today, but let's just say the kosher restaurants piss me off - because 99.99% of them suck. Now, I'm not talking about places like Katz's or the 2nd Avenue Deli, both here in New York. Katz's doesn't even pretend to be kosher (because it's not) and 2nd Avenue is sorta kosher, because...oh, let's just say because they're allowed.
No, I'm talking about the REAL kosher restaurants, like the one down here in our lower east side neighborhood called Noah's Ark, and others scattered about this city and others. Real kosher (glatt kosher, if you will) usually means they're not open on from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday nor on any Jewish holidays, dairy and meat are never served in the same restaurant and, from about.com:
Answer: The technical definition of glatt kosher is meat from animals with smooth or defect-free lungs, but today the term glatt kosher is often used informally to imply that a product was processed under a stricter standard of kashrut.
Which isn't 100% correct, according to glatt.com - and oy, you get the picture. It's kinda like the kids you knew in high school or the girl you once dated who were "kosher," but not really - only at home, let's say. And then your friend ate a bacon cheeseburger out, on Passover, just to really break the rules. Or you took that "kosher" girl out on a date, and she was slurping down oysters with chorizo, and you knew she wasn't really kosher - and you breathed a sigh of relief.
But back to Washington, DC, where Significant Eater and I had a, shall we say, less than memorable quick bite at a REAL kosher place called Eli's, downtown on 20th Street. Playing it safe, I ordered a pastrami sandwich on marble rye, chicken soup with a matzoh ball, and SE had a chef's salad, which is basically greens, maybe a tomato, a bit of cuke, a hard-boiled egg (I particularly like the green ring around the yolk - a true hallmark of kosher cooking) and all the lousy meats you'd want, for some reason rolled up into a cylinder, like maybe you were gonna smoke it or pretend you're eating a California roll...apologies for the lousy cell-phone pix...
If you want to know how to screw up pastrami, Eli's might be a good place to start. Putting aside the actual sourcing of the pastrami, there is a NEED to slice pastrami correctly for the sandwich to be edible. Hint - that's against the grain as opposed to with it. But it wouldn't have mattered if Eli Zabar himself sliced this pastrami - it was lousy. And, they toasted my marble rye - a big no-no. The kicker was the potato salad - seen in the upper left hand corner below.
Those little dots on top of the potato salad? It took SE and me a while to figure out what they were. We decided that they were fake bacon bits, and they added just the right touch. They might be something different - who really knows?
Now, this problem of lousy REAL kosher food in restaurants is by no means restricted to Eli or Noah's Ark - trust me. I mean, have you ever walked out of a kosher restaurant and said to yourself, "man, I just can't wait to get back there?" No, you haven't - or you're lying. It's sad, because I can take a kosher chicken, or a kosher brisket, or a hundred different vegetables, grains, eggs or whatever and make a pretty darn good kosher meal. I just haven't found the kosher restaurant kitchen that can do any of the same. Not Eli's, and certainly not Noah.
And I'm open to suggestions for great kosher, in ANY city.