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Nov 23, 2007 08:15 AM

Russ & Daughters vs. Murray's: the great nova and sturgeon shoot-out

For the last couple decades our family has stocked up on nova and sturgeon from Murray's Sturgeon Shop on the UWS in advance of holidays like Thanksgiving, when close to 20 lox lovers gather for the long weekend.

This year I thought it was time to challenge Murray's supremacy and have a good old fashioned Thanksgiving smoked fish shootout. So we sent my dad to Murray's to pick up a typical order of Eastern Smoked Salmon (we find the lox too salty) and sturgeon, and I went to Russ & Daughters to pick up a smaller order of their Gaspe Nova, Wild Western Nova and sturgeon to compare.

The results? On the nova front Russ & Daughters won by nearly unanimous decision. The Russ & Daughters nova was decidedly less fishy with a smoother, more balanced flavor than Murray's.

The one dissenter preferred Murray's fishier flavor ("It <i>is</i> smoked fish, you know."). But everyone else liked the Russ & Daughters selections better. Between the two Russ & Daughters options, opinions were more split. Some preferred the milder flavor of the Gaspe, while others liked the slightly saltier, more richly flavored Wild Western. Overall, I'd say the Wild Western edged out the Gaspe by a few votes.

With the sturgeon opinions were less clear. Although the two were decidedly different, my family members had a harder time picking a favorite. The consensus (with which I agreed) seemed to be that the Russ & Daughters sturgeon had a more complex, dare I say better, initial flavor. But the Murray's sturgeon left a more pleasant, almost buttery, aftertaste, which some preferred.

So which store wins? I'm going to have to hand the title to Russ & Daughters based on the overwhelming preference for their nova. But it's essentially a tie for sturgeon. And the bottom line is that you can't go wrong with either. Even those who clearly preferred Russ & Daughters nova were more than happy to load up their bagels with Murray's after tasting the Russ & Daughters (since we had more Murray's on hand).

Next year we may have to toss Sable's Smoked Fish shop into the mix, as my friends on the UES swear by it.

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  1. Hate to tell you but as far as sturgeon goes Barney Greengrass is the King.

    2 Replies
    1. re: guttergourmet

      I've been to Barney Greengrass for brunch. Definitely a fun place and I thought the bagel and nova were good, but I didn't try the sturgeon. Is it really better or are you just referring to their slogan ("the sturgeon king")?

      1. re: themicah

        I was aware that was their slogan but it is justly deserved. While I love all varieties of smoked salmon (I give the nod to R&D too), I am first and foremost a sturgeon lover (preferably on a lightly toasted buttered bagel with a chocolate milk chaser). Should not taste at all fishy, should be white (not grey), large lake sturgeon with streaks of yellow fat running through it. When its good it's been described as silky or velvety. Slice thin. The rest of the city carrys Acme sturgeon which is hit or miss. Don't know where Greengrass gets his but it is too die for and worth the $48/lb. Sturgeon is in a class by itself. Sable is often referred to as "poor man's sturgeon". Sturgeon is the stuff of Russian czars.

    2. Russ&Daughters rules.

      My friends who grew up on the UWS have their sentimental attachments to Murray's, Zabar's, etc -- but their opinions are fogged by their fond childhood memories...R&D rules...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Simon

        i grew up eating zabar's. i know i had r&d at least once when i was a young child, but don't remember it. i've never had murray's.

        hence, my loyalty obviously lies with zabar's. their nova, while a bit oily, has flavor to die for. and the sable is positively sublime.

        i actually have to agree with guttergourmet that barney greengrass also does fantastic smoked fish. and surprisingly enough, my review is based on my experiences at the los angeles [beverly hills] location...of course, they fly the fish in from the new york store so it's the same product. somehow, though, i get the feeling it would taste even better back home in nyc :)

      2. Also grew up on all of these and there clearly is no right or wrong, better or worse among the several you list. Purely a matter of taste, mood and possibly sentiment and sense recollection. Smoked fish is, at this caliber, still one of the very few foods that taste as good as they have all through my life. I never preferred Russ & D. over the others, and have no affection for the gestalt of shopping there, but it's still very good. Don't think a vote matters, you should try them all.

        1. I've never had Murray's, but I grew up on the LES eating Russ and Daughters appetizing, and it remains my "go to" spot. However, I recently had the opportunity to sample a variety of smoked fish (nova, white fish, kippered salmon and sable) at the home of a friend who lives on the UES, and your friends know whereof they speak. Everything was superb, definitely on a par with Russ.

          1. My family sticks with the gaspe and the scottish salmon - we are HUGE R&D fans. However, we've had many dissappointments with the stureon of late and now only buy it when Josh recommends it. But between the smoked salmon and the baked salmon, we are forever R&D lovers.