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French Fries

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What is it with kosher restaurants and french fries? Go to a sushi place and you'll find 'em on the menu. Bagels? Have a french fry. Eating in a salad restaurant--yup: french fries. Feel like vegetarian? Maybe you'll get some "organic" ketchup with your french fries. And forget about pasta without french fries. Don't get me wrong: I love my greasy, fried carbs as much as the next guy, but not with every meal. Why is it that so many kosher restaurants are repositories of mediocrity?

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  1. Replace french fries with sushi and you have an even better question.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DeisCane

      I keep thinking I've fallen down some sort of gustatory rabbit hole. I'm quite sure that kosher food in a restaurant can be delicious, healthy, and (dare I say it) imaginative and of high quality. I just haven't really seen too much of it, at least not in this country. Curiouser and curiouser...

      1. re: DeisCane

        SomeonesMom, I wonder if you have considered that in any given neighborhood - even in Manhattan - there may be only one kosher place.

        Recently, I found myself dining in the same kosher restaurant every day for about a week. I chatted briefly with a business traveler who was also there daily. After that we pretty much just nodded. It's not like there was a range of kosher places to choose from. I ordered a special and got a range of interesting and wonderful dishes. By my second visit, the waiter was bringing me off-menu items being prepared for the restaurant's catering arm. I had a wonderful week, food-wise. He ordered chicken schnitzel and chips (he was a Brit) every day. He was very trim, must work out. But he obviously wasn't a foodie. Just a guy who has to travel a lot and wants to eat something at the end of a long day that's kosher, familiar and reliable.

        Kosher places - even the ones with tablecloths very good chefs which this place had - make it their business to cater to that.

      2. sorry to break it to you but 1/2 the upper echelon restaurants in treif serve fries. & another 1/4 of the ones that don't have a bag in the freezer for nudnicks. why does Jean George have a burger?.......were trying to please people. 90 percent of americans think fries are the ideal accoutrement for any protein.....that's the world you live in. id love to serve only small plates of vegetablecentric cuisine & sustainable fish with very little meat, sadly based on my 9 days turnout that store wouldn't last long. if you've ever watched a 6 top with a reservation get up & walk out because shloimey cant find food that's simple enough for his yeshiva trained palate, & had to take the $400 hit on a table you reserved & now cant re book. than youll know why we all serve fries. sushi, now that's another story.

        18 Replies
        1. re: Moishefrompardes

          I just need to say that on about my tenth dinner at Pardes I shocked and embarrassed my dinner companions by ordering the fries. You have got to try the fries at Pardes. These are the ultimate, perfect, heavenly fries.

          I love that restaurant.

          SomeonesMom, if you truly "haven't really seen" fabulous kosher food, get thee to Pardes. 40 minutes on the 2 or 3 from 72nd Street.

          1. re: Moishefrompardes

            I actually eat in both kosher and treif restaurants and I'm pretty sure that I haven't seen fries in half the restaurants I've been to--but I understand your point. My point was more about the disconnect--I can't wrap my brain around sushi and fries. Or sushi and pizza, or bagels, for that matter. What I'm really wondering is why kosher restaurants--even the higher quality ones--don't put out food that's as adventurous, interesting, or (yes) delicious.

            P.S. - Jean Georges doesn't serve a burger, but Nougatine does. There's nothing wrong with a burger OR fries. Sometimes.

            1. re: SomeonesMom

              The non-kosher American restauarant scene is dominated by Applebys, IHop and similar "repositories of mediocrity" This is not news.

              The news in recent year is the rise of a kosher dining scene that supports "adventurous, interesting, or (yes) delicious" high quality restaurants.

              May I ask where you have been eating? Because you seem to be in Manhattan and it is possible that you have been missing kosher places you would really enjoy.

              or, next time you want a kosher place that serves "adventurous, interesting, or (yes) delicious" food, post on this board with your neighborhood and other parameters and let knowledgable people steer you to a really wonderufl kosher meal.

              1. re: SomeonesMom

                because we would be empty.

                1. re: Moishefrompardes

                  @Moishefrompardes -I'm really sad to hear that. So why bother?
                  @AdinaA - I'm not sure where you're getting your information. Of course there are chain restaurants, and that's not what I'm talking about. (For the record, I have never been to an Applebys or an iHop, and see no reason to ever go. Not only that, I personally don't know anyone who does go to those places or their ilk. Cheap, good treif food is not hard to find. Anywhere.) As for where I have been eating: NJ, NY, Brooklyn, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Rome... I haven't really been geographically limited. I've been reading this board for a long time, and I've seen the suggestions from "knowledgeable people," and I'll still say what I said in my original post--the choices for adventurous and interesting kosher food are, by and large, pretty limited.
                  But now I think I understand why.

                  1. re: SomeonesMom

                    that's a good question, in all honesty if I had to do it again I wouldn't.

                    1. re: SomeonesMom

                      I meant, what kosher places have you tried? really good kosher places are a small part of a small kosher scene. They do exist.

                      What I meant to say is that I am not certain that good Kosher places occur as a lower percentage of all kosher places, than in the general restaurant world. You seemed to assert that kosher places are disproportionately "repositories of mediocrity". And at a time when truly wonderful kosher chefs are working in several cities in Europe, Israel, the U.S., and beyond - that assertion just seemed unfair, and probably ill-informed.

                      Moreover, given the vast landscapes of Taco Bell and Burger Kings i drive past, I don't know that it's true that kosher dining is - on average - worse than the general level of what America eats out.

                      What is true is that in lots of places - neighborhoods or cities - that can only support one kosher restaurant, it may well be mediocre. When things don't have to compete, they get mediocre.

                      Please treat yourself to a dinner cooked by Moishe, and tell us what you thought of it.

                      1. re: AdinaA

                        where is the like button?

                        really well put

                  2. re: SomeonesMom

                    I was raised vegetarian, I appreciate meat, but think Americans are way too obsessed with protein based meals, but if I cooked the way I like too eat i seriously doubt the customers would support it. when i opened i offered 7 fish dishes, now i offer 2 (all this has occurred while my store became "acclaimed") i used to offer way more vegetable options, but i learned that without some sort of meat element on them, no ones going to buy my precious fava leaves, fiddleheads& ramps. just wont happen.

                    1. re: Moishefrompardes

                      I have unfortunately never been to Pardes, so I can't comment on the typical visitor, but there is a sizable chunk of us who "eat milchig out" that really look forward to the meat we can finally eat when going to a fleishig place.

                      So while I am generally not a big meat eater--2-3 times a week--I become quite an aggressive carnivore on the rare occasions when I make it to Le Marais, Prime Grill, etc.

                      1. re: DeisCane

                        I, too, like DeisCane, relish the meat I eat out, though not for the same reason. I don't "eat milchig out," which I take to mean: eat at places with less-accepted hashgachot. I generally don't even go to milchig places with highly accepted hashgachot, because I don't like cheese at all, which seems to be in practically every dish at most milchig places. Additionally, a lot of the things one gets at a milchig place, I can make myself. I don't need to pay $15 for a plate of pasta, especially one that's not significantly better than what I can make myself.

                        As for fleishigs, I am never an "aggressive carnivore," but I see eating out as a way to try the kinds of meat I can't make myself. There's no way I would even attempt the types of meats Chef Moshe makes at Pardes. (I am remiss in that I haven't reported here (yet) about the wonderful meal I had at Pardes a week and a half ago. It was the first time I was there with more than just my husband (we took his mother out), so we got to try even more dishes. Among the three of us, with our own choices, an amuse-bouche, and what was comped, we had 15 different dishes served. Not a loser in the bunch, though there were certainly ones I loved, and others I liked less.) Never in my life would I consider trying to make lamb shoulder or veal shoulder myself, for example, but both were amazing. I look at going out as a way to get these things.

                        In truth, my husband is not a big meat lover, and if it weren't for the fact that we share everything we order at Pardes, he'd probably want to order more of the veggie dishes and appetizers. I'm the one who usually wants the meat dishes, again because of what I said above. Maybe we'll try during the Nine Days if they are going to do the special menu again this year.

                        I'm also so sorry to hear Chef Moshe say he wouldn't do it over again, given the choice. I would hate to see Pardes close, and I talk up the place all the time (even knowing it could make being able to get a reservation there harder), but not everyone in the kosher world is ready for such a change. There are, alas, all those Shloimys, who aren't willing to take a chance. I guess we'll just have to try to come more often to support the place!

                      2. re: Moishefrompardes

                        I agree that we are obsessed with protein--not just animal protein either; dairy too. I just gave up chicken for the last time (veal & beef went decades ago & lamb never happened). I would buy your fava leaves, fiddleheads, & ramps any day.
                        When should I get there? :-)

                        1. re: Moishefrompardes

                          That's a huge shame. When we tried the tasting menu there (which I know you no longer have), we really enjoyed the fish dishes as the beginning. And in some ways, the highlight of the meal was the course that was three different vegetable type dishes, including what I believe was called the "Russian Roulette" (my wife and I both got the hot peppers). It also included a sorbet (wheatgrass, maybe?) that was heavenly.

                          I'm not sure I would order a totally vegetable-based dish as my sole dish, but it made the perfect interlude between the fish and the meat. And good fish is one of the true pleasures at a good restaurant; I rarely order it out, though, because I find that so few kosher restaurants do it well. My favorite meal from the last time we went to Israel, by far, was the fresh fish at Dag al haDan, and we could use some more places in the US that do it well.

                          1. re: masteraleph

                            Chef Moishe, I personally wish you would offer to "compose" a menu for me. Perhaps not as ambitious as the tasting menus you used to do. But I would appreciate the opportunity to come and have you decide what you want to serve.

                            1. re: masteraleph

                              this reply is for everyone. its not chowhounders(for the most part) for the most part that make me say that. running a restaurant in nyc is darn near impossible, & not very profitable. add that to the near constant criticism, & well you know, its a bit much, I didn't mean it personally.

                              1. re: Moishefrompardes

                                Yes. I, we, all the regulars on this board do know that.

                            2. re: Moishefrompardes

                              Moishe, I have great respect for your operation and love your food. My wife and daughters could live as vegetarians (OvoLacto). I OTOH had a fleishig homne when a young single adult. I drink coffee black, don't care for dairy, don't eat smoked fish.
                              That said: My 16 and 25 year old daughters expect French Fries or mashed potatoes to be available with a cooked meal (non-sandwich). Pasta is also acceptable. I consider potatoes to be my last choice of starch, preferring rice, barley and other grains. But as I have stated before i was in the kosher restaurant and catering business more than 35 years ago and in order to survive, you have to have available what the cranky family member wants. I always had to keep bags of Kinneret Latkes (Triangular hash browns) in the freezer because kids demanded it. Mom and dad might be having Prime Rib or Coq au Vin, but I had to be able to rustle up a fast order of chicken tenders or hot dog or hamburger and fries or latkes for the youngster or risk a walk out or never to return customer.
                              About a year or two ago there was a thread on this board about the prevalence of fries at kosher pizza joints. Having watched my sisters' kids eat fries and pizza, I asked her about this. The answer: kids want things out they don't get at home. Frozen fries heated in the home oven are a far cry from restaurant fries out of the fryolator, and I'm not going to grease up my home kitchen deep frying potatoes. 55 years ago my mother would deep fry at home: potatoes, fish, veal chops, etc. so the hand cut fries at the kosher deli were no different from what we got at home, no big attraction. Today, it's a different story.
                              I have a 150K Clive Christian Kitchen. my wife would have a fit if I deep fried and got grease on the hand painted cabinetry. I do my deep frying outdoors, or in the backup upstairs kitchen. Commercial kitchens are workplaces, many home kitchens are showplaces. It's reminds me of plastic slipcovers on the living room sofa at bubbe's house.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                Like bagelman said- give the people what they want. French fries are loved by everyone, prepared fresh a home by few. And they're cheap.

                        2. Maybe because kids love them and may not "appreciate" the sophisticated items on the menu. You will always bring a smile to a child's face by placing a plate of fries in front of them and keep them busy while the adults enjoy their meal.