MAY 25, 2014 – Most New Yorkers love grabbing a bite at Russ & Daughters. Not everyone is a fan of the counter experience necessarily, but you can’t question the quality. Now that same commitment to ingredients is on full display in their cafe equivalent on Orchard, and it’s awesome.
We walked on over and put our names down for brunch on a Saturday. 45 minutes later a text arrived, and we made a beeline for the door to get our brunch on. Here’s how that went down…
I have to say right off the bat that I love how this place is designed. It feels a bit like going back in time, but the little modern touches are excellent, specifically the menu. I liked it so much I made it the title picture for the review. The choices are a bit overwhelming, but only because you get the distinct feeling you’re missing out no matter what you order. We began with a couple drinks, including the excellent bloody mary with caraway-vodka and pickles and a ‘lower east side’ (very fresh gin drink with lime, cucumber and dill). Both hit the spot.
When scanning the menu, the smoked whitefish chowder jumped out at me, as if by divine intervention. I say this because the chowder was heavenly. Crumbling up the matzo into the creamy (but not overly so) soup and getting nice chunks of whitefish with each bite was very rewarding and an exceptional way to start brunch.
Next up we sampled the pickled herring trio, a selection of three bites each on pumpernickel with various treatments on top: onion, mustard and dill and apple. Each had good balance, with our favorites being the onion and mustard versions. As someone who doesn’t adore pickled herring on its own, I think this dish works rather nicely as a taster.
Continuing our fish frenzy, we ordered the smoked trout and potato salad with watercress and a caper-mustard dressing. In contrast to most potato salads, this was a very clean, savory version with a good balance of acid, salt and brininess. It’s the kind of thing you wish someone in your family would bring to a potluck.
We finished brunch with a yum kippered sandwich board, complete with lightly toasted bagel, tomatoes, onion, capers, cream cheese and a piece of baked salmon. This is a twist on the R&D standard, but to be honest, I missed the smoked salmon and probably would stick to the tried and true classic version of this in future. Don’t get me wrong, this all makes for a delicious sandwich, but the baked salmon got lost for me and I found my sense memory wishing for its colder, fleshier smoked cousin.
I really do like this place and am so glad the family decided to branch out in this direction. Brunch in this city is an institution, and it was almost sad that R&D couldn’t be enjoyed this way previously. I’ll certainly be returning to taste more of this great menu, and would encourage you to brave the wait while it’s short so that you too can enjoy this unique LES gem.
Best Bite(s): Smoked Whitefish Chowder!, Pickled Herring with Onion, Bloody Mary with Caraway-Vodka (I know, it’s a sip more than a bite), and despite not even ordering it, the Classic Sandwich Board