Thursday, June 12, 2014

Diasporic Dining XXXVI: Artisanal Deli?

“Artisanal gefilte fish. Slow-fermented bagels. Organic chopped liver. Sustainable schmaltz.” This is how Julia Moskin begins her recent Times piece about a new generation of Jewish food that footnotes the old deli favorites of the past (“Everything New Is Old Again,” NYT, 5/27/14). The problem is that Moskin has unwittingly presented a succession of oxymorons. Sustainable schmaltz? True lovers of schmaltz would rather be dead which is of course what they will be if they eat too much schmaltz--  one of the greatest artery cloggers invented by man. Kutsher’s, which is featured in the article, uses a name to create an association. Started by Zach Kutsher one of the scions of the famous hotel family, the restaurant is what we might call synecdochic deli, to the extent that it substitutes a part for the whole and ultimately provides little of the iconic deli experience. The old adage if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck applies here. Kutsher’s doesn’t look or feel like a deli. The rarified portions and gentrified versions of Jewish favorites served in the Tribeca restaurant are a far cry from classic Jewish rite of passage, in which ravenous customers pounce on steaming platters brought by pundit producing waiters. "Ou sont les neighed d’antan?” asked Francois Villon. Where are the overstuffed sandwiches of yesteryear which allow the food to fly in your dinner companion's face? What is a deli but a place where people talk with food in their mouths? You might as well create a restaurant which serves deli minceur. Of course the real problem is that the old delis where farts perfume the air and you can be reassured that what you are eating can really kill you are themselves dying, maybe not of schmaltz but simply like the Philip Seymour Hoffman character in Synecdoche, New York—of life. Yes there’s still the Second Avenue Deli, the Lido Kosher Deli in Long Beach and the Mill Basin Kosher Deli in Brooklyn, but their followings of traveling retirees are mostly likely finding their schmaltz in China.

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