August 6, 2012 | BITE: My Journal

Sexy Kosher: Jezebel Tries, It Really Tries. (CLOSED)


Jezebel’s $38 kosher cornish hen, it ought to look gorgeous.
Jezebel’s $38 kosher Cornish hen. It ought to look gorgeous.


          Jezebel. It’s a bar. It’s a lounge. It’s got Victorian love seats in the dining room and Jewish-Italian wedding soup blessed by star chef Bradford Thompson. And it’s kosher, so the cluster of beauteous African-American gazelles at the welcome stand takes me by surprise.  Was I expecting maybe Zero Mostel? 


          Heads swivel when a dark 7’ tall beauty, in about 24 inches of strapless lame mini barely making it around her backside, escorts newcomers to their table. Equally mesmerizing in a short fitted jacket is the handsome rogue jetee-ing to our table, inquiring if we’re pleased yet. 


Chicken meatballs are moored in this Jewish-Italian wedding soup.


          “Hey, what goes?” I ask my companions, a trio of internet-age food professionals. “What do all these beautiful black people have to do with kosher?”


          “It’s all about ‘aren’t we cool’,” says James, one of my companions, ordering a Negroni, to discover Campari is not kosher (as he reports in Zagat).


Tables without cloths in the current fashion show off legs and water spots.


          I am faking cool myself ordering an $18 Singapore Sling. The bar master taking our order agrees that leaving out the Cherry Herring will make it a tangier drink. It’s tall and sleek too, tart indeed, and I can feel the alcohol in no time.  And $18 is almost a bargain compared to the $20 Bulldog Martini.


          Speak British, think Yiddish. And you get Jezebel.  It seems a couple of guys from finance — Henry Stimler and Menachem Senderowicz of B&Y Hospitality (British & Yiddish) — created this supper club in an 1887 townhouse across from the Soho Grand Hotel to prove that kosher could be sexy.


We know Paul Newman was Jewish but Elizabeth Taylor only seemed Jewish.


          Behind the heavy exterior door and faux fur curtain is a lounge and bar with its own menu. The grand ram’s horn chandelier is meant to be a playful Jewish reference in the StudiosGo design, a press release notes, pointing out vitrines of family heirlooms. We’ve climbed the red carpeted staircase to a 100-seat dining room framed in dark chocolate wood, centered by another bar in black leather with white onyx panels. Floating on the opposite wall are paintings of movie scenes, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” for one. Servers dress in stylish chiaroscuro, black on white or white on black.


What this tartare needs is a wakeup call. Not that it’s bad, just listless.


          A little bit Victorian bawdy house, a little bit Munsters spooky, Jezebel suggests it might be fun as well as sexy. If only Chef Thompson – who earned his credentials at Mary Elaine’s in Phoenix – were as agile in his first attempt to cook kosher as he was channeling Jamaican food at Miss Lilly’s on West Houston Street.


          Alas, at this early dinner, he’s still finding his way. A carrot-chickpea puree is served with caramelized onion-topped rolls. The bread is stale. And I can’t taste anything but a stultification of carrot. As for double-digit appetizers up to $20, whatever makes the dish “Almost Classic Tartare” must be crucial to a lively beef crudo. I smear this mix on a kosher potato chip and find it timid.


Packed into these monster bones are squiggles of not very sensuous marrow.


          Marrow’s usual voluptuousness is lost in the strange preparation piled into what look like dinosaur bones. The lamb stuffing of clutzy agnolotti has the texture of tweed. The mixed marriage wedding soup is not that bad, so why do I think divorce is likely? I bite into a chicken meatball expecting the softness of a matzoh ball. And get…chicken meatball.


What do I want in an orange-glazed duck breast with confit of leg to be worth $48?


          But Thompson is not gentrifying Jewish classics.  He is tweaking upscale restaurant dishes to make them kosher. You may gasp at a $38 Cornish game hen or your $48 orange-glazed duck. Know that besides all that onyx, there’s extra overhead to employ the mashgiach, a certified full-time supervisor in the kitchen making sure everything is strictly kosher.


Tonight’s arctic char decked out with pea shoots on a pea ragout is a fine dish.


          Carefully cooked Arctic char sits on a pea ragout flavored with almond vichyssoise. The duck breast is chewy; perhaps if it were rarer… The Cornish hen looks sexy piled high, with its olive bread salad, crisp-slicked, but to my taste, overcooked. Smoked tomato aioli is not enough to make up for what the lamb burger needs - a melting crown of feta or, gasp, sacrilege, bacon.   


Jezebel’s lamb burger, stroked with smoked tomato aioli, comes on a ciabatta roll.


          “For religious young people, this will be wonderful,” my personal assistant Lauren Bloomberg assures me. “There are no kosher places like Jezebel. It’s clubby and hot. They like to dress up. And kosher food in restaurants is never very good anyway.” 


Dark chocolate caramel tart gets a lift from candied orange and sea salt.


          I might have floated out the door on the angel food bundt cake with anise strawberries and lime curd, or the warm olive oil cake with stone fruit and lavender ice cream, but given the choice, we’re sharing dark chocolate caramel tart with candied orange and sea salt – a little bit muddy, but dark night delicious.


323 West Broadway between Canal and Grand Streets. 646 410 0717. Dinner Thursday 5:30 to 114.5 Closed Friday. Saturday only serving in the lounge. Sunday dinner 5:30 to 11 pm.




The Purple Fig Struggles


I'm sad to say the”soft” duck egg isn’t runny and the blood sausage is like sand.


          I noticed an ambitious new restaurant braving the tackiness and indifference of 72nd Street west of Broadway in the long narrow step-down pub made famous by the 1973 murder of Roseann Quinn that inspired Judith Rossner’s novel, “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.”


A side of Caesar for $5.95 is fine but again, the “soft” egg isn’t quite soft.


          Early buzz for the Purple Fig had reported small portions and greedy pricing, so I didn’t rush to check it out. But the press release said a Michelin-starred chef from Ireland was cooking and I live just around the corner.  So I’m here. The long drawn-out bar in the front room is deserted.  It’s 7:30 and only one other table is occupied. Cocktail prices have been slashed, I notice. After a clack of online complaints, the $13 smoked peach cocktail I’d read about has been replaced by the $9 bittersweet I’ve ordered.


The goose liver mousse is rich and creamy swabbed on buttery brioche.


          Perhaps this tony enterprise is cursed. Not even two Michelin stars by the age of 27 could save Chef Conrad Gallagher’s feeding empire in Ireland, nor subsequent efforts in the United Kingdom and Cape Town, from creditors. Five cookbooks and television celebrity climaxed with bankruptcy, even an arrest and extradition from New York for stealing art works (he was later acquitted). Now 42, he’s juggling projects in Las Vegas and Ireland, along with this pricey little bistro decked out in purple with dark wood paneling, looking rather like a vintage tearoom.


          It’s not a stellar night at Purple Fig. The bartender takes forever to deliver our drinks.  The promised olives are missing in my cocktail, but that’s okay. I don’t understand olives in a spritzer anyway. With exaggerated dash and ceremony, a waiter snags a tiny crumble of bread from a large basket and delivers one nubbin to each of us.  The bread is so pitiful, we can’t help giggling. “But the butter is good,” my friend observes, trying to fan a wisp of hope into actual flames.


          We hail another waiter to take our order. He looks nervous, as if he’s just been launched into space with no oxygen. Could he explain what’s on the goose liver parfait? He ducks back into the kitchen for the answer. Now we’ve waited so long for appetizers, we’re driven to ask if we’re allowed more bread.  I could actually use those olives now.


          At last. Food. I tear off a piece of buttery toasted brioche to smear with that rich goose liver mousse, not sure why it needs both fig marmalade and apricot compote nor where the menu’s promised spinach salad went. And I agree with my friend who is congratulating himself for ordering it. It’s good.


          But my starter is a disaster. When it says “soft egg,” I expect it to erupt. Ejaculate. The deep-fried soft duck egg served with polenta lies there emotionless, perhaps embarrassed, as the chef should be, by gritty blood pudding with the texture of sand. And the yolk of the soft hen’s egg on the baby Caesar isn’t running anywhere either, though the $5.95 side makes a generous portion of decent salad.


It’s the price and service that offends, not the scallops with celeriac mousseline.


          Five modest-size scallops with a small plop of celery root mousseline and a smidgen of celeriac remoulade (roumalade, the menu spells it) seem meager for $36.95. A side of peas with favas and morels comes in a demitasse cup, one small morel chopped into five easy pieces.


The scent of truffle is elusive in these truffle fries.


          There’s no hint of truffle in the truffle aioli of the French fries nor any that I can discern in the truffle-crushed potatoes on my friend’s pan-roasted swordfish. But the fish is fresh, and a single asparagus instead of the advertised leeks is not grounds for a lawsuit.  I have visions of a hapless cook digging into the back of the cold box, improvising.


The side of peas with one morel is only $5.95 but still — a demitasse cup?


          The waiter is not happy at all as he confesses the kitchen is out of the mango and cilantro cheesecake and poached figs in red wine.  Out of figs at the Purple Fig on a Tuesday in fig season? (There’s a grocery across the street, for goodness sake, and Fairway a block away).


Strawberry puree and a berry or two top vanilla panna cotta with yogurt.


          Now the waiter returns looking even more sheepish to announce the credit card connection is down and we must pay cash.  Cash? It’s a mutiny. We insist we don’t have cash and he takes our cards after all with phone numbers…just in case. 


          And yes, that was The Three Stooges on television at the bar as we left.


250 West 72nd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue  212 712 9822 Dinner 5 to 10 pm seven days. Brunch Saturday and Sunday noon and 2 pm.


Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.