Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sturgeon King New York City Entry #45

Among my earliest culinary memories are the dinners that my parents - grandparents, great-aunts and uncles really - brought me to at Steinberg’s Dairy Restaurant on the Upper West Side (Broadway and 83rd?). All those meals distant memories. Ratner’s lasted longer a little longer, so I could take my children, but that too is a memory. Following Kosher laws, these restaurants did not serve meat. I can remember eating cutlets of nutmeats. I thought of it as a peanut butter steak.

The Upper West Side - where Jews once met literature - is now unrecognizable with literary agents fleeing from red-state Kansas a large segment of the population. Unrecognizable, except for its politics still so progressively zany as to be perverse. It could be worse.

With the exception of Zabars, now more like “Fauchon with yelling” than Russ and Daughters, only Barney Greengrass remains (NOT Greenglass of the Rosenberg trial). Reaching the century mark in 2008, Greengrass is - other than Russ and Daughters, which lacks tables - the place for lox, sturgeon, and whitefish - and borscht. (Mention should also be made of Murray's, also on the Upper West Side, and, although I haven't been, estimable).

I recently visited for lunch, and it was a memory trip. I started with a cup of borscht - matzo ball soup’s evil twin. Borscht at Barney has the color of strawberry Quik, a watery Pepto-Bismol, but its taste is all beet and cream. This is not a chowder, but a cool, smooth liquor.

The sturgeon and eggs is breakfast at lunch. Sturgeon is a smoked whitefish, more meaty and fishy than lox, and made for scrambled eggs. This was followed with lox - both belly lox (obsessively salty) and the more canonical Eastern smoked salmon (goy lox). Either could serve as a smoked fish totem. The Greengrass bagel is a good New York bagel as is the cream cheese, but both are Manhattan average.

Many New Yorkers will select Dr. Brown Cel-Ray Soda (celery on ice) as sturgeon’s tonic. Whatever comes and more often goes, Barney Greengrass prepares for its second century and we with them.

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue (86th Street)
Manhattan (Upper West Side)

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