Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says: “boy, the food here is really terrible.” The other one says, “yeah, and such small portions.”—Woody Allen, from his 1977 epic masterpiece, Annie Hall
Abe Fisher is a Philadelphia Restaurant Serving High-End Interpretations of the Foods of Ashkenaz
“Abe Fisher is inspired by the journey of the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland to the Diaspora. Making their way across Europe through the Middle Ages, to Germany and Poland, France and Spain and beyond, Jews developed a cuisine that balanced local customs and ingredients with biblical laws and traditions.” Thus reads the online blurb of the restaurant, which is located on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. The establishment seeks to interpret and perhaps redefine the cuisines of Ashkenaz, that is, the Jewish diaspora of northeastern Europe; think places like Latvia and Poland.
First Course: Breads and Spreads
Dinner started out splendidly. The amuse-bouche was a savory rougalach stuffed with cream cheese and everything seasoning, and a little ramekin containing a few pickle slices, which were quite good. The “breads and spreads” course was delightful. Who doesn’t like schmaltz toast? (Besides a vegetarian). The “everything” challah was chewy and fluffy, and the chips were delicious (home made potato chips, yum). The borscht “tartare” with trout roe was weird but it tasted good, even though I don’t particularly like beets (it’s been a thing since I was a baby), and the dilled sour cream accouterment was nice (shout out to the waiter who was very accommodating of the fact that one of us was lactose-free). The chicken liver mousse was tasty, albeit the texture was a touch too silken. Jewish foods of Askenaz are known for being a bit grittier, but I’ll grant you poetic license.
Second Course: I Love Carbs ❤
The two things I looked forward to the most on the menu did not disappoint: the potato latke and the gnocchi. The latkes were crispy and hot, as they should be, and served with both sour cream and an apple sauce (this time it was strawberry apple). This is often done poorly. Thank you for getting it right. The gnocchi was a culinary masterpiece: the sunchokes made an excellent backdrop to the brown butter garlic and gnocchi, with the delectable addition of fresh peas and fava beans (my favorite).
Main Course: Hungarian Duck “Chinatown Style”
The Hungarian Duck was brazenly recommended by the waiter, and it only came with the price fixe option. We decided to go for it. This dish was a miss. I don’t know how a jewish exploration of the cuisines of the diaspora ended up as a bizarre hodge podge of random Asian dishes, but quite frankly, I’ll take actual Peking Duck from chinatown (might I recommend Joy Tsin Lau?) over your “Hungarian Duck” (there was nothing Hungarian about it) any day. The pretzel steamed buns were meh. the duck skin was not crispy enough and the meat was chewy, not tender. The mess of fried rice it was served on top of would constitute good hangover food, and the spicy cole slaw was a poor imitation of Kim Chi. I was missing the sliced scallion, which is an essential component of Peking Duck, which you were otherwise not quite interpreting, but rather copying poorly. Again I ask: what does any of this have to do with the Jews of Eastern Europe? The only thing that comes to mind is the fact that American Jews have a penchant for going out for Chinese food on Christmas Day. Christmas Day This Was Not.
Dessert: Not a Sweet Experience
What happened next took me by surprise.
Dessert came (that wasn’t the surprising part). It was served in a glass and had a maple custard on the bottom with a chocolate float on top (with you so far). It had a weird middle layer consisting of ground up oreos and bacon. You got that? Oreos and bacon. Forget for a moment the fact that putting Oreos in a dessert is something befitting an Applebee’s or TGIF, you put BACON in my dessert, Abe Fisher, after taking me on a “journey” through the “Jewish diaspora.” Mind you, there was not a single mention of bacon anywhere on the menu, it didn’t make it into any of your other dishes, yet somehow it ended up in my dessert, without warning.
I meant what I said when the overwhelmed waiter came to check on us: this dessert was downright offensive. Not only did it taste awful, it was so thematically off-color, so indicative of a chef’s poor creative judgment, that it might as well have been spit on by the chef before arriving at my table.
The meal came to $180, tip included (for two people). As I was paying the establishment that put swine in my egg-cream, I couldn’t help but ponder the irony: 180 is a really good number in Judaism.
Congratulations, Abe Fisher, you did, after all, give us the quintessential Jewish dining experience: so much to complain about.