Eatery Row is an occasional series here at Dandelion Chandelier assessing the best restaurants for a romantic night out, an important business lunch, cocktails with friends, or a luxurious holiday meal. We only recommend establishments that we’ve personally road-tested and enjoyed. We’ll let you know if a hot place actually lives up to the hype, and whether a classic is still maintaining its high standards. Because an essential element of luxury is knowing that you’re in really good hands.
Hanukkah is just around the corner, and if you’re like us here at Dandelion Chandelier that means you may be looking for some great fine dining options (sure, you could cook at home every night, but sometimes it’s just more fun to hit the town for a lovely restaurant experience – stunning presentations, excellent food, and no dishes to wash – what’s not to love?) The holiday kicks off this year on December 12, which means fun things to do across the city to celebrate through December 20. We’ve shared ideas on how to make Hanukkah luxurious – there are plenty of activities for all ages every day in New York City, from the Kickoff Concert for the Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah in Prospect Park, to restaurants serving traditional food and lighting the menorah each night. So, if you’re looking to mix in some fun activities and fine dining between family gatherings and dinners at home lighting the menorah, here are some of our expert Food Editor’s top picks.
On December 12, there will be celebrations in both Manhattan and Brooklyn as rivals in the competition for the World’s Largest Menorah are lit. If you have kids in tow, our pick is the celebration in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza. There will be a kick-off concert on the first night which begins at 5:30p, with the Menorah being lit at 6:30p. Each night, there will be live music and hot latkes, plus special gifts for children.
If you prefer a more grown-up version of the menorah lighting, we suggest attending the lighting in Manhattan which takes place on the southeast corner of Central Park, just across from the Plaza Hotel. The 32-foot tall Menorah is lit each night around 5:30p (with exceptions on Friday and Saturday nights). After the celebration, head over to the Champagne Bar at the Plaza Hotel to warm up and toast the holiday season!
Want to celebrate with the kids, but don’t have time to leave Manhattan? The Plaza Hotel is hosting Hanukkah Celebrations at Eloise on December 12 and 20 from 4:00 to 5:00p. Children ages 2-8 are welcome to enjoy the celebration, where they’ll learn the history and traditions of Hanukkah, craft Hanukkah jewelry, and enjoy light refreshments. This fun activity wraps up just in time to watch the lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah both nights. ($50/person at the Plaza Hotel)
New York City is graced with many terrific places for traditional Jewish food, whether you’re in the mood for a quick breakfast, filling lunch, or fancy evening out. One of the oldest places in New York, and still one of the best, is Russ and Daughters on the Lower East side. They specialize in smoked herring and sturgeon, and have one of the largest appetizing counters in the city. If you have family visiting, stop by the shop and pick up some bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon to help them get their day off on the right foot. Or, better yet, take the family to the Jewish Museum (there will be a Hanukkah Family Day on Sunday, Dec 10; admission to the museum is free on Saturdays) to see the Modigliani exhibit or any of the other great exhibits happening this month, and grab lunch at the newly opened Russ and Daughters at the Jewish Museum. This new outpost hosts both an appetizing counter and a 60-seat restaurant with more composed dishes than you would find in either of the LES locations, and an added bonus is that everything on the menu at this location is Kosher.
When it comes to traditional Hanukkah food, latkes come to mind first. There are a number of restaurants cooking up latke creations, but if you want an opportunity to test out a variety of different preparations and toppings, the 9th Annual Latke Festival on December 18th at the Brooklyn Museum is your best bet. A panel of celebrity judges will decide which of the 20-something competing restaurants will walk away with the title of “Best Latke in NYC”. Tickets can be purchased on the website for $55 for general admission, or $120 for VIP.
Several good spots will be featuring Hanukkah menus this year. One of our favorites is Blue Ribbon on the Upper West Side. This year, like last year, Blue Ribbon will be serving latkes topped with creme fraiche and caviar. In addition to latkes, they will be serving braised brisket and matzo ball soup. Although it may not be typical Hanukkah fare, Blue Ribbon’s fried chicken is excellent, and fits with the holiday’s focus on food fried in olive oil in memory of the miracle of the oil (when a very small amount of oil miraculously lasted for 8 days during the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).
Speaking of frying, who doesn’t love a holiday that celebrates with donuts? Filled donuts, known as sufganiyah, are enjoyed with a simple red fruit filling. However, some bakeries have begun elevating the fillings to include dulce de leche, chocolate cream, and vanilla cream, along with toppings such as coconut shavings or meringue. There is no shortage of terrific donut shops in NYC, so it shouldn’t be hard to celebrate with a delicious donut, no matter your location. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Missy Robbins’ excellent Lilia Cafe serves delicious cream filled bomboloni. In Manhattan, check out the Donut Plant (multiple locations), Sullivan Street Bakery, or Underwest for some seriously delicious fried dough in donut form.
For a non-traditional take on the holiday, check out any one of the three Tolaoche locations in Manhattan to sample their Mexican Hanukkah menu. In the past, chef Julian Medina has featured dishes such as guacamole with house smoked white fish, a trio of latkes made with inventive ingredients like potato-jalapeno with horseradish crema or zucchini latkes with tomatillo apple salsa, as well as brisket tacos and sufganivot (traditional donuts) filled with dulce de lece. The official 2017 menu should be posted in early December on the Toloache website.
Sadelle’s serves a modern take Jewish favorites all year round, and Hanukkah is no different. The restaurant is owned by the team behind the recent reincarnation of the Four Seasons restaurant, turning that iconic space into two new restaurants (The Grill and The Pool). They created Sadelle’s to be an all-day dining destination, making it a great spot to refuel during a day of shopping in SoHo. The house-baked bagels are a perfect vessel for smoked fish, tomato, cucumbers, onions, and capers. And, as the day turns to night, Sadelle’s transforms into a brasserie lit only by candles. Diners can tuck into a bowl of matzo ball soup or go for their fried chicken with truffle honey and coleslaw.
Whether you’re in the West Village or SoHo, you’ll have access to a fabulous neighborhood Middle Eastern restaurant called Jack’s Wife Freda. Serving “South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine” (as coined by New York Magazine), this gem is full all day and for good reason. During Hanukkah, they’ll be serving a latke special, as well lighting the menorah each night. Go for the shakshuka and a coffee midday or the latke special and matzo ball soup followed by the ground lamb and eggplant lasagna in the evening, and you’ll be sustained for whatever the rest of your day or night has in store.
Last year, Nur, a wonderful new pan-Middle Eastern restaurant from Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani opened in the Flatiron district. Although they aren’t planning anything specifically for Hanukkah, the menu will not disappoint diners hunting for traditional flavors this season. Kick off the meal with the date donuts which are made from a sfenj batter, the Moroccan version of the sufganiyah dough, accompanied by smoked trout. The menu has dishes to please any guest, regardless of their mood. Starting with the Jerusalem sesame donut or the honey and garlic challah, following with baharat spiced lamb and finishing with any of the delicious desserts is a great way to celebrate the holiday season. It’s also worth noting that most dishes on the menu can be prepared Kosher.
And, if you find yourself in South Williamsburg, there is a truly wonderful Japanese-Jewish restaurant called Shalom Japan. Founded and run by husband and wife team Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi, the restaurant is an inventive and delicious expression of the chefs’ respective Jewish and Japanese roots. The chefs collaborative take on traditional dishes means that every bite delivers fun and welcome surprises from the traditional flavors you might expect. A standby on the menu is the Okonomiyaki, which is basically a savory Japanese pancake made from flour, eggs, and shredded cabbage, and then topped with meat and a variety of condiments (although when it’s fully topped, it’s really more of a Japanese pizza). For Hanukkah, chefs Israel and Okochi transform this dish into an “Okonomi-latke” with a base of potato, cabbage, and sprouts that are fried and then topped with creme fraiche and salmon roe. Start with the Okonomi-latke and the sake kasu challah, and then warm up with the Matzoh Ball Ramen and an order of the ricotta and spinach blintzes with black truffle and honey.
There you have: a plethora of options for an inventive and memorable holiday meal. From all of us here at Dandelion Chandelier, Hanukkah Sameach!