I have a present for you! Today, Jeff will be our guest columnist. Yes, the Jeff that often appears here as the good-natured, unwitting guinea pig of my culinary exploits, as the never-tiring dining companion, as the always energetic eating adventurer, and, most importantly for our tiny kitchen, as the ever-wonderful washer of dishes. Thanks, Jeff! --Mei
There are times when living in New York City does not seem worth it, when the hassles and annoyances are simply too much. Good examples include waiting in a line at Trader Joe's that stretches 3/4 of the way around the store, fighting your way past the crush of humanity just to get orange juice at Fairway, and the smell of half-burnt food cart pretzels blanketing an already overcrowded intersection.
However, these moments are more than outweighed by the times when I taste something that makes my mouth inadvertently form a smile, where I lose my ability to converse and can only concentrate on the food. These occurrences are more frequent on a stretch of Houston Street, on the Lower East Side, where several Jewish eateries hang on despite the proliferation of slicker establishments and chic, modern hotels. One of my favorites, along with Yonah Schimmel's Knishes and Katz's deli, is Russ and Daughters, a small shop that specializes in smoked fish and small delicacies. The store is tiny, with a counter on either side, one selling candies and pastries, which spells troubled ordering because I get constantly distracted by things I would like to eat; the other half sells smoked fish, and it's here where I order my Super Heeb sandwich.
This completely politically incorrectly named sandwich consists of a bagel (I prefer poppy) with a thin layer of horseradish cream cheese, a generous portion of whitefish salad and a sprinkling of wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe. The result is slightly creamy, salty, and has the distinctive taste of smoked fish, a fresh, cool, slightly briny taste that is unexpectedly flavorful. There is nowhere to sit and eat at Russ and Daughters, so Mei and plunged out into the near freezing weather and I bit into the sandwich with relish. The first half was delicious, even on such a cold day. I decided to hang on to the second half, not being super hungry after having already eaten a knish. As we walked around, I thought maybe the sandwich wasn't so good, that it was something that was great at the time but was too rich to eat more than a little of. But, worried it would go bad, I ate the second half at home. It was better than earlier (turns out having feeling in your fingers allows you to pay more attention to flavor) and has cemented its place as one of my favorite things in NYC to eat. So if you're in New York, head over to Russ and Daughters and enjoy one for yourself.
Russ and Daughters
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002