This past weekend, I did something that few Sabbath observant Jews ever do: I went to a restaurant on Shabbat. Specifically, I made a reservation for “Saturday Brunch” at the Russ & Daughters kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s Jewish Museum at 1109 5th Avenue.
With all monetary transactions handled in advance and a pre-set menu, the meal sidesteps any Sabbath restrictions. It’s a novel concept for New York. The last time I’d partaken in something similar was in Budapest, where the local Carmel Restaurant offers both Shabbat dinner and lunch, a necessity in a community with few kosher options and only a small observant Jewish population.
But at $50 per person, and in a city overflowing with Jews and kosher food, is the Russ & Daughters experience worth it? The answer is unreservedly yes.
Thanks to the requirement that diners register in advance, the restaurant was not packed when my companion and I arrived, unlike on typical, more chaotic weekdays. Though we showed up early, we were promptly seated, and service was excellent throughout.
The meal began with the requisite grape juice and wine for kiddush, coupled with challah and a generous bread basket filled with bagels and rye. For the appetizer, there were delicious deviled eggs topped with salmon roe, alongside orange juice, salad, and a portion of everything-spiced matzo. Then came the main course, which featured some of Russ & Daughters’ specialties and enough servings for a party twice our size. First, there were four types of fish—smoked salmon, pastrami-cured salmon, sable, and creamed herring. These were accompanied by chive and regular cream cheese, a container of pickled vegetables, a large portion of vegetarian chopped liver, and even a giant bowl of borscht for my vegetarian companion. (The restaurant is happy to accommodate such dietary preferences if notified with the reservation.) There was so much food provided, we had to pack up almost half of it to leave room for dessert.
And we were glad we did. The final platter featured nearly all of the restaurant’s dessert offerings, including two pieces of rich honey cake, two slices of babka, a fruit cup, and a black-and-white cookie. The standout, however, was the halva ice cream glazed with caramel. Faced with the somewhat exotic concoction, my partner and I were initially skeptical, but found it to be exceptional.
All in all, the lunch proved to be a low-stress, delightful, and delicious alternative to preparing one’s own Shabbat meal. And given that we took home multiple meals’ worth of leftovers, it more than justified the sticker price. If the Shabbat model proves economically viable, it would behoove other kosher establishments beyond the Upper West Side’s Talia’s Steakhouse (which offers Friday night dinner) to look into it. I know I’ll definitely be back—and not just on Shabbat.