As a child growing up in Syria, Albert Allaham remembers hearing his father and grandfather wake up at dawn to head to the meat market. His family owned a popular butcher shop in Damascus, and every morning they’d choose the highest quality of meat to bring back to their kosher butcher shop.
Allaham, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing in a 200-year line of kosher butchers. His newest venture is Reserve Cut, a kosher steakhouse which opened this month in the heart of New York City’s Financial District and brings upscale cuisine to kosher-keepers who live and work in the area. The restaurant’s meat is sourced from the family butcher shop, Prime Cut, which Allaham opened in 2004 after his family fled Syria for the United States. (Allaham’s cousin Joey, who moved to New York from Syria in 1993, operates upscale kosher staples like Prime Grill and Prime at the Bentley)
Sitting inside a private room adjacent to the restaurant’s 300-seat dining room, Allaham looks a bit young to be running a restaurant, but the 27-year-old confidently states he’s well aware of how the business works.
“My family would go out to eat a few times a week after we moved to America, and every time we’d come home astonished that we couldn’t find a decent place to eat a steak,” he said. “This restaurant will bring you the finest meat there is on the market, and customers won’t think they are eating something inferior just because it’s kosher.”
Currently, less than two percent of beef sold in the U.S. is labeled as USDA Prime. Reserve Cut’s menu offers more than 10 different types of prime steak from the family’s butcher shop, boasted Allaham, whose last name just happens to mean “butcher” in Arabic, The meat is aged onsite in the restaurant’s aging room.
A step away from Wall Street, Reserve Cut is the only upscale kosher restaurant in the area. Situated on the second floor of the Setai Hotel, there’s a sleek and Asian-inspired feel to the restaurant’s decor, which the diners last Tuesday evening seemed to enjoy. The space has six rooms, two of which are private dining rooms, and the pensive ambiance is combated by blaring tunes from Jay-Z and Rihanna.
The restaurant has an impressively-stocked bar—it’s located in the capital of finance, after all—with televisions in a few of the rooms showing the football games. A hallway connecting the two enormous dining rooms features a serene candlelit water fountain surrounded by glass refrigerators serving as walls and wine cellars. The wine menu holds a selection of 69 different bottles from Israel, Australia, and Italy, and all wine is mevushal, keeping toes in line for the OU’s kosher certification.
The menu offers a wide selection of sushi—the “Volcano roll” was easily the best sushi I’ve ever eaten—steak, and entrees, including the favorite Syrian sausage dish, Lamb Marguez, a nod to Allaham’s childhood. The most popular item on the menu is the Reserve Cut steak, a cut from the top shelf of the rib with a uniquely tender texture. Other popular items include the glazed veal sweetbreads, wagyu agnus ribs, and a kosher adaption of the filet mignon. (Allaham said a lot of customers request their steak cooked well done, but he tells restaurant staff to gently recommend they try the high-quality steaks at medium rare.)
There’s an extensive playing field of upscale kosher restaurants in New York, with popular kosher steakhouses like Mike’s Bistro and Prime Grill serving as competition for Reserve Cut’s new vision. Allaham said he hopes the quality of meat he serves will be a main factor in drawing crowds.
“It’s pretty rare to have such a wide variety of quality kosher meat,” a Jewish banker dining seats away from me eagerly explained. “I’m usually eating at Prime Grill a few times a week but this is around the corner from my office, and the food has been killing it.”
Since Reserve Cut opened October 15, they’ve seen a steady flow of bankers, family dinners, and blind dates, one waiter told me. They’ll be open for lunch later next month, and Allaham hopes to eventually be open for Shabbat dinner.
Chavie Lieber has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, the Times of Israel, and more. Follow her on twitter @chavielieber.