Chametz-Free NYC, Day 1: Eating Well in New York During Passover


[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

For 356 days of the year I'm a pretty lax Jew. The pork-and-cheeseburger kind. The "damn it, I missed Purim again!" kind. Sometimes I wonder if I call myself Jewish just so I can keep dropping Yiddish turns of phrase.

But come Yom Kippur I fast. And during Passover it's matzo all the way. For a food-loving Jew, especially one committed to his carbs the way his parents taught him, keeping kosher for Passover is a commitment that's hard to ignore, and a challenge I've come to look forward to.

Working at Serious Eats has made that commitment...interesting, what with the daily sandwiches and cookies and [wheaty] soy sauce-laden Chinese food all around our office. But I suspect I'm not alone in feeling at a loss sometimes for how to eat well and chametz-free in New York.

So for the next eight days I'll be doing quick dispatches on eating out during Passover without shaming your ancestors. Because this is New York, and citywide pizza and bagel fixations notwithstanding, there's no reason to not eat well here while keeping kosher for Passover. Why start today? To give you some time to get your dining plans in order.

The Ground Rules

To keep things interesting I'm going to use a pretty strict definition of kosher for Passover. That means no chametz whatsoever: no grains or foods with grains in them (hence no soy sauce). And since I hail from people in frozen Polish villages who thought that banishing all grains for a week wasn't hard enough, I'll be keeping clear of kitniyot, too: no corn, rice, or legumes.

What this doesn't mean: I'm not keeping kosher. You'll see plenty of pork and cheeseburger mentions over the next few days. And I'm not requiring a restaurant to say it's doing kosher for Passover cooking. If a speck of flour from a nearby pan falls into my soup, I'll live.

But most importantly: I want to be fed well. I only want to eat matzo because I feel like eating matzo, not because there's nothing else to eat. So with that out of the way, let's get started.

Day One: Veggie Up

Mixed Mezze Platter

Mixed mezze plate at Sip Sak. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

This may be an obvious beginning, but when I can't eat bread, corn, beans, or rice, I hit vegetables hard and fast. I'm talking about velvety, meaty eggplant and rich braised greens. I mean going to restaurants that treat vegetables like meat, places where you can dig into something substantial without giving bread a second thought. You want hearty vegetables, not just salads or a tangle of greens.

That's how I feel about, say, the carrot, beet, and eggplant salads at Taim, or the Turkish eggplant, artichokes, and leeks at Sip Sak. Or the very vegetarian-friendly spread at Bedouin Tent.

Verdure at Otto

Vegetables at Otto. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Passover gives me good excuse to belly up to the bar at Otto for some of their $5 vegetable sides. Three of them—always the rabe plus whatever looks good—and a glass of wine is enough for me to call dinner. The same goes for more cozy Italian spots like Va Beh' or more upscale spots like L'Apicio. When you have good contorni you don't need much else.

So come Day One of Passover I'll be eating my fair share of eggplant with yogurt sauce. Now how about you? Where do you go for veggies so good you don't need the bread?

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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