6:00 pm is a great time to start pounding herring and booze, and The Astor Center was the perfect venue—it would be tough to fit 350 people into the store.
If you are a Russ and Daughters regular, you know she's a master fish-slicer and has been a very charismatic counterwoman since 1991. I was at the store once when the management had a Klezmer band show up and play a raucous set on the street outside the store to surprise Alina on her birthday. Then Niki gave a little toast and choked up. Then I choked up. Then Alina sang in Yiddish for everyone!
On Tuesday night she served schmaltz herring fillets, the classic Jewish preparation that has been in the Russ and Daughters repertoire since the beginning. These are cured and salt-brined and were paired with sliced boiled new red potatoes, which barely mitigated the saltiness. Not that I'm complaining.
Booze: Reyka vodka from Iceland
Another traditional appetizing approach to herring
The pickled fillets are paired with pickled onions and cream sauced and served on sliced rye. This pickling spices and cream sauce both lend a touch of sweetness that balances the acid.
Booze: Dolin Vermouth de Chambery from France
General Manager Herman Vargas and Annie Hauck-Lawson
Serving the herring and cream. He started at the store when he was 18; she's a friend of the Russ family and co-editor of the book Gastropolis: Food and New York City.
Now for a Scandinavian vibe
Pickled herring marinated in a mustard sauce (Swedish mustard, dill, red wine vinegar, honey, sugar, pepper). Again, a little sweetness goes up against the brine, with great success.
Booze: Aalborg Akvit, from Denmark
Perhaps my favorite creation was the oak-smoked herring marinated in a vinaigrette, with carrots, and micro-greens. Bistro-perfect and real easy on the eyes.
Booze: Ardberg 10 year Islay Whiskey. Smoky, peaty, crazy delicious.
Made from sugarcane, it's making a comeback, according to the Arrack people. If you're into historical punches (who isn't?), get on it.
He gets a hit of liquid nitrogen from wd-50 Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli. How else is the smoked herring going to be frozen hard enough to grind into a powder?
The chef paired the herring powder with nasturtium gazpacho, a subtly sweet, creamy room temperature puree. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted to taste the herring more, and rejoice in its supple oiliness, which was lost in the deep freeze.
You call that herring?
What would Papa Russ make of this? Dufresne's participation was a wonderful reflection of the neighborhood, which has changed so much, yet, largely, still reveres and is inspired by its own history. (The chef's restaurant is just a few blocks east, on Clinton Street.)
Booze: A cocktail called "Catch of the Day" by Tona Palomino, wd-50's bar manager, combined cantaloupe-infused silver tequila with clarified cantaloupe juice, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and Pimm's.
With a curry sauce, roasted cashews, and Medjool dates. (Photo by Elizabeth Thacker Jones)
Booze: Lillet White, from France
New Catch Holland Herring time!
Omega-3 pills are for saddies.
This is my new best friend Sylvia Lavietes
She works with diabetic kids and is crazy for herring.
Herring is for lovers
The photo booth.
A really good night to be a fishmonger.
John Zorn time!
I asked Niki Russ Federman, who currently runs the store with her cousin Josh Russ Tupper (this is generation four) why John Zorn was doing this, and she told me he's a friend and offered, very casually. He did the same when she was planning her wedding, and both times, she thought he was kidding at first.
Photo booth results
That's Mark Russ Federman in the middle. (Check out more photos on Lox Populi, the store's blog.)
When all the food had been served and guests began to leave, the store staff hit the booth. Josh Russ Tupper is the suit.
Niki Russ Federman
Jenny and Janette Vargas
Herman's stunning daughters, who both work at the store.