Smoked fish with a schmear on bagels and babka. Doesn’t exactly sound sexy, right? That’s what I was thinking when I contemplated venturing to Sadelle’s on a recent Saturday night. But the lure of dinnertime caviar service at a cool, new downtown spot was just too strong a pull to turn down.
Because while it may sound surprising, caviar options are few and far between. Sure, there are a few, city warhorses, like Petrossian and Caviar Russe, but much like fine dining, pricey caviar with all the trimmings, is understandably not a trend on the rise. And both institutions are undeniably pretentious and uptown; the kind of old world, indulgent spots you take family for a special occasion (to impress the in-laws), or clients to close a deal. (Afterall, caviar’s not exactly lowbrow.)
Sadelle’s, on the other hand, is neither. In fact, by day, it’s a Jewish deli wheeling and dealing in eggs, lox, bagels, tuna salad, and Danish. This ambitious SoHo haunt is trying its hardest to change the way you think about Jewish appetizing grub. Though it’s admittedly not the first eatery to test the waters — Russ & Daughters recently opened a cafe and there’s Mile End Deli — the Major Food Group (the guys behind Torrisi, Santina & Carbone) is breaking tradition in a big way making Jewish deli food a hip, nighttime affair. Not to mention erasing the stereotype of stuffy caviar service!
Yes, I’m obsessed with the caviar, so let’s get it out of the way. Sadelle’s selection is not cheap, but then again, caviar never is; the most affordable eggs on the menu is American trout roe. $100 will buy you 125 grams of glossy orange eggs with all the trimmings, but if you’re feeling flush, try the $325 Royal Transmontanous for 125 grams or the Kristal Shassetra for $400. And this ain’t your traditional caviar service: What arrives at the table is a tall tower of vehicles to pile your briny bursts of caviar, the likes of Challah toast (genius), breakfast-sized pancakes and potato pancakes. Of course, there are a variety of condiments, including chopped onion, chives, and creme fraiche. But by far the best part is that Sadelle’s does away with the traditional chopped egg and ingeniously swaps in egg salad. The combination of egg salad and caviar is divine in a highbrow meets lowbrow way you rarely see work so well.
What to drink with all that briny roe? Vodka, of course. Sadelle’s turns out an impressive roster of house-infused vodkas, flavored with everything from olives to horseradish, spiced pear, apricot and a soothing, cucumber pepper. Each one is served in etched glass carafes on a bed of ice (reminiscent of club bottle service, except in a much more civilized and appetizing setting). At night, the restaurant dims the lights and transforms this deli by day into a sexy spot, scattered with oodles of drippy candles — candlelight bouncing off the exposed brick walls and shiny white marble-topped tables — and glimmering etched glassware everywhere you look.
Deegan’s Spicy Fried Chicken
Likewise, the menu takes a more serious turn, moving away from lox and bagels (though there is smoked fish), and instead focusing its efforts mostly on Eastern European fare with unexpected, not-so-serious surprises, like pigs in a blanket and fried chicken. Exactly what is fried chicken doing on the menu? While it doesn’t have much to do with Eastern European cooking or Jewish deli food, for that matter, it does belong in the comfort food canon, and more importantly, it happens to be very good. What separates “Deegan’s Spicy Fried Chicken” is its spicy, peppery kick and crispy exterior, tamed by truffle honey and sourdough milk bread, served fresh from the oven.
That milk bread is the work of Melissa Weller, who displays some serious skills in the bread baking department, like a warm, buttery black truffle loaf that arrives just after you order. Weller doesn’t stop there: She’s also responsible for the pumpernickel raisin bread that comes with the smoked fish platter as well as all those already infamous bagels served during a buzzing breakfast and lunch service here.
If you’d prefer to take advantage of the Russian and Eastern European dishes, try the Siberian shrimp with ginger scallion & rice, the Paprika Chicken with Kasha, or Romanian skirt steak with a zippy green garlic relish. And whatever you order, definitely don’t miss the Veal Pelmeni; satiny ravioli shrouding sumptuously flavored nibbles of veal, basking in a veal reduction and served with dijon mustard sauce for a pivotal kick. I also recommend a splurge-worthy order of Caspia Potatoes; a twice-baked, oh so humble potato topped a mix of butter and sour cream, and dolloped with Caspian caviar. There’s a more affordable version of this tongue-in-cheek dish under sides, dubbed Russian Potatoes; crispy, wafer thin potato rounds dabbed with sour cream, trout roe and oodles of dill.
The menu is not light by any means, but there are a few crudos to balance out all that Eastern European grub, like scallop crudo with crispy potatoes (reminiscent of Zz’s Clam Bar), lobster curry and Tuna Tartare. For dessert, there’s only one choice; a choux puff pastry stuffed with coconut cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. While I’m not sure what it has to do with Russia, it’s tasty nonetheless. (My vote is to expand dessert menu to include homemade halvah and rainbow cookies.)
Caramel & Coconut Choux Pastry
One of the best things about Sadelle’s is that it’s really two, funky and tasty restaurants in one. You can come for dinner and feast on caviar, veal pelmeni and fried chicken, all the while basking in the candlelight and glassware… then stumble in the very next morning for matzo ball soup and lox on a bagel.