It was a blustery winter night, and we were walking in Long Island City — only a bridge away from the Upper East Side, but it felt like another world… a cold and windy world, and an unlikely location for an upscale kosher dinner of whiskey-glazed spare ribs and coconut-caramel pears. But that’s what we found, at the latest pop up restaurant presented by Manna Catering, one of the leading gourmet kosher caterers in New York. My friends and I sat at one of about 20 tables arrayed at the hip Foundry venue, housed in, yes, a former foundry. complete with exposed-brick ambience and loft-like aesthetics.
I was there in part for the prospect of a six-course gourmet kosher meal, and in part because it would be cooked by a former Hebrew High School student of mine, Yair Lenchner, who joined his family’s business after studying at the French Culinary Institute. Yair’s father Dan Lenchner has, according to Manna’s website, prepared kosher meals for the likes of President Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Yitzhak Rabin, and Jordan’s King Hussein.
Well, the apple has not fallen far from the tree; indeed, at our meal, it landed on a bed of greens, right next to the duck bacon. The pop up was a sumptuous, if slow-moving, combination of farm-to-table, seasonal cuisine with a few kosher curveballs thrown into the mix.
A little piece of Texas has landed in the Bronx. Ari White, owner of Gemstone Catering, is dishing out slow-cooked brisket, pulled barbecue chicken sandwiches, kosher baby back ribs (using veal instead of the traditional pork), and much more at his Texas Smokehouse BBQ Pop-Up restaurant in Riverdale this week.
White has set up two tents — one housing buffet-style food (served by members of his staff), and the other with long, country-fair-style picnic tables along with a drinks and dessert table featuring sweet tea, Texas-sized chocolate chip cookies and peach cobbler (pareve of course). The down-and-dirty parking lot setting feels just right.
White, who is modern Orthodox, is well-known in the New York-area shul kiddish community for his Texas-style cholent (in which smoked ribs and brisket take the place of stew meat). And earlier this year, he won first place in the ribs competition and second place for his brisket at the Long Island Kosher Barbecue Championship, competing under the team name, “Smokin’ for Life.”
“I’ve always been a frustrated restaurateur,” admitted Dan Lenchner, co-founder with his wife Joni Greenspan of the kosher Manna Catering company in New York. “But doing a real restaurant is a major production that requires at least half a million dollars,” he added in a conversation with the Jew and the Carrot. So, creative problem solver that he is, Lenchner has satisfied his longstanding jonesing for restaurant proprietorship by offering pop-up experiences to (kosher) foodies once every couple of months, starting last October.
This Thursday, Manna will be hosting an Italian inspired pop-up restaurant in a converted industrial space called The Foundry in Long Island City. Several of the evening’s dishes are inspired by Lenchner’s son Yair’s recent visit to Italy. The 25 year old, French Culinary Institute graduate is currently a line cook at The Mark restaurant by Jean-Georges. He’ll contribute hazelnut crusted cod, anchovy and fresh ricotta crostini, poached egg with frico (a wafer made of fried grated Parmesan) and sage cream to the menu. The meal will be fleshed out with a couple of Manna’s favorite dairy Italian dishes, like gnudi which, Lenchner likens these ricotta dumplings to “naked ravioli” and a deconstructed tiramisu for dessert.