If there's one place I don't frequent too often in the city, it's the Upper West Side. Weird, I know, since there are a lot of great restaurants there, but I live on the East Side and most of the time it's just kind of a pain in the ass for me to get to. However, I visited Henry's last week for their Passover seder, and I'm glad I made the trip (in the pouring rain, no less). It's got that quintessential neighborhood restaurant vibe which I loved; everyone was so relaxed and you could see that they come here not only for the food, but for the friendly and attentive service.
I was invited to this seder by Lindsay, who also brought her friend Shelley (note: Henry's isn't a Kosher restaurant, they just happened to do a Passover menu). Strangely enough, I was the only one to stick to the Passover menu, and I'm only half-Jewish. Shame on them! Just kidding. I applaud Lindsay for ordering tacos on Passover (now I'm not kidding – she ordered tacos). While I was waiting for them at the bar, the bartender poured me a really nice, fruity red – it was a blend of cabernet and syrah, so it was not too strong and not too spicy. When we sat down, Shelley and Lindsay ordered something called guavade, which was guava juice and lemonade. SO good. Guava juice can be very thick, so the lemonade thins it out and gives it a nice tart finish; and when I say tart, I mean you better like lemons because your lips will pucker. I thought it was delicious.
My seder plate arrived and was set atop a little stand in the middle of the table with all six of the traditional Passover foods: maror and chazeret (two types of bitter herbs), karpas (vegetable other than bitter herbs), z'roa (roasted shank bone), beitzah (roasted egg), and charoset (a mixture of apples, cinnamon, and nuts – my favorite because this is the only one that doesn't taste like cow food). I also ordered the mezze appetizer with my seder plate because I'm sorry, as much as I'd like to say I could fill up on a roasted shank bone and some parsley, I am not a puma or a lizard. I needed something with substance; something like hummus, babaganoush, beet tartar, and carrot salad. The beet tartar was simple and light, while the carrot salad was slightly spicy, and can you ever go wrong with hummus and pita bread? Well, I guess you can if you're trying to follow the Passover rules of no bread, but oh well, I'm a bad half-Jew what can I say. I'm a rebel. With all the other tasty-sounding things on the menu, Moses should be happy I stuck to the seder dinner in the first place.
My second favorite part of Passover dinner is the matzoh ball soup, and this was a really good one (don't tell my Safta, but this was almost a dead-ringer for her homemade soup). Fluffy matzoh balls in a nice chicken broth flavored with carrots, turnips and just the right amount of dill. Mmmm. Perfection. And for the main course, I had a choice between roast chicken or braised lamb shank, so I opted for the lamb - I eat roast chicken all the time at home. I do not, however, eat braised lamb shanks at home, and the reason is because mine would not come out like this: the meat was fall-off-the-bone-tender and it had a nice shmear (yes I said shmear) of horseradish on top. It also came with charoset and a fried matzoh polenta cake, which was really different and tasty, albeit a bit greasy. Oh and the industrial-size asparagus was interesting. I'm not a huge fan of asparagus, so I could have done without that – maybe some carrots or spinach would have been a better pairing.
Lastly, the dessert…ohhhh the dessert. I think I chose to do this seder with Lindsay simply because of the sound of this dessert: poached figs with cinnamon gelato and walnut cream. Ummm…it DOES taste as good as it sounds, and if it's not on the regular dessert menu, they need to add it asap. Warm, sweet figs (in what seemed to be brown sugar) over this amazing cinnamon gelato with chopped walnuts and whipped cream on top. Everyone at the table loved it, especially when it melted a bit and made a cinnamon and brown sugar-fig soup. In fact, I was shoveling a large spoonful into my mouth as the chef, Mark Barrett (former chef at Tabla and sous chef at Babbo), came over to our table to ask how everything was. "Kind of hard to hate that, right?" he said to me while pointing at my dessert, as I tried to answer without drooling gelato all over myself. Minor embarrasment aside, it was the perfect ending to my meal at Henry's, and if I ever find myself on the UWS again, I would surely make another visit.