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Taiwanese Hanukkah brunch

Brunch mashup at its best. This Sunday (12/5/10), we had a small but intimate Taiwanese Hanukkah brunch at Julie and Kelvin’s. How can a brunch be both Taiwanese and Jewish, you may ask. Are there any Taiwanese Jews? I cannot answer the latter, but I will tell you how our brunch with an identity crisis came to be.

Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010 at Rendezfoods Hotpot dinner

Julie: Kelvin and I watched “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network and they mentioned the bagel and lox from Russ & Daughters. Is it good?
Me: Is it GOOD?!? Does the pope love Jesus?!?*
Julie: Where is it again?
Me: Near my apartment. It’s in LES on Houston at Allen. We should do a brunch for Hanukkah! In the spirit of open-mindedness and celebration. (Any excuse to party/eat.) Isn’t it coming up?
Sara: Hanukkah starts next week.
Mel: Sweet. We’ll bring bagels from Atlas (they’re H&H and they are more delicious than the ones at R&D) and we’ll pick up lox from R&D.
Julie: Yeah! We can do it at my place. I’ll make Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
*moment of confusion and silence as we contemplate the Jewishness of beef noodle soup*
Mel & Sara: We love noodle soup. Done!

*Slight paraphrasing in recalling this conversation may have occurred.

We were on a mission to prove Michael Psilakis right: Russ & Daughters rocks (we didn’t get the Gaspe Nova, however, and it still rocked).

The table settings at brunch were impeccable, as always. Baby blue and tan polka dots! Julie is the hostess with the mostest. Look – she even has the bellinis on a serving tray.

The Russ & Daughters spread (like my plating?): two types of lox (Norwegian shown here was saltier and smokier than the Scottish on the other platter), quartered sesame and poppyseed bagels, thinly sliced red onions, grape tomatoes, lemon wedges.

Also from Russ & Daughters: ramekins of the whitefish and smoked salmon salad/spread, plain tofu cream cheese (a blessing for the lactose intolerant – and still divinely creamy), whitefish roe, and capers.

Julie made us bellinis with pureed peach and champagne, garnished with orange peel and strawberry quarters! It’s this kind of attention to detail that elevates a cocktail from the everyday to a special occasion. You know. For Hanukkah.

The perfect bite: lox, tofu cream cheese, red onion, whitefish roe, capers, and half of a grape tomato, finished with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon.

I thought Sara and I may have gotten too much food for four people from Russ & Daughters, but we were wrong. We had grossly underestimated our collective ability to eat, and we polished everything off, knowing full well that the Taiwanese portion of our Hanukkah brunch would soon be underway.

Julie made a Taiwanese beef noodle soup she had been meaning to try, and it was phenomenal. Not too sweet, not tart (I don’t like tomato in beef soups as it tends to get too sour for my tastes), with just a touch of salt so all of the warm, beefy anise flavor shone through. Again, attention to detail is one of Julie’s fortes – she garnished the soup with pre-blanched baby bok choy!

The soup was served with cilantro, scallions, and pickled cabbage as sides for guests to add to taste. Yum!

Julie also pickled some cucumbers by immersing them in salt to release water and salt the cucumber, rinsing, then adding rice wine vinegar, sugar, sesame seed oil, and I forget what else. So crunchy and refreshing, a great accompaniment to the noodle soup.

For dessert, Kelvin contributed Dunkin’ Donuts.

Life is good.

Happy Hanukkah! (How do you say that in Mandarin?)

Eat: Russ & Daughters (LES) 179 East Houston St. at Allen St.. New York, NY 10002. (212) 475-4880. Takeout only. Jewish holiday catering and special menus available. Another recommended combo: whitefish spread and wasabi flying fish roe.

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