Story by Barbara & Manos Angelakis
Architectural photos courtesy of UN Plaza Grill. Food photos by Manos Angelakis

UN Plaza Grill Exterior

UN Plaza Grill
845 UN Plaza, 1st Ave. at 47th St.
212-223-1801
www.unplazagrill.com

A very upscale American kosher restaurant, the UN Plaza Grill in Manhattan's East mid-town, announced the appointment of Ines Chattas, the Argentina born chef/owner of Miami’s popular Open Kitchen, as the new culinary director tasked with revitalizing the menu to make it more contemporary and expand its international appeal. 

New York City, with its large Jewish population, always had kosher and kosher-style eating establishments. Most of them have been located in or near the Lower East Side where Jewish families from Mittel-Europe and the shtetels of Southern Russia and the Ukraine lived, or in mid-town where the garment and jewelry industries are located, both having many Jewish owners and workers.

 Corned Beef Sandwich with Coleslaw

These establishments were, in most cases, delicatessens or sandwich counters with a few tables and only a very few were proper restaurants. Many of the delis are famous, like the Second Avenue Deli and Katz’s Delicatessen, a no-frills eatery on East Houston Street known for its slogan “Send a Salami to your boy in the Army!” They were famous for their humongous corned beef or pastrami sandwiches on rye bread, their matzo ball soup (affectionately called Jewish cannonball soup) with a large matzo ball floating in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and chicken and vegetable stock, their smoked fish and their cucumber, tomato and bell pepper pickles.

Second Ave Deli Matzo Ball Soup

There have been some proper kosher restaurants, mostly kosher steak houses in mid-town, such as Jose Meirelles’ Le Marais and a few other kosher or kosher-style restaurants at the Lower East Side like Rapoport’s Dairy Restaurant, an institution for over 50 years, infamous for its rude waiters that accepted your order and served it to you only if they felt you were worthy of eating there. Then there was Sammy’s Rumanian, in a basement space on Chrystie Street. Sammy’s was a kosher-style eatery that featured seltzer along with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup on the tables to make egg cream drinks that contained nether eggs nor cream and bottled schmaltz (that Barbara slathered over her order of chopped liver and rolled her eyes in ecstasy, one delicious forkful after another) and where the owner hung out by the kitchen door with a blow torch in hand to “finish” the massive beef steaks or huge breaded veal cutlets that were overflowing the platters they were served on.

But a high-end kosher restaurant was missing.

UN Plaza Grill 2

Enter the UN Plaza Grill, Manhattan’s most recent luxury kosher establishment in East mid-town. This restaurant is elegant and welcoming. Although the menu is on the pricey side, we feel that both the quality of the food and the attentive service make it a memorable place for fine dining.

UN Plaza Grill Kir Royale

We started with a lovely Kir Royale, a cocktail of CrÚme de cassis and Champagne, in traditional Champagne coupes.

UN Plaza Grill Tigers

The restaurant's ambiance is atmospheric, a bit on the dark side for our taste, but beautifully appointed in purple and black, with white leather banquets lining the wall. Featured is a striking painting of black & white fire tigers covering one wall, floor to ceiling.

The new menu, executed by chef de cuisine Raymond Sanchez, incorporates a number of Levantine and Middle-European dishes such as Spiced Kefta Meatballs, Mezze Platters, Veal Chop Schnitzel, and Potato Gnocchi with Short Rib Ragout; there are also Beef Potstickers and Sushi offerings as well as grilled specialties that include Center Cut Rib Eye with rosemary fuego aioli, Lamb Chops with mint pesto and Boneless Grilled Chicken with lemon-tarragon sauce, plus numerous other goodies.

The restaurant is open from Sunday to Thursday for dinner, from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

We started our meal with a variety of appetizers. All were highly seasoned and you would not be amiss by selecting a series of those little dishes, providing you are a fan of cumin!

UN Plaza Grill Kefta

First were the Spiced Kefta Meatballs. Traditionally, Kefta or K÷fta meatballs are made with a mixture of ground lamb and a small amount of ground beef or ground goat meat, mixed with a some soaked crustless bread, sweet onion ground with the meat, and a pinch of garlic, salt and pepper, cooked on a charcoal brazier or floured and deep fried. It is one of the Eastern Mediterranean's beloved dishes and every kebabši i.e. meat restaurant, serves a variant of the recipe. It is also street food, and carts selling sish kebab (marinated meat cubes on a skewer) and k÷fta (ground meat on a skewer) in pita pocket with chopped salad can be found in or near the bazaars of every major Eastern Mediterranean and North African city. In Istanbul, the classic Ottoman favorite, k÷fta and fasolia piyaz, i.e. grilled meatballs and a salad of boiled cannellini beans with skinless tomato chunks, thin-sliced sweet onion and shredded parsley, are still served in many upscale restaurants.

At the UN Plaza Grill, the spiced kefta meatballs are made with only beef, in a red sauce flavored with baharat (a Middle Eastern spice blend as common as Za’atar), cinnamon and cumin. Ambrosia!

UN Plaza Grill Matzoh Ball Soup

The chicken matzoh ball soup has shredded chicken, a light broth, cubbed zucchini and carrots, fresh dill and a winning personality. This is a classic Ashkenazi dish, comfort food at its best, that offers a warm and thoughtful interpretation of the Jewish joie de vivre. I’m not Jewish, but I find the soup with the matzoh “knaidlach” floating at the center, very desirable on cold winter nights. It is not known as “Jewish penicillin” for no reason; it will take care of clogged, inflamed sinuses or any other kind of head cold, almost as soon as a steaming big bowl is placed before you. The only problem I perceived is that here, there is not enough schmaltz (traditionally 2 fingers are required)  for the matzoh ball to float in.  

UN Plaza Grill Potstickers

The next dish was fried Gyoza dumplings, an iconic dish from the Far East. They are usually one of the dim sum plates that any self respecting Cantonese, Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tokyo restaurant serves. At the UN Plaza Grill, they're made with beef, not the traditional ground pork and vegetables mixture. They were delicious with soy and hoisin sauce.

UN Plaza Grill Beef Samosas

The Samosas  were also not traditional, here made with lamb, not the spicy potato with herbs and spices that is the usual filling. They are a deep fried dish very popular in India and Southern Asia. But, they tasted good and the flaky pastry was light and tasty.

UN Plaza Grill Sushi Tower

We also ordered the Sushi Tower as an appetizer. It was a layer of sticky rice topped with cubbed tuna, a layer of shredded salmon tucked between another layer of rice and a slab of sliced avocado topping everything. It came with soy sauce, and small bowls of sweet hoisin sauce and a spicy alioli.     

UN Plaza Grill Lamb Chops

As an entrÚe we ordered the lamb chops; three beauties over haricot vert and and a mixture of mashed and smashed potatoes with a bowl of mint dipping sauce on the side. I personally grew up, to my mother's dismay, eating mostly grilled lamb chops and French fries. She used to make all these scrumptious dishes that were admired by the extended family and friends and I very rarely ate them; from 4 to 10 years old I mainly lived on fresh-baked baguette slathered with butter, hard or soft boiled eggs,  lamb chops, French fries and bananas! We now use many of her recipes in our kitchen and Barbara cooks imam bayildi, fried zucchini, and lentil soup as if she was born in one of Istanbul's bazaars. 

UN Plaza Grill Schnitzel

Next, was the veal Schnitzel. A properly breaded very large chop, covered by an arugula mixed salad and roasted potatoes. 

By the end of the main dishes, we were “full to the gills”, but we valiantly polished off small deserts; Barbara a small chocolate pastry with strawberry ice cream (made from soy milk) and I, a piece of apple tart made with flaky pastry and also topped with the strawberry ice cream. For me, an espresso, which was properly drawn here with lots of crema, was the perfect finish

And a great time was had by all!

Editor’s Note: During the COVID pandemic the restaurant installed special air filters, plus  both front and back doors are left open to increase fresh air circulation. If a guest feels cold, they provide individual space heaters to the table! The staff is all masked and the tables are properly spaced.

 

 

 

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