For the Love of Latkes

Latkes are to Hanukkah, as pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving—you have to have it. Nowadays chefs and home cooks have spruced up the classic potato pancake, and you can find versions of them with horseradish, caviar, and jalapenos. And for the ultimate latke showdown, head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday, December 10 for the Fourth Annual Latke Festival at 6:30pm.

There, over a dozen restaurants including A Voce, Balaboosta, Blue Ribbon, The Vanderbilt, and more, will compete for the title of latke master or mistress (yes, I made that title up). Naturally, the Sussman brothers will also be vying for the championship, which, based on the few times I have tried Eli Sussman’s version, I think they have a good chance. For $55 you can experience the fun, as well as nibble on the classic pancakes, mini bialys from Hot Bread Kitchen, sufganiyot, otherwise known as jelly doughnuts, from Dough, and drink He’Brew beer and coffee from Brooklyn Roasting company. The latke magic lasts until 9pm, and a part of the proceeds go to The Sylvia Center.

Also, on Thursday, December 13 at 7pm, the 92Y is celebrating their Fifth Annual Beer + Latkes Hanukkah Celebration. For $22, sample the festive pancakes, sip beer, and spin a dreidel or two. If you want to go judge latkes on your own, try Kutsher’s Tribeca, which tops theirs with caviar On their Hanukkah menu (December 8 though 16), Toloache offers a Mexican version with jalapeno and tomatillo-apple salsa, and the Jewish-Canadian deli Mile End makes them now, and all year round.

The Top Places in NYC to Eat Really Crazy Shit

Bull’s penis, grasshopper tacos, kangaroo. Yep, NYC offers a lot more than just the Statue of Liberty and a couple of nice parks. If you search hard enough, you’ll find some of the craziest, most unexpected foods around. When you’re sick of the usual pasta alla vodka dish and beef enchilada – and craving a wild dining experience – consult our list of NYC’s top places to eat really crazy shit.

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The Festival of Bites: New York Hanukkah Special Menus

Step aside, Christmas and New Year’s. There’s a big kid in town who’s ready to revel in his blue-colored spotlight. Starting today, and for the next eight days, it’s all about Hanukkah special menus. At restaurants across Manhattan and Brooklyn, gobble up free latkes, latkes in every variation never-before known to man, and lots and lots of donuts. Jelly and cream-filled donuts. So say your prayer, light your candle, and commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple over a heaping platter of pastrami potato pancakes, Mexican-inspired brisket tacos, and homemade apple sauce.

Lansky’s:  When you’re seeking authentic, “Grandma-made-it” cuisine, this Old World deli is just the place.  Sidle into the classic dining room, with its 1930s stained glass ceiling and black and white-tiled floor, and mentally prepare yourself for a four-course, $32.95 feast.  Choose a soup (matzo, cabbage, or barley), a starter (stuffed cabbage, sweet/potato kugel, chopped liver, or gefilte fish), and an entrée (brisket of beef, half-roast chicken, and fresh roasted turkey). All entrées are served with a side of green beans and potato latkes, and concluded with a batch of jelly donuts and sweet, sweet satisfaction. L’chaim!
Toloache and Yerba Buena: Mexican food on Hanukkah? I know, it’s not exactly kosher, but when holiday obligations conflict with your after-work drinks with friends, why not have it all! At these two YB & Co. spots, start with the Mexican chocolate and strawberry-infused Hanukkah margarita and smoked whitefish guacamole. Share (or don’t) a latkes trio (potato jalapeno, zucchini, and Mexican ricotta potato pancakes), and brisket tacos with tomatillo salsa. And when you’re done with the roasted chicken-dried figs and apricots entrée, take a bite of the dulce de leche-filled donuts, and watch the “drunk-on-Hanukkah” guilt – and donuts – quickly disappear.
Mile End: This Montreal-inspired Jewish deli set in Boerum Hill gives you a taste of several oceanic delights with their special Surf & Turf latkes: the salmon roe, lox, and whitefish potato pancake, as well as their liver schmear, lamb bacon, and quail egg iteration. For an assortment of tamer latkes, savor the latkes plate, featuring potato, sweet potato-butternut squash, and celery root-parsnip latkes with tart applesauce and lemon sour cream. Still not enough? Then order their signature smoked meat and Canadian poutine: fries doused with fresh cheese curds and gravy. And if you’re still not satisfied, then you really have something wrong with you.
Kutsher’s Tribeca: This upscale Jewish American bistro brings class, modernity, and a different latke to your plate everyday of Hanukkah. Settle into the plush booths and get ready for a surprise. Is today sour cream and pear butter day? Wild mushroom and herbed ricotta? What about smoked sturgeon and caviar? Just like Christmas, you don’t know what you’re going to get (unless you call the restaurant), so come hungry and revel in the simple surprise that lies in these fried little morsels.
Brooklyn Diner: Free latkes! They’re free! Even if you order an $11 Greek salad or a $10 cheesecake, you’re still a patron at this swanky diner, and thereby eligible for their surprisingly complimentary plate of potato pancakes. Choose between sour cream or applesauce, and be thankful that Hanukkah is a whole eight days.

Industry Insiders: Jaime Salas, Tequila Guru

Every day is Cinco de Mayo for tequila expert and California native Jaime Salas. We asked the Milagro tequila ambassador for tips on how to honor Cinco de Mayo like a pro, just as he was rushing out to pick up rhubarb for later on tonight (it was, of course, tequila related).

Point of Origin: I come from a big tequila family. My mom’s family is from Jalisco, and I started collecting tequila on family trips to Mexico. And then, through a friend of a friend, I got the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for Don Julio and I thought, ‘you mean I get paid to travel around and talk about tequila?’ and that’s how I got into this. I was always a fan of the whole Milagro portfolio, so I was very happy when this opportunity presented itself. This is technically my third tequila ambassadorship.

On his vast tequila collection: I started collecting tequilas years ago, and I have more than three hundred bottles. Most of them are back in California. Here in New York I’ve got about 60 bottles. Tomorrow for Cinco de Mayo I’m not sure what I’m going to open, but I will definitely be having Milagro Silver which is my favorite ‘blanco’ tequila. My sipper tequila is Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado. It’s won a lot of accolades.

On the perfect margarita recipes:

Margarita Evolved 2oz Milagro Silver .75oz Milagro Agave nectar 1 oz Lime juice Served in a Rocks glass Garnished with a lime wheel El Pepino 1.5oz Milagro Reposado .75oz Bols Triple Sec 1oz lime juice .75oz simple syrup 3 slices cucumber 6 cilantro leaves .25oz eggwhites Served in a cocktail glass Garnished with a thin cucumber slice

On his busy Cinco de Mayo plans: I’m doing a pre Cinco event tonight at Los Feliz in the Lower East Side, and tomorrow evening from 6:30 – 8:30 I’m going to be at the Astor Center for the Agave Fest and the Margarita Evolved Seminar. Then I’m heading to Santos Party House for the Mex and the City Cinco de Gallo VIP Session.

On tequila faux pas: There’s no need to numb or coat the palate with quality tequila. Putting ice or water in tequila by chilling it is a don’t. Limes, lemons and salt to coat the palate might be good to take care of the burn of lesser tequilas, but not what you want to do with a flavorful, good tequila.

On the places he digs in New York: I love the Sicilian Margarita at the new NYC hotspot, Kenmare. It’s really a hybrid margarita – Milagro Silver is combined with Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur and a touch of Campari. It’s delicious. In my opinion the best non-margarita Milagro cocktail can be found at the Ace Hotel lobby bar. I love La Esquina for their Chapulines Tostadas and Milagro house margaritas. Yerba Buena, although Pan Latin with a Mexican influence, has great food and an expansive tequila collection. I always like going to Toloache for their ‘alta cocina’ approach to great Mexican food and cocktails. Mayahuel is my favorite restaurant for all things agave and small plates. It’s named for the Tara Reid Lindsay Lohan Goddess of Tequila.

Industry Insiders: Christopher Gilman, Latin Lover

West Village hotspot Yerba Buena Perry isn’t co-owner Christopher Gilman’s first rodeo. He’s been in the business for more than two decades, but his first ownership role came with this top-notch Latin staple. Gilman met his partner Julian Medina (Toloache, East Village Yerba Buena) out of pure coincidence and the two have been working together successfully ever since. Read about Gilman’s menu recommendations, attempts at going green and making friends in the new neighborhood after the jump.

Yerba Buena backstory: I worked at The Palm steakhouse for 23 years. I was most recently the general manager at the 50th and 8th location. A tiny little restaurant opened up across the street called Toloache, which is Julian Medina’s. From day one, I was blown away by how amazing and flawlessly they opened the place. They did everything perfectly except for one thing, they didn’t have their ice machine down pat. So, they’d come and borrow ice from us daily and Julian and I became really good friends. I needed a change, and we eventually partnered up.

Point of Origin: I was born in Boston but I’ve been all over. I started at The Palm as a bus boy in 1984 in Dallas. I’m not from Texas; I want to make that clear. I just made a wrong turn. I was only there for a couple years, got moved up and I relocated to New York to become their food and beverage buyer back in ’91.

Day-to-day at Yerba Buena: It’s very casual and wonderful because our clientele here is all neighborhood people. It’s not the business high-end. We’re building a neighborhood clientele, and we just get to take care of people. It’s so hands-on. The chef is my partner so everything is done immediately.

Uptown or Downtown: I live in the Upper West Side, but I’d love to move downtown. I’ve just been too busy, so I may move this year.

On giving the regulars preferential treatment: We’re so new that everyone who comes in is a new customer. The hardest thing for me is to say no to a reservation on the phone because it’s definitely not arrogance. We just don’t want to lie to people and have them come in to a packed restaurant. It’s a tricky game, because the first time guests are going to be regulars one day. The great thing is that we have a big bar so people who walk in can eat there. And the bar is a scene because we are making some famous cocktails and it’s always a show to watch.

Best meal: The ceviches are amazing, and we have a wide variety. My personal favorite is the Grilled Black Cod, I think I eat that everyday. I like the Parrillada which is a combination plate of steaks as well.

His biggest reality check: Opening night in August of last year was the best night for me. Seeing the decisions we made for the past eight months all coming together and finishing all the construction was surreal. Watching the crowd come in on opening night was just a huge sense of relief and a dream come true. That was the craziest night for me so far, just seeing it all in play.

Go-to joints: I like A Voce in the Time-Warner building, and Marea. I love that place. My girlfriend is a ballet dancer for the Metropolitan Opera, so a lot of times we’ll just meet at P.J. Clarke’s, after her shows.

Hobbies: I ride my motorcycle 12 months out of the year, it’s a Vespa 250. I have to do yoga three to four times a week. All we do is deal with people all day long so just to go into that room and not think about anything is pretty amazing.

On chef/partner, Julian: Julian is an artist. He’s traveled a lot, and when he was building the menu, he just picked out his favorite dishes from all over South America, and put the Julian Medina flair on them. We have a ribeye ceviche which no one else has, and his arepas are just amazing. From the Ropa Vieja de Pato to the watermelon fries, everything has his distinctive touch.

Worst habit? Parking my bike on the sidewalk. And probably overdosing on those watermelon fries.

Going green gone awry: We went and ordered metal straws to try and get rid of the plastic ones, but for some reason some people still want plastic. We’re not an organic restaurant, but we’re trying to do the right thing with everything we buy.