Major Food Group’s Celebration of Jewish Delicacies
My experience at Carbone a couple months ago really soured me to Rich Torrisi’s restaurants. For how deeply I connected to the spirit of the restaurant, the unengaged staff and woefully overpriced food made it look like Major Food Group’s burgeoning empire was simply built on style over substance. Since then, I’ve tried and enjoyed takeout from Parm, the group’s emporium of chicken, eggplant, meatball and other parm sandwiches. Yet, even as Torrisi and co. slowly proved that could indeed deliver quality in the right circumstances, I retained little interest in their remaining sit-down restaurants. Enter Sadelle’s, the latest and greatest from MFG and termed “the most anticipated restaurant of fall 2015” by Eater (yawn).
Helmed by baker Melissa Weller (formerly of Per Se and Roberta’s), Sadelle’s is a gleaming Jewish bakery by day, turning out a dozen types of bagels alongside babkas and breakfast specialties to throngs of hipsters and looky-loos. As is expected with any Torrisi project, the menu deviously plays with tradition while touting the high quality of ingredients. Salmon and sturgeon come sliced to order while an “Everything 2.0” bagel combines sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and dehydrated garlic with fennel and caraway seeds. By night, the lights dim in exchange for a wealth of candles, and the bakery turns into a brasserie that serves up caviar, cocktails, and East European fare with a focus on fish. Though Sadelle’s originally opened in early September, it took until the second week of November for dinner service to start. Seeing an opportunity to try the evening menu early on in its life (and sample a kind of food far less personal than Carbone), I swallowed my pride made my reservation knowing well I might leave just as displeased.
Though I entered the restaurant prepared to battle the sort of smarminess I previously experienced, it was I who made the gaffe. While booking the next month’s lineup of reservations, I inadvertently left my calendar on January and booked my seating for 1/9 instead of 12/9. I didn’t catch the mistake until I was face to face with the hostess, who–after searching in vain for my name–prompted me to investigate and learn of my mistake. I was undoubtedly embarrassed and made ready to leave, but the hostess suggested I wait just a moment. Despite a not insignificant crowd that evening, a manager quickly arranged a table for me and warmly looked after me for the duration of the meal. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “there goes my whole narrative of MFG having poor service.” It was far from the most prized spot in the restaurant (a bit too close to the service station for my taste), but a fine gesture and handled with a sincere sense of hospitality.
No matter where you’re seated, however, Sadelle’s truly is gorgeous. The space is elongated and vertical, but flanked on both walls by dark brick, mirrors, and murals. The tables and banquettes are warm and wooden, save for a marble-topped counter that seats twelve during the day yet is used as a staging area for wine and platters at night. The chandeliers are arachnoid, retro numbers that, despite being dimmed at night, shine in the candles’ flames. The transformation the space goes through each day is truly impressive, and I would place the dining room on par with a neighborhood spot like Rebelle. The crowd was surprisingly distinguished, with a selection of local regulars joining older couples and Torrisi devotees for a bite to eat.
Sadelle’s dinner menu is separated into raw bar offerings, a caviar course, starters, and mains. Prices aren’t listed online (as I think is just the norm for MFG), but, refreshingly, costs were more affordable than Carbone. Portions, equally, as long as one stays away from the blatantly luxurious options, can be quite satisfying for the money as well. A selection of frozen, house-infused vodkas is colorful, with flavors like horseradish, pineapple, and Castelvetrano olive. However, a 3 oz. pour of unspecified (albeit vibrant) vodka for $18.00 is hardly a deal–though a carafe split among a group offers a better value.
Though the dinner menu meant I’d have no chance to sample the vast amount of the bakery’s goods, Weller’s talent clearly shone through Sadelle’s opening bread course. Served on a tiny raised platter like a crown jewel of crusty goodness, the loaf had a flakiness beyond even the best croissants. The bread was expectedly warm and lacquered in glistening honey and a sprinkle of salt that blurred the lines between sweet pastry and savory bun. The course was an impressive opening, and I can’t imagine a better way to get diners lining up the next morning for a more complete tour of the bakery’s wares.
Sadelle’s caviar options were predictably pricy, with the cheapest and smallest serving starting at $125 and progressing well past $1,200 for a generous portion of their finest Osetra. However, for $75, the restaurant offers “Caspia potatoes,” three delicate bites of Tsar Imperial Kaluga caviar, chives, and crème fraîche perched on potato pancakes. Though still on the pricey side, the potatoes were nicely crispy, well composed, and incredibly balanced. The scoops of caviar were surprisingly generous as well, considering the Kaluga is the best the restaurant offers. Though spending on caviar in restaurants is always hard to justify, the Caspia potatoes were a unique and satisfying few bites. They’re a smart (by comparison) and shareable option for those who want a taste of luxury without the pomp and price of the full service.
With an irony I was well aware of as I placed my order, I went from eating sparkling orbs of caviar to a tray of pigs in a blanket. An eternal cocktail party favorite (and, for me, the ultimate finger food), Sadelle’s take on the classic makes use of salami in lieu of a miniature beef frank. Wrapped in a fresh and flaky pastry dough, the little wieners came with crocks of Dijon mustard and what tasted to me like Russian dressing. Though $15 might border on ridiculous for eight “pigs,” I loved each bite. Not only did the salami add a touch of savory depth compared to blander, processed sausages, but the “blankets” themselves had a toasted, warm crunch from straight out of the oven. Both the dipping sauces added a pleasant tang, yet I must have eaten half of mine plain just to revel in the excellence of the textures.
Coming off the back of an excellent steak tartare at Del Posto, the Torrisi brothers had a tough task is outdoing their countrymen. Not least of which because the dishes at their restaurants tend to shrink exponentially with any mention of luxury ingredients (I’m looking at you, langoustines). Sadelle’s version doesn’t claim to use the finest wagyu or sprinkle little bits of truffle among the meat. Instead, the ruby red chunks of beef were loaded up with red onions, shallots, carrots, garlic chips, and plenty of chives with a coating of pungent, spicy mayonnaise. I only sampled the tartare that evening because the restaurant was out of their foie gras toast. Nonetheless, I found the luscious texture of the beef and homemade mayo impressive. More so, the combination of toppings–especially the mass of fresh chives–had a wonderful, vibrant crunch that made the dish almost like a salad at times. While many restaurants phone in their tartare, Sadelle’s is creatively constructed, well portioned, and quite satisfying for $19.
The entrée brought another steak, the mysteriously titled “Roumanian” steak that, purely based on my experience with Carbone’s veal parm, I was expecting to be more calf-sized than cow. Instead (and rather delightedly I might add), I received what had to have been a full foot of skirt steak. Topped head to toe with green garlic relish and crispy shallots, the tender meat smacked with savory flavor. Skirt steak leaves little room for error when cooking, yet every last bite was intensely juicy. It was nice to see Sadelle’s honor one of the lesser prized (but most flavorful) cuts of beef and prepare it in a way that accentuated the natural flavor of the cow. At $32, it’s a great deal even by the standards of a full-fledged steakhouse. Accompanying my steak, I ordered another of the restaurant’s interesting takes on potatoes. In this case, Russian potatoes topped with sour cream, fresh dill, and trout roe. Though it might sound like a poor man’s version of the Osetra-topped Caspia potatoes, their Russian counterparts were powerfully crunchy and golden brown, standing somewhere in between fingerling potatoes and thick-cut French fries. Nicely tangy with a bit of salt from the roe, what sounded like a novelty was actually very enjoyable (if a little expensive at $19).
While Sadelle’s still pinches wallets in some sections of the menu, it represents a more accessible and welcoming expansion for Major Food Group. The Torrisi brothers’ spin on Jewish and Eastern European classics is playful but avoids the airs put on at their Italian flagship. Nothing comes tableside this time, and the servers haven’t assumed the identities of people working at a “hip” restaurant (just yet). The food, thankfully, is as earnest as the staff. The caviar and vodka are obvious money pits, but, throughout the rest of the menu, I think you pay an appropriate upcharge for the quality of ingredients and careful technique. I can’t speak as to the quality of the bakery’s daily operation, but dinner service alone demonstrates a kitchen that cares about excellence of execution. Sadelle’s strikes a redemptive note of the restaurant empire as they continue stretching to every reach of the city. I was happy to have my expectations exceeded, and the dinner just might merit a reconsideration of MFG’s other offerings.
Date Visited: 12/9/15