October 27, 2014

Abe Fisher's Culinary Tour Through the Jewish Diaspora

At their newest restaurant, Abe Fisher, restaurateurs Steve Cook and Chef Michael Solomonov - a.k.a. "CookNSolo" - introduce Philadelphia to food inspired by cuisines of the Jewish diaspora.

Don't worry, I had to look up the word "diaspora," too. It means the dispersion of a people from their original homeland and is often used to describe the millions-strong Jewish population outside of Israel. So what's cool about Abe Fisher is that it incorporates cuisines from all over the world, as Jewish immigrants have settled in places from New York to Montreal to Moscow.

As he did so successfully with Zahav, Solomonov again introduces Philly to a food experience that we don't get anywhere else - especially if you're like us and have little-to-no access to Jewish home cooking.

Here's a look at several of the dishes we tried at Abe Fisher. They're all served as small plates, divided up on the simple menu by veggies, meat and fish. The menu changes frequently and not everything we ordered is currently available.  Be sure check out the menu online to get a sense for what you'll eat.

Kasha varnishkes seem to be the Instagram favorite among Abe Fisher patrons and were one of our favorite parts of the meal, too. Deliciously light poppy seed dressing covers ravioli-like pockets, which are stuffed with a seasonal ingredient. Ours was an English pea filling.

The Brussels sprouts were also grilled just right and a good choice for an early dish.

The hot-smoked sable cake with cucumber, dill and old bay seasoning had a strikingly strong flavor. If you haven't had smoked fish before, be prepared for a different and literally smokey sensation than you're used to. Not my preference but Bradd liked it.

More exciting was the shrimp fried rice - really a fried rice cake with shrimp on top and a runny egg. Why on earth was this on a menu of dishes inspired by Jewish communities around the world? Because Jewish people eat Chinese food on Christmas. We are not making this up, it's what the waitress AND the manager told us.

I insisted on ordering the sweet and sour meatballs, served with celery root, raisins and a dollop of boursin cheese on top. They weren't as great as I expected but did come out piping hot.

The pastrami'd pork belly with potato latkes was totally not what we hoped. The laser thin slices of pork belly with a paper-thin brine had an odd consistency and fell flat without the latkes. If yours look like the picture above, spread out the dollops of mustard; it is needed in each bite for full flavor.

Dessert was a pretty big hit for us at Abe Fisher. The "Black and White" is a twist on the classic Jewish deli cookie with lemon and poppy cheesecake and an almond cookie crumble. Loved the dark poppy half. The Jewish apple cake seemed like a must-order and certainly didn't go to waste. 

All this (two items per column on the menu) was plenty of food for two people. Overall, some dishes were better than others but overall Abe Fisher didn't quite "wow" us as much other CookNSolo ventures. 

One other disappointment was that neither the menu nor the waitstaff explained which parts of the Jewish diaspora were represented in each dish we ate. Given the focus on food influenced by cultures all over the world, I'd love to know where Solomonov got his inspirations to add to the overall experience of trying something new.

Doesn't have to be a sappy or long story, even just a country/region name next to each item on the menu or a quick note by the waiter would do the trick. We only asked about the shrimp fried rice because it seemed so odd, but how about those meatballs? I assume the smoked fish came from Montreal but don't know that for sure. And what the heck is a varnishke? Wikipedia tells me it's an Eastern European creation, though the name is rooted in a Russian word for dumplings.

Abe Fisher is still worth checking out, especially if you only want a handful of small bites for a decent price. Don't miss those varnishkes... whatever they are.

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