Curb Your Enthusiasm's new season started this week with a very funny episode in which Larry David's character fires his divorce attorney after learning he's not Jewish -- and urges a fictionalized Frank McCourt to do the same. The men entrust their settlements to the reassuringly-named Hiram Katz, who - spoiler alert - botches the job so badly that Larry loses his house and the McCourt figure loses the Dodgers.
Since I'm a journalist, not a comedian, I'm going to sidestep all the stereotypes that might make a Jewish lawyer desirable. But I can confirm that there aren't too many Jews in my extended family who'd consider hiring a gentile lawyer. Or doctor. My mother's standing instructions for choosing a physician in a new town involve finding the most Jewish name in the phone book.
Deli is also typically considered a Jewish occupation. Of the new generation of deli owners, the vast majority are Jewish: Corned beef and pastrami are being rescued from irrelevance by visionaries with last names like Adelman, Levitt, Gruber, Caplansky and Weinzweig (which sounds like the law firm Larry was seeking.)
I have no idea whether Shane Robinson, the executive chef at Stopsky's, is Jewish. My calls to the Mercer Island restaurant, the subject of this week's review, weren't returned after I had an initial conversation with owner Jeff Sanderson. For all I know, Robinson is a former cheder boy who keeps the Sabbath.
In almost every way, of course, Robinson's heritage and religious practices don't matter. None of the deli guys I know are especially observant; As I pointed out in response to a Twitter message from a reader who was surprised that I didn't mention that Stopsky's isn't kosher, few well-known delis conform precisely to Jewish dietary laws. I would never criticize a restaurant for not being kosher, halal, vegan or gluten-free, regardless of which community it served. Robinson's fluency in kashrut has nothing to do with how his food tastes.
And there's certainly no evidence that Jews do a better job of deli than non-Jews. Much of the French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese food we eat in restaurants is prepared by Latin American immigrants. Good cooking isn't a function of genealogy.
But whether or not Robinson's background is to blame, Stopsky's is weirdly lacking in Yiddshkeit, the Jewish word for Jewishness. I alluded to this quality in my review, but didn't linger on it, since reviews are written for a general audience to whom Yiddishkeit levels probably aren't of utmost importance.
I was struck by the concern my servers at Stopsky's showed when I ordered standard items from the Jewish canon. They treated borscht and kugel like oddities. As I wrote in my review, a server twice remarked how brave I was to try liver.
Would it make any difference if the kitchen was helmed by a chef who remembered his grandmother's kugel? Would Stopsky's be a better restaurant if its servers snacked on chopped liver? I'm not sure: There are so many problems plaguing Stopsky's that importing a few more staffers who grew up on deli probably isn't a panacea. It might be easier just to fix the pickles.
Read the complete review here.