December's the month not just for forecasting next year's food trends, but also for recapping the edible trends which actually took hold this year - a considerably easier task. According to the Huffington Post, 2012 was ruled by bacon, kale, pumpkin, "cutting-edge Asian food" and revamped Jewish deli. While Seattle's got most of those trends covered, its lone example of modern Yiddish cooking unfortunately appears to be backing away from its original goal of serving seasonal, local dishes "inspired by Jewish cuisine from around the world."
When I first reviewed Stopsky's in July 2011, dinner service was still in development. While I was anxious to see how the Mercer Island restaurant handled cocktails and entrees meant to be approached with a fork and knife, I wanted to give Stopsky's time to work out the kinks I encountered during my review visits. I made my first return trip this weekend, figuring it was a propitious time to check out a restaurant set to stay open on Christmas.
Although only two tables were taken at 6 p.m. on Friday, it was apparent the restaurant's core demographic hasn't changed. I swear to you, the two women at the table nearest me were comparing the prices they'd paid to download the Evita soundtrack, while the two women across the way were parsing sleeping problems. "You have to give up control, mom," the younger woman counseled. But the menu's cultural identity was far less pronounced.
Stopsky's this month debuted a $30, three-course prix fixe menu featuring salmon with squash; strozzapreti with heavy cream and pan-seared chicken served over creamed kale and farfalle. Few of the leading restaurants which propelled Jewish cuisine to trend status keep their menus wholly "kosher-style" (meaning the food doesn't meet with rabbinical approval, but milks and meats are generally kept separate): Much as the last generation of delis layered Swiss cheese on pastrami, Kutsher's Tribeca grates Parmesan on its beef tartare and garnishes its duck borscht with sour cream.
But flavor-short chicken swimming in a pool of cream doesn't reference or improve upon Jewish cooking traditions: It's just gratuitously rich. And it amazes me that a restaurant which decks its halls with photographs of obviously Jewish families serves "priest strangler" pasta. In less enlightened times, wars were fought over less.
There are a number of more recognizably Jewish touches on the full menu, particularly in the appetizer and soup sections. (Cholent, corned beef and a romaine salad round out the entree choices.) I liked a sweet borscht with horseradish cream, and the matzoh balls' consistency was admirable, although they floated in a broth which suffered from a dishwatery blandness that salt couldn't fully cure.
A pair of starters which seemed designed for catering gigs were worse. Hard-edged fried kreplach pouches were stuffed with slightly sour beef and flat smoked cod fritters tasted singed. Yet I appreciated the acknowledgment of Diaspora traditions, and especially liked the peppery red coulis beneath the fritters and the Spanish anchovies atop them.
Still, the few successes couldn't overcome too little seasoning and too much cream, the problems which ultimately defined the meal. Jewish cooking doesn't have to be heavy or bland, as restaurants elsewhere proved in 2012.