Battle Jewtalian: Pitting Brisket Against Braciole
|The fish round: baccala salad on the left, smoked fish on the right.|
In round one, Leonard came out of his corner swinging, with a one-two combo of cured sockeye salmon and house-smoked whitefish, which dominated Leonard's baccalà (salt cod) salad. The mild sweetness of the salmon and the forceful smoky flavor of the whitefish made us forget, if for only a moment, that we were 2,900 miles away from Russ & Daughters. We noticed many guests pushing away their baccalà salads after only one bite, and soon understood why -- it was mushy and overly fishy. Leonard easily won this wound by an announced score of 42-1.
Noto rebounded strong in round two with his Italian wedding soup, highlighted by two rustic meatballs and a poached egg that had the taste and consistency of soft mozzarella. We especially liked the addition of escarole, which added a bitter zing to the broth. Leonard's chicken and vegetable soup with kreplach (Jewish dumplings) was oversalted. His kreplach wasn't a dumpling; it was a square sheet of pasta thrown in the bowl over shreds of chicken, rather than the traditional ground beef. Deconstructed healthy kreplach? Leonard's bubbe wouldn't approve. We scored this round for Noto, as did the crowd.
The hardest round to judge was the third, pitting Noto's bucatini with clams against Leonard's unorthodox riff on matzo brei, a common Passover breakfast dish. What the bucatini lacked in originality, it made up for in flavor. Briny clam liqueur evenly coated noodles cooked al dente, no easy feat considering the makeshift kitchen setup. Noto's New Jersey ancestors would have been proud. Leonard's artfully composed dish featured a six-minute egg wobbling on top of a rectangle of matzo, eggs, onions, and leeks. Diners were supposed to pierce the egg so that the yolk would ooze all over the matzo cake. However, too much time elapsed before service, and both the egg and the matzo cake hardened, resulting in a pasty mess. Not even a splash of vibrant homemade ketchup could save it. We gave this round to Noto, but the crowd voted for Leonard out of respect for his creativity.
Leonard emphatically knocked out Noto in the fourth and final round with a fork-tender braised beef brisket with Vidalia onions that trumped any taste memory we could conjure. A stone-fruit glaze balanced out the onions, and sides of perfectly executed tsimmis (sweetened carrots) and garlic-flecked fingerling potatoes proved that, sometimes, it's best to leave ancient recipes alone. Noto tried to counter with veal braciole (thinly pounded meat rolled with garlic, herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano), but it arrived leathery, dry, and difficult to cut. The accompanying ricotta manicotti was tasty, but we wished that it had been a bit lighter.
The contestants jovially hugged after the results were announced, assuring the cheering crowd that they will peacefully coexist when back at work this week in their kitchen. We look forward to future collaborations between Dishcrawl, the promoter of Battle Jewtalian, and Jersey Tomatoes. Perhaps a rematch?