Friday, February 13, 2009

Cafe Katja

24. Café Katja
79 Orchard Street between Broome and Grand

We didn’t know what to expect when we sat down at Café Katja, a small and inviting Austrian wine and beer bar on the lower east side, but we were quickly met with a bartender who was ready to help us navigate through a menu with a number of intriguing appetizers and sandwiches and a list of European beers on tap. We were there for the herring salad ($8.00) served with buttered brioche and wound up also ordering the bartender’s suggested appetizer, the aufschnitt teller ($14.00), a plate of cured meats and spreads.

Pickled herring in cream sauce is standard fare at diner salad bars in Jersey and my family dining table on holidays. I wasn’t sure what the herring salad was going to be but it looked like the herring salad I was familiar with. I am a big fan of herring. It’s fishy, salty, has a meaty texture and the onions that are served with it add a bit of crunch. The salad at Café Katja met the mark. The herring is served atop a cucumber-potato salad that counterbalanced the saltiness of the fish, and there wasn’t too much dill sprinkled on top. It’s certainly better than anything I could find at a normal supermarket and to be able to sit at a bar and order herring salad is an enjoyment in and of itself.

The bartender steered us in the right direction with the aufschnitt teller, which is a perfect appetizer to split and snack on at the bar. The platter included liverwurst, which I found to be somewhat tasteless though my friends enjoyed it, three or four slices of four different kinds of cured meats including prosciutto, bacon and pork belly, shaved horseradish, pickled vegetables and a spoonful of creamed cheese. I’m not sure what kind of cheese it is but with the added paprika and sautéed onions it tasted like the Hungarian cream cheese, a winner.

Café Katja is certainly worth checking out, if only to come in for a couple of beers and appetizers before dinner. The service was excellent, the food is a great value and they have boot-shaped beer glasses. I’m always down for some more herring.

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