Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Russ & Daughters

Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston Street

It’s no secret that it’s easier to make better food with better ingredients. Fresh mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce, and fresh basil go into a better slice of pizza. Pat LaFrieda beef and Murray’s cheddar go into a better hamburger. Ghirardelli chocolate goes into a better cake than Hershey’s. A bagel with cream cheese and lox is no different.

I have a hard time thinking about a meal that I enjoy more than bagels with different kinds of smoked fish and salads. Whitefish, sable, salmon, tuna. I’m pretty happy with any of these comfort foods. With Ess-a Bagel and Murray’s, I had the bagel part covered. For the lox, I set out to Russ & Daughters, Manhattan’s cathedral of smoked fish which opened in 1914 and fresh off of announcing extended hours as reported by TONY's The Feed. While I made the mistake of going at around noon on a Saturday and was subjected to a 30 minute wait for my number to be called, it gave me just enough time to figure out what I was going to order and to snag a free sample while I was at it.

Russ & Daughters offers 9 different types of smoked salmon, each looking better than the next. I managed to try a piece of the Balik which they quote as the “filet mignon” of salmon. More sashimi than lox, it has a rich flavor, not salty, and I would be quite pleased if I received a piece of this kind of quality salmon in a nice sushi spot. For $48/lb though, I think I’ll stick with the “ground chuck” of salmon. I decided to get a ¼ pound of two different kinds of salmon, belly lox and Norwegian. The belly lox ($32/lb) is not smoked, but cured in a brine that adds an intense salty flavor and makes for a softer flesh. If you’re going to eat a slice by itself, you’d better like salt, but on a bagel with cream cheese and tomato, the saltiness is muted slightly and if you’re looking for an intense flavor from the salmon, this is the way to go between the two. The Norwegian ($26/lb) is the least expensive of the smoked salmons, and while it’s certainly better than anything one could get ordering lox in a restaurant, it didn’t offer much flavor and was hard to bite off a piece without pulling the entire slice.

So many of the other offerings looked too enticing for me to leave with just the lox. I opted for some chopped herring salad ($10/lb). I’m a big fan of herring and this definitely hit the spot and a ½ pound of this stuff is a lot. I sat down with some crackers and a fork and managed to take it down in a couple of sittings. An intense fish flavor combined with a hint of sweetness from chopped apples made this a winner.

I came here for the lox, but if I returned for just one thing, it would be the whitefish & baked salmon salad ($13/lb). I left with a ¼ pound which is enough for a generous helping on a bagel. Whitefish salad is certainly not for everyone. The flavor is pretty distinct and even a small taste can be a bit overwhelming, but for those that are fans, I strongly recommend trying the whitefish salad at Russ & Daughters which adds baked salmon in a move that pushes the salad to the next level. They offer any of their smoked salmons as part of a sandwich on homemade bagels and even offer a sandwich called the Super Heeb ($10.45). Whitefish & baked salmon salad, horseradish cream cheese and topped with wasabi infused flying fish roe. Sounds like a plan.


  1. My mouth is watering. I want whitefish salad..now!!!

  2. My mouth is watering! I want whitefish salad...now!