Delicatessen: New villa of nova's taste fusions earn some yeahs, a few fehs

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The corned beef special with a side of latkes served with apple sauce and pickles. (Jonathan Yu / Staff Photographer)

Much of my workweek is in Old City and I always enjoyed the occasional lunch trip to Kibbitz in the City. The snappy, if not demanding, service and overstuffed deli sandwiches were reminiscent of work lunches in Manhattan.

So, when Michael Spector took over the Kibbitz location after it closed and opened Delicatessen in February, I was curious. There was much "kibitzing" on the street that had to be confirmed or denied.

The vibe is definitely younger and moving to what Spector calls Modern Jewish.

He says, "It's an evolution. I like to respect tradition, but push the boundaries."

While I miss the Kibbitz hubbub and direct approach of the waitresses, one has to accept that eventually the younger generation will put their stamp on things.

Now that he's a few months into the breakfast, brunch and lunch business, Spector is also setting the table for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 4 to 6 p.m. Entrées range from $14 to $17 and come with salad or soup and a choice of a second side.

The Hanukkah Salmon ($17) is a fun riff on the classic potato-crusted fish filet. In this dish, pan-seared salmon is encrusted in a crispy potato latke rather than sliced potatoes.

The lemon butter sauce was almost superfluous, but the accompanying garlic spinach was a tasty way to get some antioxidants. It is also available as a side dish.

Henny's Half a Roasted Chicken with challah stuffing and gravy ($16) was reminiscent of Sunday with Bubby. You sure won't walk away from the table hungry. The chicken was moist, but the skin crisp, which all good bubbies know how to do.

The entrées were enjoyable, but the soup and sides were hit-or-miss. The gazpacho soup had a slightly tinny taste of canned tomatoes. The corn chowder would have been a rave if it hadn't been served tepid.

The cucumber salad had seen better days, but the sautéed green beans, carrots and squash was an easy way to get your vegetables down so that you're allowed to have dessert.

Although the dinner menu has been in place for only three weeks, it's on the heavy side for this time of year. Spector is aware of that, and the menu will start to reflect more seasonal offerings, including more chilled soups.

On a daytime visit, I tried takeout.

Spector's evolution sometimes pushes dishes a little too far over the edge, such as Bubby's Kitchen Sink Pho ($6).

Michael, bubeleh, what are you doing? Leave well enough alone.

The matzoh balls were light and airy, and the broth was punctuated by diced aromatic vegetables, but the fusion rice noodles just got in the way.

And as one taster aptly put it, "It's Dead Sea-inspired."

Which is to say, much too salty from the corned beef and pastrami. The beauty of pho is the complete balance of the essence of flavors, and this dish was much too forced. I'd have to call it NoGo Pho.

It would make more sense to me to lean toward a Mexican fusion here with some corn, tomatoes, diced hot peppers and coriander to match the denser flavor and texture of the matzoh ball.

The Smoked Fish Terrine ($11) could be a fun visual play if only it were presented as an actual terrine. This salad layers nova, whitefish salad, cream cheese, red onion, capers, and cucumber and tomato slices, served on a bed of mixed greens.

The Sephardic Ceviche ($11) received mixed reviews from tasters. I was in the camp that didn't like the texture, but there were as many who really liked the dish.

I think I would like it better as Spector described it - small dice of raw salmon marinated in citrus juice. What we tasted were large chunks of varying sizes that were very mushy. The dish showed promise in the fusion direction, though.

I also like the idea of Pop Pop's Pastrami Mac and Cheese with roasted red peppers and a rye breadcrumb crust. I didn't get a chance to taste it on either of my visits, but it sounds like a reason to return.

In keeping with Bubby's house, there are desserts. Hands-down, the taster favorite was the Berry Tart ($6), which was a light, airy pudding with fresh berries.

I was delightfully surprised by the Carrot Cake ($5). Usually there's so much frosting on this cake, one can't see the carrots for the cream cheese. This, however, was very well balanced with a light touch both in the amount of frosting and the texture of the cake.

The Blueberry Kugel ($4) was a little dry for my taste, as I lean toward a wet kugel. Several other tasters disagreed and proclaimed the texture just right.

For beverages, I like the option of fountain sodas ($2) made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup.

Service was friendly and engaging. No formality necessary at Bubby's nor curmudgeonly waitresses. The decor includes church pews . . . a fusion of a whole other dimension!