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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Be gentle. This is my first restaurant review, as far as I can remember. And I’m writing it to prove that kosher food need not always adhere to the adage of “twice the price, half the taste” (that’s a joke by the way). But with some surveys showing that up to 20 percent of Americans look for a kosher symbol as an acknowledgment of product cleanliness and excellence, it’s high time for my non-Jewish friends to start discovering some excellent kosher restaurants.

This time of year has always been special for me. Not just because of my recent birthday or the Chanukah holiday, no matter how much I might love the birthday greetings and doughnuts that come along with the two. Rather, because it is at this time of year that so many of my kids, some of whom study or work far away from us, finish their studies and get a break from their work and finally come back home.

So when my soldier son came in from Israel from his service in the IDF, and my daughters from Washington, Brooklyn and Philadelphia, I knew I had to make the most of the occasion. If you’re kosher in New York and you want a truly beautiful night out with the family, there’s one place that comes to mind: The Prime Grill.

Set inside the open lobby of the Sony Building on Madison and 56th, the Prime Grill has a warm and intimate ambiance. The lighting and décor are first class. The restaurant is always teeming with people and you have to make sure to make a reservation beforehand. It’s a vibrant place. Still, it’s never cluttered or noisy, always maintaining its spacious and welcoming feel.

Kosher does not mean making compromises on food quality. And my friend Joey Allaham has been at the forefront of creating gourmet kosher cuisine in New York for nearly two decades.

At The Prime Grill, with over 30 appetizers there’s no shortage of paths to a culinary quest. If you’re feeling the fish, you can try a yellowtail carpaccio or a seared-Bluefin tuna toro. I’m no great connoisseur of fine meals and I don’t know what half these things are, other than they taste exquisite.

If sushi’s your thing, they’ve got over a dozen original rolls, some even peppered and grilled with the care you’d expect of an entrée. The kitchen appetizers are as good, if not even more creative. You can have special wagyu ribs, which come from a cow that spends most of its life being massaged to ensure the most marbled meat imaginable (yes, that’s a real thing). If you’re especially fancy you can try a tongue and sweetbread duet. Otherwise you can settle for a duck pad Thai, specialty beef-jerky, or some smoked barbeque short-ribs fajitas topped with sliced poblano peppers.

I personally have simpler tastes and for me The Prime Grill is all about the best kosher steaks.

When it comes to quality meats, the Prime Grill is second to none. Joey’s family was renowned in Syria for being the finest kosher butchers. He’s maintained that reputation in America. I ordered a well-done butterflied pepper-crusted fillet. Still searing hot from the grill, you’ll literally hear your steak sizzle as it arrives. My steak must have left the fire just moments before, a luxury I thought I could expect only if I were actually manning a barbeque. Each piece of meat—and there are many to choose from—is aged and cured to ensure the juiciest, tastiest experience. There is no place I’d rather enjoy a truly perfect steak.

Funnily enough, Prime Hospitality, the mother brand of the Prime Grill, has proven that they can handle not only meat, but milk too. Obviously, not in the same restaurant—that would be against Jewish law—but in another, equally phenomenal venue: The Service Station.

Newly opened in what was once an old-fashioned gas station in New York’s Upper East side, the Service Station is a masterful take on Italian dairy cuisine. As you walk in past the wood-floor patios, you’ll immediately notice the massive wood-fire brick-oven, where all of the restaurant’s specialty pizzas are made. I personally chose the wild-mushroom pizza with its truffle-oil drizzle, but there is a host of other options—including a smoked-salmon and burratta pizza, a pesto pie or a jalapeno pizza topped with spicy honey. If you’re really looking to treat yourself, you might opt for one of their totally original fried pizzas. Otherwise, you can take any pizza gluten-free.

The pasta and fish dishes, however, do a bit more justice to the more formal atmosphere of the Service Station. They’ve got both tuna and salmon burgers along with an array of grilled fish—including a whole grilled Branzino with bay leaves, lemon and fresh thyme. Of course, you can take my recommendation and order the seared tuna-steak. Sticking to the Italian theme that underlies the restaurant, I tried some of their pastas as well. They’ve got a truly perfect fettuccini alfredo, a wonderful spaghetti carbonara, and a wild-mushroom pasta dish with rustic, torn pasta rags.

They’ve also got a truly original brunch menu where you can find dishes you won’t find anywhere else. Among the treasures you can find here are the avocado toast, the corn cakes, the hungry-jack pancake stack or the halumi eggs-benedict.

As if things couldn’t get better, all cheeses are made in-house.

So, whether you’re looking for a place to celebrate an anniversary or birthday, a homecoming or date-night, or just looking to explore some top-of-the-line cuisine, Prime Hospitality’s restaurants should sit at the top of your list.

And with the opening of the brand-new Service Stations, you can go for meat or milk.

Joey has been my friend of a decade and a half and our organization takes most of its VIP speakers from around the world to his restaurants to demonstrate to them the excellence of outstanding modern kosher cuisine.

Thank you, Joey. You make the Torah’s laws of kosher food truly shine.

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach