Eastern European / New York / Restaurants/Bars

The Whitefish Challenge

You’re wrong if you think the whitefish challenge of this post’s title means a competition to eat the most whitefish in the least amount of time.  I don’t know if that would excite you or gross you out but either way that’s not what it refers to.  The whitefish challenge is something my brother, sister-in-law, and I dreamed up back in October when they were here for their last visit.  They had recently discovered the bagel topper and though I was thoroughly disgusted by its name alone, they convinced me to try it and I found it was not so bad.  Though they are both Ess-a-Bagel devotees, they thought the whitefish from the random bagel place below my apartment was better.  That got us thinking: if a no-name guy was better than one of New York’s most famous places, there could be some major whitefish salad competitors out there.  We decided to try them all and crown one of them king.

10 months we’ve been talking about this and it finally happened.  In that lag time between visits, I spent my time researching.  I looked at all the blogs and reviews I could find to determine who could score themselves entrée into our little taste-off.  The final three were Daniel’s Bagels (the place by my apartment that we already knew was great), Zucker’s Bagels (famous for their smoked fish in Tribeca and happened to have just opened their second location near my apartment a couple months ago), and finally Russ and Daughters (known to be the premier source of NYC’s “appetizing” for years…not that I knew appetizing was anything other than an adjective until recently).  We left at 11:30 to grab all the ingredients, picking up bagels from Ess-a so they would all be on an even playing field.  It’s a good thing we were committed to this project because that’s the only way we could have spent the two hours it took collecting everything and then finding a park bench to commence the judging process.  We spent a lot of time discussing each one because as my brother put it: “If you’re gonna spend two hours getting this stuff ready, you better analyze the fuck out of it.”  Here’s how it played out:

  1. Daniel’s: by far the creamiest.  They must add some sort of cream cheese or sour cream to it.  Also the saltiest, which, to me, makes it seem a bit fishier.
  2. Zucker’s: middle of the road creamy.  Had a very smoky flavor vs. Daniel’s’ salt-cured.
  3. Russ and Daughters: Not creamy but pureed very fine for a smooth texture.  Includes smoked salmon for a different flavor.  Most bland in flavor but points for being in the LES and maintaining the neighborhoods Jewish roots.

If we’re talking about just fish, we all agreed we would rank as above.  Allison in particular was a major Daniel’s fan.  But then we started playing around and discovered some great pairing that changed the game.  Mark mixed the Daniel’s and Zucker’s whitefish and thought that was the holy grail.  It had the creamy texture we wanted with the smoked flavor we liked.  I loved putting whitefish row on top of the Russ and Daughters version.  Since they are now located near each other, this would not be a difficult thing to do.  The caviar and bagel sandwiches are what Russ and Daughters is famous for so it made sense that the caviar would take the seemingly boring whitefish salad to a whole new level.  It bumped it up to #2, maybe #1 in my book.

So there you have it.  The Konter sibs have done all the research so you don’t have to.  Now you know exactly where to go when you’re serving brunch to a bunch of hungry New Yorkers.

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