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Octavia's Porch

Note: Octavia’s Porch closed in May 2011 after just six months in business.


It’s Hanukkah! Which put me in the mood, the other day, to visit chef Nikki Cascone’s new Jewish-themed restaurant, Octavia’s Porch.

Cascone is Jewish on her mother’s side. (She’s also a Top Chef alum, having been eliminated mid-way through Season 4.) She told the Times, “I want people to understand Jewish food that goes beyond the New York deli.”

The menu is a mixture of obviously Jewish dishes (Gefilte fish, Kreplach, Latkes), and a few others you could find anywhere (roasted chicken; a veggie club sandwhich). The only nod to the other half of her heritage (her father’s Italian side) is a buckwheat tagliatelle entrée. There is certainly enough to please those for whom the Jewish dishes hold no appeal.

It’s all offered at Avenue B prices, so appetizers are mostly $10 or less, sandwiches $12, entrées $18–22, desserts $6–7. Cocktails seem like a great deal at $10, until the bartender tops off your Mojito from a soda gun, sending it to a watery grave.

The warm, house-made bread could be Robert Atkins’ public enemy #1. Serving such a gorgeous specimen to a solo diner is almost criminal. Most three-star restaurants don’t serve bread this good. The only explanation I got out of the server was, “She just uses a very high quality flour.”

Kreplach, as Wikipedia tells us, “are small dumplings filled with ground meat, . . . usually boiled and served in chicken soup.” The Kreplach here ($8; below left) are an error of both conception and execution. Made with beef and veal, they quickly fell apart, with the meat filling not adhering to the dough. Worse yet, the traditional chicken soup was replaced with an inauthentic dipping sauce of soy and scallions. These were not the Kreplach of my youth, nor were they an improvement.

But Long Island Duck Breast ($19; above right) was wonderful, with glistening meat wearing a sensuous coat of fat and skin. Spiced vanilla–apple sauce was unsubtle, but just fine. It comes with a latke, and though I didn’t mind that it was made with sweet potato, it won’t put Russ & Daughters out of business.

The space is bare-bones, particularly in the rear dining room, but old-school chandeliers and sconces make it feel like home. Menus are presented in a laminated sleeve, which means they don’t have to be replaced as often, but which also makes them look a bit cheap. The wine list is unmemorable. Service was reasonably smooth, for a restaurant that had been open just three days. The restaurant was full, and with clearly more than just an Avenue B crowd.

I am sure there will be adjustments to the menu. Cascone understands the idiom and there is no question she can cook. The bread and the duck entrée show promise of how good the restaurant can be. The kreplach show that there is still some work to do. I would certainly go back, if I lived anywhere nearby.

Octavia’s Porch (40 Avenue B between E. 3rd & E. 4th Streets, East Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

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