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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Battle Jewtalian: Pitting Brisket Against Braciole

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 10:00 AM

The fish round: baccala salad on the left, smoked fish on the right. - ALEX HOCHMAN
  • Alex Hochman
  • The fish round: baccala salad on the left, smoked fish on the right.
Like Moshe Dayan in the Six Day War, Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series, and Dustin Hoffman at multiple Oscar ceremonies, Sam Leonard scored a big win for the Jews last Saturday night with a decisive takedown of his Jersey Tomatoes

catering boss, Christian Noto, at Battle Jewtalian.The food fight, held on a

rooftop terrace at the Tenderloin's Cova Hotel, went four rounds, with 43 diners (including SFoodie, who was invited to cover the bout) voting for their

favorite dishes.

In round one, Leonard came out of his corner swinging, with

a one-two combo of cured sockeye salmon and house-smoked whitefish, which dominated Leonard's baccalà (salt cod) salad. The mild sweetness of the salmon and

the forceful smoky flavor of the whitefish made us forget, if for only a

moment, that we were 2,900 miles away from Russ & Daughters. We noticed many guests pushing

away their baccalà salads after only one bite, and soon understood why -- it was mushy and overly fishy. Leonard easily won this wound by an

announced score of 42-1.

Noto rebounded strong in round two with his Italian

wedding soup, highlighted by two rustic meatballs and a poached egg that

had the taste and consistency of soft mozzarella. We especially liked

the addition of escarole, which added a bitter zing to the broth.

Leonard's chicken and vegetable soup with kreplach (Jewish dumplings)

was oversalted. His kreplach wasn't a dumpling; it was a

square sheet of pasta thrown in the bowl over shreds of chicken, rather

than the traditional ground beef. Deconstructed healthy kreplach?

Leonard's bubbe wouldn't approve. We scored this round for Noto, as did the crowd. 

The hardest round to judge was the third, pitting Noto's

bucatini with clams against Leonard's unorthodox riff on matzo brei, a

common Passover breakfast dish. What the bucatini lacked in originality,

it made up for in flavor. Briny clam liqueur evenly coated noodles cooked al dente, no easy feat considering the makeshift

kitchen setup. Noto's New Jersey ancestors would have been proud.

Leonard's artfully composed dish featured a six-minute egg wobbling on

top of a rectangle of matzo, eggs, onions, and leeks. Diners were

supposed to pierce the egg so that the yolk would ooze all over the

matzo cake. However, too much time elapsed before service, and both the

egg and the matzo cake hardened, resulting in a pasty mess. Not even a

splash of vibrant homemade ketchup could save it. We gave this round to

Noto, but the crowd voted for Leonard out of respect for his creativity. 

Leonard emphatically knocked out Noto in the fourth and

final round with a fork-tender braised beef brisket with Vidalia onions that

trumped any taste memory we could conjure. A stone-fruit glaze

balanced out the onions, and sides of perfectly executed tsimmis

(sweetened carrots) and garlic-flecked fingerling potatoes proved that,

sometimes, it's best to leave ancient recipes alone. Noto tried to

counter with veal braciole (thinly pounded meat rolled with garlic,

herbs and Parmigiano Reggiano), but it arrived leathery, dry, and difficult

to cut. The accompanying ricotta manicotti was

tasty, but we wished that it had been a bit lighter.

The contestants jovially hugged after the results were

announced, assuring the cheering crowd that they will peacefully

coexist when back at work this week in their kitchen. We look forward

to future collaborations between Dishcrawl, the promoter of Battle Jewtalian, and Jersey Tomatoes. Perhaps a rematch?

Read more from Alex Hochman at Urban Stomach. Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie

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Alex Hochman

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