Christmas Eve at Woks and Lox
Over brisket one night in Williamsburg I got to talking with my friends about the flurry of holiday meals that were marching our way. What are you doing on Christmas Eve they asked. "Uh, I dunno, nothing?" Had I been back in San Francisco I would have spent it with my parents–or a non-Christmas celebrating friend–over a bowl of pho or a platter of sushi. Now that I was in New York I seemed to be surrounded by people that went home for the holidays. "Come with us to Woks and Lox," they said. I thought they were talking about some weird Wookie alt sci-fi thing. But, after some explanation, I realized they were inviting me to their 2nd very first Jewish and Chinese Christmas.
Produced by a pair of Jewish and Chinese food lovers, Jeff Orlick and Veronica Chan, Woks and Lox was a three-course vegetarian dinner–menu by Chichi Wang–for about 70 people at The Queens Kickshaw in Astoria. I spent most of Christmas Eve day trying not to eat so that I would be able to enjoy the meal but I was also thrilled that I actually had something fun to do. I asked Jeff why the veggie menu and he noted that the Queens Kickshaw is vegetarian and he continued, "the meat-free menu coincidentally was kosher." I've used that vegetarian equals kosher trick before too. Jeff also told me they decided no meat substitutes early on, which I think was a great call.
The Queens Kickshaw is a wood-lined funky, narrow little bar. In the front window was a table full of Mahjong playing ladies, each wearing a sweater or coat with dreidels and menorahs and mahjong tiles stitched on it. Past them was a worn wooden bar and a tap that caught my eye. The drinks I most wanted to try were the Singlecut Szechuan Matzo Beer and the alcoholic kombucha. The matzo beer was tasty. It had a golden yellow color and tasted smooth with just a little bit of hoppy, tangy finish. Also on tap was a five-spice hot-mulled Manischewitz. The bartender was kind enough to offer me a taste. It was surprisingly nice but still too sweet for me. If I was out in the cold or camping it would have been perfect.
My friends and I took our seats at the long communal table and looked over the menu. One of the first dishes, a taro, black bean and cilantro knish was tasty. It was rich and buttery and the filling was hearty. If I was more of a knish connoisseur I would be able to say more but I'm not. The knish came along with a kale salad, nothing too exciting, but a nice compliment. It was tangy and light and came mixed with diced apples.
My favorite dish of the night was the matzoh ball soup which came in a ginger shitake broth. It was definitely not-my-mama's broth. The soup had all the fatty flavor you would expect but the asian twist gave it a nuanced taste that melded well with the soft matzoh ball. Along with the ball were a few slices of asian rice cake and, while I am a fan of chewy rice cake, I'm not so sure the dish needed more carbs. More carrots and bok choy would have been perfect.
The remaining dishes of the night: kasha varnishkes (good but a little too crunchy in places), latkes (nicely accompanied by sour cream and apple sauce), pierogies (fried but rather faceless) and rugelach (the highlight of this group with earthy sesame seeds and naturally sweet red bean paste) were all good in their own way but for me I was pushed over the threshold of too many fried doughy items.
After dinner we all broke up and played games and bid on some silent auction items, which I didn't win–boohoo. When I left it was snowing but I had a full belly and a nice little gift bag of foodie friendly samples.
In case you're interested in more, Jeff will be co-producing the 2nd annual Viva La Comida festival in September 2013 and, he assures me, there will be a 3rd annual Woks and Lox, for those of us looking for a little Christmas eve company, which is certainly good news to me.