Category: Food

Eden Woks Away

I recently received the unfortunate news that the Eden Wok on 72nd is now closed (though not updated on their website). I’ve always liked Eden Wok for the quality/price, and the $20 all you can eat Mondays was remarkably convenient for sheva berachot.
The best story I have though has to be the time when Jose and I split a pu pu platter. I noticed one of the egg rolls was precariously close to the flame thingie in the middle, and then the nearby wontons started smoking. Before we knew it, all the deep fried goodies started catching fire which spread to the wooden serving bowl itself.
It took a while to flag down a waiter – in retrospect service could have been faster that day – and they promptly doused the thing in water and gave use a new one. I guess what made it funny at the time was how nonchalant Jose and I were to the point where the guests seated nearby looked like we were crazy for being so calm – which of course was a completely accurate assessment.
Ah, good times.

Revisiting The Restaurant Health Codes

Last summer we discussed the deplorable conditions at the popular eatery Kosher Delight. As you may recall, KD failed its 05/05/2006 inspection with a score of 33 violation points, and after briefly rebounding to a more respectable score of 9, is currently holding its precarious score of 26.
A score 28 or above is considered failing, and requires a reinspection.
Much to my surprise (and dismay) KD doesn’t even come close to being the worst in New York. According to Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) that dubious distinction belongs to Cafe La Fonduta which somehow racked up an astounding 160 violation points, and my own quick lookup returned D.M. International Restaurant with an impressively pathetic score of 174.
Once again, the failing score is 28.
After some more poking around I noticed that at least three of the worst offenders were presumably Kosher establishments, interestingly, all located in Brooklyn. Souad Glatt Kosher Catering received a 105 on 12/26/2006, then the homely named Ess N’ Bench scored a 106 on 02/15/2007, and finally “Moses Wertzberger” received a 122 on 12/12/2006.
The dates here are relevant for the all important “historical context;” some establishments have a long history of negligence while it’s possible that other just had a bad day. For example, in 2006 Souad Glatt failed three other inspections (29,32,55) before finally dropping to a more respectable 8. On the other hand, Ess N’ Bench has had generally been acceptible score-wise.1 (No history was listed for Mr. Wertzberger)
We also find this variation on the most extreme end of the scale. D.M. International typically scored high (37,22,20,59) but Cafe La Fonduta was relatively acceptable scoring 12 and 16 in previous inspections.
How do these establishments degrade so drastically? My guess is that there would have to be either a significant change in the establishment or in the health codes, possibly both. If a restaurant changes ownership, the new proprietors may be either oblivious or incompetent in the areas of food safety and city guidelines. Changes in the establishment may also include irresponsible physical alterations. Violation 7 of Ess N’ Bentch is labeled “Facility Design,” a violation notably absent in their previous inspection. This would lead me to conclude that somehow the design or layout changed of certain areas which could have led to not only the specific violation but facilitated every other one as well. Finally, any changes in the health codes would obviously impact the final scoring if what was once acceptable is now deemed to be a violation.2
Even so, some of these increases do seem high to me. While I suggest avoiding the above establishments, I am also wondering if we also should take these reports with a grain of salt.

1. As I mentioned in one of the earlier posts on the subject, I personally view some violations more severe than others. Lacking an “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign does not bother my sensibilities as much as any violation involving “mice” or “vermin.”
2. There are many other possibilities, but I am focusing on those which do not involve anything illegal.

Kosher Delight Passes…Barely

When we last looked at Kosher Delight’s health inspection report we found that they failed their 05/05/2006 inspection with 33 points of violations and required a full reinspection.
I just noticed that the reinspection was done on 07/13/2006 with a marginal improvement. KD did pass this inspection scoring 26 violation points – the failing mark is 28 points.

The violations cited are disturbingly similar to what was found previously. In addition to “Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist” and “Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” this time we also have “Evidence of flying insects or live flying insects present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” and “Evidence of roaches or live roaches present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.”

Kind of makes you want to go vegetarian elsewhere.

Dishing Commentary

Work just sent out an e-mail informing us that one of our employee perks is a 15% discount on Michael C. Fina. I don’t anticipate taking advantage of this benefit in the near future, but I did poke around their website to see what’s actually being sold and just how expensive everything is.
I got distracted by the following product description:

Vera Wang’s dinnerware collection is inspired by the contemporary bride. Dishwasher safe, it is meant to be used every day.

I just found the juxtaposition of “contemporary bride” and “dishwasher safe” to be particularly amusing.

Not-So-Kosher Certification

I had a conversation over Shavuot with someone who works nearby my office in midtown and we were discussing some of local eateries in the area. When I brought up Kosher Delight he mentioned that a coworker of his showed him a health code document citing the restaurant for numerous violations.
Lo and behold, he was right.
According to the NYC’s Department of Health’s website, KD’s recent inspection on 05/05/2006 turned up a whopping 33 violations1 including the disturbing indictments of “Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist” and “Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.”
This will come as no surprise to some people – Shosh once found teeth marks on a packet of BBQ sauce – but I can’t help but feel more than a little unnerved. This is hardly the first time a Kosher restaurant has been cited for such violations, and others have been forced to close altogether. Aside from the potential hillul hashem involved, such violations make people question the point of keeping kosher especially in understanding why it is more important for food to be separated from utensils than it is to be kept away from rodents.
Although it will never happen, I think it would be nice to have the Kashrut agencies keep up with the Health Code and to have their hashgachot dependant on compliance. Not only would this force restaraunts to follow dina d’malchuta and clean up their establishments, but it would also avoid creating the perception that the NYC Health Code is somehow a “higher standard” of food preperation.
In the meantime, I’ll be bagging lunch for a while…

1. Note that this is only for the KD in midown. The one on 13th Ave in Brooklyn had 6 currently unspecified violations from their November inspection and all were addressed. The one on Ave J had two violations in December which were addressed.

The OU’s Official Response(s)

Once again, Dani gives us two links to the official OU responses to the shehita controversy. First is the Statement of Rabbis and Certifying Agencies on Recent Publicity on Kosher Slaughter which was actually earlier. Now, it happens to be hosted on the OU’s site. The second piece is a message from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (Executive Vice President) and Rabbi Menachem Genack (Kashrut Rabbinic Administrator).
I’m putting the text of the message below. Between the two letters, I think the OU has done a decent job of responding both to the halakhic non-issue and to PETA’s claims of animal cruelty.
While I doubt this will be the last we hear of this in the media (internet and otherwise), I’m willing to let it go until a real halakhic problem comes out of it or until something egregious actually warrants a response.