Umamimart finally relaunched last month. We made it! It's now, I hope, faster and easier to navigate for ya'll-- and of course, so much prettier. Although we're still tirelessly trying to work out the kinks, I think this move marks a new era for Umamimart. Heck Yah!
To celebrate, I made a pitstop to NYC last month to check into UM's birthplace, where I consider to be its homebase, no matter where any of the writers might be in the world. I somehow rounded up over 20 people to join me for a special dinner at Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse, a Lower East Side institution for classic Jewish cuisine.
Sammy's is, in a word, Crazy Town. I knew this the moment I walked in, saw all the pastel balloons flying everywhere, the streamers hanging from the ceiling, the small dancefloor with a little DJ area, and one long keyboard set up in the center. It's a place I had heard about during my years in NYC, but never had the opportunity to go. I had deeply regretted it since moving, and so I thought it would be the perfect venue for the relaunch party.
You won't find any two tops here either-- all the tables were set up for at least 15 people. None of us quite knew what we were getting ourselves into, but figured that we couldn't be all that disappointed when there's a keyboard involved.
As usual, here's what everyone thought. All photos taken by Erin, Alda, Kiwa, and myself.
Words may not be able to capture the full experience that is Sammy's, as this establishment is not so much a restaurant but rather a cleverly disguised sideshow. The closest analogy would be to a thinly plotted action film like Die Hard or The Fast and The Furious in which plot is sacrificed for the pure shock and awe of fantastic pyrotechnics, improbable chases, and large balding heros.
I felt like I was at a bad Jewish fire hall wedding of some sort.
The walls are covered from top to bottom with decades-old photographs. Sammy's has been keepin' it real and holdin' it down at this exact location for over 30 years.
Of course let's not forget the most important (and amazing) aspect, the food. In my experience old school spots usually cruise on reputation and reputation alone (see Smith & Wollensky). Not so at Sammy's. Every bite I tried was delicious.
Everything was coursed out-- cold appetizers, fried foods, then the meats. We were all fascinated by the schmaltz (chicken fat), which I had read came in a bottle on every table.
The schmaltz was something I wished I could have bathed in. I would've poured it over my head if I had the parlor all to myself.
I was excited about the schmaltz on the table but was unsure how to use it.
The pickles were great, though the pickled green tomatoes were a bit too tart for me.
Now, onto the belle of the ball: I introduce you to The Chicken Liver.
I don’t remember any part of the food, except for completely utterly gross chicken liver that tasted AWESOME.
Here's a video I took of our guy pouring in the schmaltz and mixing the livers and carmelized onions altogether. Did you know heaven comes in a metal bowl?
The chicken liver was my favorite-- totally blew me away. I don't know what the hell was in there but holy crap, it was amazing.
The chopped chicken liver blew all other chicken liver out of the water and was hands down the best thing in the meal.
Dude, those carmelized onions paired with the livers... incredible. I loved the rolled cabbage too.
The fried items (in the appetizer course and the latkes) were stupendous.
The potato pancakes looked so good that I actually broke my vow to give up fried food during Lent and scarfed one down. Totally worth it.
Kiwa, I can not believe you gave up fried food for lent. I stand in awe.
The grilled sausages were incredible -- I loved the way they crumbled and were so juicy.
OMG, those sausages!!!! Such plump, moist pieces of... nevermind.
And last but certainly not least, the surprisingly tender, garlicky, and absolutely delicious steak.
The downside was that I had eaten so much by the time the steak came out that I was only able to manage one strip of that grilled deliciousness before calling it quits. Too bad cause if I had room I would have licked the plate clean. My least favorite dish was the salmon, which I thought was bland and unnecessary given how much food we already had on the table.
The steak was off the hook!!! Perfectly cooked, so tender, and not so much seasoning so that garlic spread really came through with true bite. I agree with Kiwa on the salmon-- it was really not fresh and unedible.
In Sammy's case the poor quality and flavor of the grease soaked meats and potatoes was over shadowed by the sheer magnitude of dishes and vodka that continued to flood the table. But the table and the Roumanian "cuisine" it held was just the tip of the proverbial vodka encased iceberg.
One thing I fully remember (or partially) is brilliant idea of freezing the vodka. Did you all see what I did with my Sammy’s t-shirt? Alcohol gives me creative inspiration. Thanks Corey for helping me.
Oh, LOVED the old-school soda bottles for the make-your-own egg creams! I never knew what went into one so it was interesting to see how easy it was to make. (Paystyle showed us.)
The rugelach was pretty blah too but at that point I was so stuffed I didn't really care about dessert.
The rugelach was remarkably good. I previously couldn't have imagined getting excited about rugelach, but these were pretty stellar.
Sorry, no pics of the rugelach, but I agree with Jenny, they were excellent.
At the end, it was a bit pricey at $100/head (yipes!), but I think everyone felt that it was well worth it for the amount of fun that we had, in addition to all the food that was served.
Overall the experience and service far exceeded my expectations, which is why I was fairly quick to get over my shock at the bill, once it was over. Sammy's is a complete vortex of fun, and definitely unlike any place I've been to new york (maybe the closest comparison would be the Bulgarian Bar circa 2002- miss those days!). So much camraderie and dancing amongst the different tables and service people! That night I attributed it to the feeling of being on a cruise ship, in the best possible way. I don't know if I'll go back next weekend, or even for a good while, but it was the perfect venue for Umamimart and Umamifolks.
Everyone had so much fun dancing before, during, and after dinner with one another in the restaurant, through the tables, on the chairs, on the dancefloor. We all got to know this dude really well.
The true delight was seeing how this Lower East Side restaurant suddenly morphed into a living breathing organism. The frequent lighting changes and DJ's random collection of music typically reserved for Bar Mitzvas and weddings suddenly turned several large tables of strangers into a single winding chain of friends bonded by chaos, fat clogged arteries, and a shared unique experience that no outsider would ever believe.
Sammy's Roumanian is the type of spot I'd imagine a Jewish gangster from the back-in-the-days Lower East Side would want to have his last meal. For me it was a completely novel cultural experience, yet it still had the familiarity of the loud, boisterous family get togethers I'm used to. I felt as if I crashed a Jewish wedding, and nobody minded. Needless to say I'll be heading back soon.
I thought Sammy's was totally amazing! I went in without very high expectations for the food because I expected it to be much more about the crazy Jewish Wedding experience, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that most everything I had was totally delicious.
Let's just say that Sammy's is not the sort of place where you would go for a romantic dinner, or take your tame in-laws. It's the equivalent of a night at your local, hole-in-the-wall stripclub-- where the chicken liver is the ageless hottie with the perkiest boobies... who has been dancing at the same joint for 40 years.
Thank you everyone for coming out and making this Umamiventure an extra special one. See you at the next relaunch party!!!
This here is the tamest photo taken throughout the night. I love how this captures the very OPPOSITE of the Sammy's experience. Ponder the Pickle, by Alda.
SAMMY'S ROUMANIAN STEAKHOUSE
157 Chrystie Street
Find more photos, and special portraits by Erin Gleeson, on the UM Flickr page:
[flickr album=72157623410066327 num=5 size=Thumbnail]
*Umamiventures are organized monthly, traveling far and wide to find good, cheap grub off the beaten path.
**Become a Facebook Fan of UM to stay updated on all future trips!
Past Umamiventures include:
1.) Ocean Jewel Restaurant – Flushing, NYC; June 2007
2.) Red Hook Ball Fields - NYC; June 2007
3.) Taste of Jackson Heights – NYC; October, 2007
4.) Sripraphai Restaurant – Woodside, NYC; November 2007
5.) WINTERMARKET – South St. Seaport; December 2007
6.) Jackson Diner- Jackson Heights, NYC; January 2008
7.) Pacificana – Sunset Park, NYC; February 2008
8.) Puerto Alegre – The Mission, SF; March 2008
9.) Dinosaur BBQ – Harlem, NYC; April 2008
10.) Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden – Astoria, NYC; May 2008
11.) Brooklyn Banh Mi Crawl – Sunset Park, NYC; August 2008
12.) Sheapshead Bay Lobster Crawl – NYC; September 2008
13.) Flushing Food Circuit – NYC; October 2008
14.) Strong Beer Month – SF; March 2009
15.) Loisaida Throwback Crawl – NYC; April 2009
16.) Harley Farms Goat Dairy – Pescadero, CA; June 2009
17.) Tomales Bay Oyster Farm – Marshall, CA; August 2009
18.) Din Tai Fung – LA; September 2009
19.) Din Tai Fung – Tokyo; September 2009
20.) Schroeder’s Oktoberfest – SF; October 2009
21.) Fish Taco Crawl – San Diego; November 2009
22.) St. George Spirits & Hangar One Vodka - Alameda; January 2010
22.5) Everett & Jones - OAK; January 2010