New York Jewish Week via JTA – Four years ago, businessman Albert Gad opened UN Plaza Grill, an elegant kosher restaurant, in the Midtown East skyscraper he lived in. The space was beautiful – high ceilings, tall windows, starched white sheets covering well-spaced tables, with a view of the United Nations across the street. The food was delicious. The service, refined.
Gad created this upscale kosher restaurant to, in his own words, “give people a different feeling about kosher food.” And he did. People have come for the porcini and white mushroom soup, topped with truffle oil and croutons, and for the perfectly grilled rib eye steak.
But no restaurant could stop the damaging progress of COVID. In March 2020, the restaurant closed. Gad kept his apartment, but he joined the exodus from New York to Miami, to live there full time.
Rather than abandon the restaurant, in which he was heavily invested, Gad reopened it in August 2020 with the same staff and chef – although he announced the appointment of Ines Chattas last month, restaurant professional of Argentinian origin and based in Miami. as “culinary director”. She is responsible for revitalizing the menu, making it more contemporary and expanding its international character.
In her new role, she brings a range of skills: she cooks. She’s planning. She designs menus. She crunches the numbers. And if more contemporary is what the restaurant needs, Chattas has a cool vibe all its own.
Chattas, 45, has been involved in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, first in the back of the house, at restaurants like the Icebox Cafe in Miami Beach, and more recently as a chef in the popular 10-year-old restaurant Open Kitchen restaurant in Bay Harbor, near North Miami. From there, she was recruited to be the chef / operator of two resident-only restaurants, including the Majestic Tower in Bal Harbor, the building where Gad lives. This is where Gad became a fan of his food and his business acumen.
He first asked her to move to New York to work at UN Plaza Grill four years ago.
âI never took it seriously. I have three businesses in Florida! said Chattas. But this fall, after a trip to New York City to see the restaurant and meet the staff, she agreed. She would continue to run her Florida restaurants, but she would add UN Plaza Grill to her very busy plate by coming in as a consultant.
Keep the leader. Keep the staff. As Culinary Director, she would polish the existing menu, add more international and ‘hip’ elements and bring it to the level she and Gad think it belongs to.
Chattas is also a new face in a male dominated industry.
âShe’s one of the few women to hold the # 1 spot at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan,â said Elan Kornblum, founder of Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group. Women in the kosher restaurant business have noted that the industry’s long hours and late nights can be difficult to balance with their traditional communities’ expectations of raising a family.
Chattas is excited for the challenge, but there has been a learning curve. Chattas is Jewish but didn’t grow up keeping kosher. His great-great-grandparents were Jewish gauchos, brought to Argentina with other immigrants from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the German Jewish financier and philanthropist. She has warm memories of her great-grandmother Clara’s chicken matzah dumpling soup – and she replicates that flavor in hers – but she’s never worked in a kosher kitchen before.
âI put grilled skirt steak with chimichurri on the menu and learned that kosher skirt steak is too salty,â Chattas said. (Because skirt steak is so thin that it absorbs more salt in the kosher process than thicker cuts of beef.)
Working under the direction and tutelage of the restaurant mashgiach (kosher supervisor), Chattas made some changes. You can still get the perfectly grilled pepper steak from the old menu, but now it’s pepper filet mignon with a pepper sauce – derived from non-dairy Tofutti.
“I have found that Toffuti gives the sauce a creaminess,” she said. âI’m happy with the way he came out. “
Chattas’ multicultural background also stands out. She describes herself as a “complete mutt”, with food and family roots in Germany, Georgia, Italy, Spain, France, Hungary, Lebanon and Syria. She credits her Syrian stepfather for teaching her how to make spicy kefta meatballs, a new addition to the menu, flavored with baharat, cinnamon and cumin. The veal cutlet, garnished with salad, is a nod to Argentina, where it is a ubiquitous catering offer.
Tonight special @unplazagrill Blackened sirloin steak come join us later
Posted by UN Plaza Grill on Monday, October 18, 2021
Plans are underway to give the restaurant a facelift. âWe are finalizing the design of a new bar,â said Chattas. âPeople love to sit in a bar. It automatically creates a scene. Every place in town that happens has one. We are planning events on Saturday evening with tapas, cocktails and a DJ.
With the UN as inspiration, Gad and Chattas will further internationalize their menu for the benefit of the kosher community and the diplomatic corps.
âWe are planning a world tour,â said Chattas. âWe’ll highlight a different country each month and organize it in a way that makes sense. For example, since Bastille Day is in July, July would be the month of France. We will have a fixed price menu by a French chef, working with us, and offer kosher French wine. “
At a dinner there recently, days before the latest Omicron-induced COVID wave, the change was on the plate. Chattas’ braised boneless short ribs, flavored with herbs and spices, were both comforting and daring. You could taste the required onions and garlic in the sauce, but the pink peppercorns and allspice were there as well.
But that was then and it is now. How will the Omicron variant impact Gad and Chattas’ plans in the future?
âThe pandemic is here to stay,â Gad said. “People are not going to lock themselves inside.” Chattas hopes this latest hike will be, in his own words, “in and out”.
But watch out for them during NY Winter Restaurant Week (January 18 through February 13). They’ll be there and offer highlights from their menu: curried lamb samosas with mango salsa, short rib stew with spicy tomatoes and, of course, center rib steak. And if you can’t make it, the entire menu is available for take out and delivery.