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Delancey Street Newcomer Moscow 57 is More Than a Restaurant

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Moscow 57 shows off the lighter side of Russian food. Photo by Alex M. Smith.
Moscow 57 shows off the lighter side of Russian food. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

Here’s the thing about Moscow 57: It’s always a party, and you are always invited.

Go with a partner on a romantic date (you won’t be the only ones). Go with a group of friends for live music, which is on tap every night the doors are open (Wednesday through Sunday). Go solo and sit at the bar for a meal among friends you just met (but beware of the vodka infusions that flow freely).

The lively restaurant that’s also a music venue, a catering and events company and an arts collective debuted at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in February, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of proprietor Ellen Kaye. The still-evolving menu is “Russian/Central-Asian from a New Yorker’s perspective”—which translates into homey but not heavy dishes influenced by cuisines from Turkey to Kazakhstan and many points north. At $6 each, the cold salads are real standouts; try the date and orange salad with napa cabbage and pistachios. From the kitchen overseen by partner Seth Goldman, there are plenty of choices in the caviar department ($85 and up), as well as nods to neighborhood giants in a plate of cocktail sandwiches featuring Russ & Daughters’ whitefish salad and Katz’s pastrami (3 for $6).

The handmade plates come from Istanbul, the wall clock displays Moscow time and the whiskey is small-batch. The musicians hail from just across the East River and around the globe, a rotating cast of regulars that includes Ethan Fein, a guitarist who is Kaye’s second business partner. Between live acts, the soundtrack varies wildly, from classical Russian composers to Prince.

The walls are lined with photos of prominent men and women of all races and backstories, as well as family mementos documenting Kaye’s parents’ days as the owners of the Russian Tea Room. (Her father, Sidney Kaye, ran the iconic midtown restaurant from 1947 until he died in 1967; her mother Faith Stewart-Gordon took over until 1996, when she sold it.) A noticeable celebration of diversity runs through the place, from the Women’s History Month banners created by one of the singers to the Pussy Riot buttons worn by the wait staff.

“Ellen’s mission statement is never to have anyone walk through that door and not feel welcome,” says Jahde Barasch-Grose, the manager, as she draws shots of vodka for a young couple who popped in after walking across the bridge on their first date. “She can’t change the world, but she can make things happen inside her own four walls.”

Ellen Kaye is the driving force behind Moscow 57; she also sings. Photo by Alex M. Smith.
Ellen Kaye is the driving force behind Moscow 57; she also sings. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

Those four walls have been a long time coming for Kaye, who has spent her life preparing to open her own place. She’s schooled herself on all aspects of the restaurant and music businesses, beginning with taste-testing the borscht in her father’s kitchen as a young child and gigging in tiny clubs as a young adult. She completed a culinary degree and worked a variety of jobs at a dizzying list of prominent establishments (in addition to her parents’), including 21 and Union Square Café. She was the national events director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group and worked with many big names in the business, such as David Burke and Tony May. She’s also an accomplished singer with three CDs under her belt who has performed at the Iridium jazz club and the Metropolitan Room.

It’s quite a resume by any standards, but in a neighborhood known as an incubator for young, start-up chefs experimenting with new restaurant concepts, Kaye brings an unusual level of experience and clarity of vision.

“This is New York, you know? It’s no place to mess around,” Kaye says over a plate of spicy cucumber-pomegranate salad. “I knew if I was going to do this, I was going to need a lot of chops.”

The Moscow 57 concept, whose name is an homage to both Kaye’s heritage and the Russian Tea Room’s address, encompasses a wide variety of people, places and things. Its music and food is rooted not only in New York and Russia but also New Orleans. Its events have run the gamut from urban salons and podcasts to summer pop-up dinners in a Harlem community garden. Visual and performing artists come along for the ride, lending talents and voices. Goldman, an experienced restaurateur, also produced all three of Kaye’s albums. The pair met in college at Sarah Lawrence and added Fein to the partnership along the way.

“We’re all hybrids,” Kaye says.

The group’s original plan for the brick-and-mortar iteration of Moscow 57 was a larger venue in the theater district, which was rumored to be in the works as long ago as 2011.

Three years later, however, midtown’s loss is the Lower East Side’s gain, and the party is just getting started.

“Every night when you walk through that door, we’re going to deliver,” Kaye says.

Find Moscow 57 at 168 ½ Delancey Street (at Clinton Street). The restaurant opens nightly at 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

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