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Eat, Drink + Think

Matzo-Ball Bar Pops Up In L.A.

Despite the thaw we’re experiencing after an intense cold snap, we are still solidly in matzo-ball soup weather. Next week, the humble staple of the Ashkenazi culinary canon will be celebrated at the first official Kneydl Bar, a pop-up in L.A. dedicated to matzo balls.

Organizers Elina Gitig, Sonya Sanford and David Andreone felt like “nobody ever does anything with [kneydls],” said Gitig. “Everywhere you go, everyone is just giving you the most standard matzo-ball soup.” So, the three hatched a plan to invite chefs — both Jewish and not — to experiment with the dish for one night each month.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern looking particularly bad-ass, wearing the protective gear they use when making large batches of horseradish. Image by Lauren Volo

First up on the roster are Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern from the Gefilteria, who will serve a schmaltzy kneydl made with crushed matzo, garlic-soured challah and fresh herbs. To add some crunch, the kneydl will sit on top of crispy toasted noodles and gribenes, and a deep chicken broth will be poured tableside à la New York’s Second Avenue Deli. It will all be finished with a parsley and dill salad to add some brightness to the bowl.

The matzo ball, which can also be served in a vegetarian rendition, is inspired by their recent trip to Eastern Europe, nodding to the Polish soup Żurek, which is made with a sour fermented rye bread. It also looks to the German knoedl, a dumpling made with leftover bread or potatoes, from which the word kneydl derives, Alpern and Yoskowitz explained. To extend the meal they will serve in L.A., the pair is also preparing a root-vegetable salad with smoky plums that’s meant to bring tzimmes to mind, and a horseradish-infused vodka martini with a pickled carrot and onion finish.

Deciding on which direction to take the kneydl was the hard part, Alpern said. “There were so many possibilities. It’s one of our favorite Jewish foods.” The decision involved more than just a quick taste test. The two had “philosophical discussions about floaters vs. sinkers,” Yoskowitz explained, referencing one of the biggest debates in Jewish food: Should matzo balls be light and fluffy or dense and chewy? The testing allowed them to “ask these sorts of ridiculous questions of each other,” he said. “What’s going to enhance it? How much schmaltz? Where is that [schmaltz] coming from…There was something so fun and perfect about it.”

In the end, the pair settled on a fluffier matzo ball and decided to add an egg yolk to the soup, which “was a common Jewish soup thickener in the Old Country, when soup constituted a whole meal,” Alpern explained in an email.

In the future, the matzo balls at Kneydl Bar may not be as traditional. Gitig, Sanford and Andreone hope to use the project to bring in a diverse group of chefs and diners. “Yes, it’s a traditional Jewish soup, but the city of L.A. is a melting pot of different cultures,” Gitig said. “We want to respect and celebrate that by bringing people together over a bowl of soup.” Via email he added that they want to “invite chefs of all backgrounds to offer their interpretation of this classic dish. From Iran to Mexico to Vietnam.”

The February guest chef is still under wraps, but on Gitig’s dream list are Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the force behind some of L.A.’s most beloved restaurants including their eponymous Jon & Vinny’s. Also on that list is New York-based chef and restaurant David Chang. Gitig said she’s spotted him at the Hollywood farmers market and fantasizes about walking up and asking him to come cook matzo balls at the Kneydl Bar.

He might be a touch busy as he prepares to open a restaurant in L.A. soon, but Gitig hopes to keep Kneydl Bar running for quite a while. Asked about whether she’ll keep the pop-up going in the dog days of Los Angeles’s summer, she said that she isn’t certain but that “Ramen here in L.A. is huge [and] people are eating it in the summertime, so why not also matzo balls?”

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