Chef Christopher Kostow is known for being the youngest chef ever to earn three Michelin stars, which he did for the restaurant at Meadowood in Saint Helena. His other accolades in the culinary world are too numerous to mention. Is it possible that he would then become known for pioneering a matzah ball soup with fish sauce, lemongrass and Thai chili peppers?
“Lemongrass and fish sauce in matzah ball soup?” Miso vegetable spread on a bagel? Kimchi and gochujang dressing on a Reuben instead of sauerkraut and Russian dressing? What?”
I hear the traditionalists in my head like a Greek choir.
I had come to Napa to try Loveski, the self-proclaimed new “Jewish” grocery store. Before I sat down I was ready to order a whitefish salad on a bagel. But when the chef told me he served his on the softest, freshly baked white bread with a handful of fresh herbs, I went with it. And when I took a bite, I got a little spice from fresh Thai green chili rings and a surprising herb, with a generous helping of dill and Thai basil. It was like no whitefish salad I had ever had. But it was so delicious, I didn’t care.
The same can be said for the other items I tried. The kimchi and gochujang dressing (a Korean fermented condiment that is both sweet, spicy and salty) made Reuben so delicious, it tasted both completely new and close enough to the original that I still think about it once again. week later.
Kostow told me that in the end he just wanted everything to be delicious, and in that I believe he succeeded.
“I’m not a real foodie. I know that sounds weird,” he said. “My car is dirty. I like to walk around and give people a pickle.
Loveski opened in late March at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, an indoor market similar to the Ferry Building, with specialty food stores and restaurants.
It’s not every day that a chef who has earned three Michelin stars opens a casual, fast-paced Jewish deli, so it’s been a hot topic. Kostow is the chef of two other restaurants on Saint Helena, Charter Oak and The Restaurant at Meadowood, which is being rebuilt after burning down in the September 2020 Glass Fire.
Loveski comes from his family’s pre-Ellis Island surname, Koslovski. The restaurant “brings back that lost part of the name [and] traditions associated with the Jewish Diaspora,” according to its website.
The Reuben tasted both completely new and close enough to the original that I was still thinking about it a week later.
Kostow, 45, grew up in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb so Jewish that it wasn’t until he was 12 or 13 that he realized the whole world wasn’t Jewish, a- he declared. Although his family was not very observant, he did a bar mitzvah. He started cooking at 14 at a music festival, and by the time he was 30 he had earned the first of his Michelin stars.
When approached in 2020 by the owner of Oxbow about a street corner becoming available, the idea of the deli came to mind. But it wasn’t the first time Kowtow had this idea. In 2009, when he was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine, he told the magazine his dream project was to open a California version of Katz’s Deli.
He has now realized that long-ago dream. It wasn’t that hard because “Jewish food has a lot in common with the food we’ve had in our other restaurants,” he said.
“There’s a lot of preservation and fermentation of food, and I started thinking about how we can apply things from the farm to that concept,” Kostow said. Much of the produce he uses is grown on his nearby farm.
As for describing his business as “Jewish,” Kostow was clear that he avoided the air of nostalgia that many delis rely on.
“It was important to me that we didn’t do this fake New York or shtetl reference point that I think a lot of delis do. It felt dishonest to us,” he said. “We wanted it to be relevant to us. We wanted it to be a bigger tent, to include people who have no idea what Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant or Russ & Daughters is. We wanted to make it as inclusive as possible.
His wife, Martina, is of Thai descent and is a partner in the business, which explains why Jewish cuisine includes characteristics of Asian cuisine. If you shake your head at the thought of Southeast Asian ingredients in his “Den’s Way” matzah ball soup – Den is Kostow’s mother-in-law – don’t hit it until you try it ; I already believed that a dash of fish sauce made so many things better, and Loveski’s soup confirmed it.
Kostow said his sandwiches are deliberately not gigantic (despite his father’s complaints), allowing customers to eat them more frequently than they would a typical oversized deli sandwich. And in line with current food trends, there are plenty of gluten-free options in the form of salads, as well as vegan options.
All of Loveski’s bread, including Reubens’ rye, is baked in Charter Oak. Kostow entered the thriving Bay Area bagel scene, making bagel dough in Charter Oak and baking them on-site in Loveski.
Her bagels are more Montreal-style, boiled in water with a little honey, and toasted whole before being served.
“Bagels are hard to do right,” he said, but he’s about to be 100% happy with the results. “We wanted something that felt artisanal and Californian, with a good crust and crackers.”