“I didn’t know they frequented kosher restaurants,” Gershkovich said. “The first thing they did was order the most expensive bottle of wine we had. They said they had heard it was one of the best restaurants on the West Side. I couldn’t have asked for nicer guests.”
Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie may have their disagreements, but they have each graced The Prime Grill with their presence and agreed that sushi was a good choice at the eatery on East 49th Street.
So, why would celebrities with discerning palates choose a kosher restaurant when there are so many non-kosher restaurants to choose from?
“The point is there’s a kosher restaurant and there’s a fine-dining restaurant that’s certified kosher,” said Steven Traube, chief of operations at The Prime Grill, which is owned by Joey Allaham and has a location in Beverly Hills. “We’re not serving brisket and gefilte fish. We’re carrying prime USDA grade beef. The only difference is the way it was slaughtered.”
Could it be that kosher diners are so engrossed in their meals that they wouldn’t even notice if Jerry Seinfeld sat on their laps? Or might celebrities want to lay low and think that they might not be recognized by kosher customers? Not the case, according to Traube, who added that it was one of his staff members who didn’t recognize a celebrity singer.
“Bono came in once at 4:00 p.m., and we’re closed between lunch and dinner,” Traube said. “He said he just wanted to have coffee and sushi. The maitre’ d said ‘Oh, there’s a Starbucks around the corner.’ He didn’t recognize him.”
Traube said that, as a general rule, celebrities want to get noticed and they want to be where it’s hopping. Then there’s a snowball effect where people start coming back. Like Gershkovitch, Traube said that the customers see it as a great restaurant and not specifically a great kosher restaurant.
What does Donald Trump eat at The Prime Grill in New York? A burger with lettuce instead of a bun, said Traube, who added that after Trump was heard to have been there, Marla Maples showed up several days in a row.
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the kashrut division of the Orthodox Union, said it’s not so surprising to hear that celebrities are now coming to certain kosher restaurants.
“There’s definitely not the stigma that there used to be,” Elefant said. “The old-fashioned kosher restaurants have died out and you’re seeing a trend toward the upscale and fine dining. There’s the perception that kosher is healthier, and many diners now wouldn’t even recognize that a restaurant was kosher until they saw someone who was identifiably Jewish. I think it’s a real testament to the achievements that have been made in kosher dining.”
Eddie Allaham, owner of La Carne Grill, said he has hosted Gov. George Pataki as well as presidential candidate Fred Thompson.
Allaham said health is a premium and that is one of the reasons celebrities might choose his restaurant. He said celebrities’ fears of mad cow disease or bugs in food are allayed when they come to his restaurant on East 39th Street and Lexington Avenue.
There has never been a higher interest in food sources, from wanting organic foods to fears of bad seafood, says Bruce Mattel, interim associate dean for curriculum and instruction for culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America. “As far as celebrities go, I have a feeling that it has something to do with food security,” Mattel said. “It’s known that there’s another set of eyes on the food and that’s important.”
Besides health concerns, there’s also a curiosity of how kosher food is different. When Kutcher and Moore came to Mike’s Bistro, they had one major question: “They wanted to know what makes wine kosher,” Gershkovitch said.
In terms of pop culture, Madonna’s role can’t be overlooked as her mystical musings have brought Judaism into the public eye for better or worse. Her interest in Judaism may have carried over to other celebrities and she may have helped to make kosher equally cool. Besides eating at The Prime Grill and La Carne Grill, she even stopped into Café Roma (then on Amsterdam Avenue and West 91st Street and now closer to West 102nd Street) for some spinach slices. Manager Shlomo Badalov said he was surprised, but knew that Madonna’s daughter’s boyfriend ate there and liked the pizza.
While it may be hard to believe that celebrities would forgo their crab cakes, lobster and cheeseburgers, they are willing to do so, whether it’s due to health concerns, the food, the vibe or sheer curiosity. Kutcher and Moore came back to Mike’s Bistro a second time and famous people regularly return to The Prime Grill. Paris Hilton even threw her birthday bash at The Prime Grill’s West Coast location, and it was well reported that things got out of hand.
But at the end of the day, it’s flattering that celebrities would choose a kosher restaurant, Elefant said. “I think it shows how far we’ve come."