UPPER WEST SIDE — A team of cleaners armed with bottles of Easy Off will descend on Talia's Steakhouse on Wednesday and work all night, scouring the restaurant from top to bottom.
The scrubdown marks the start of preparations for Passover (April 6-14), when Jews remove all traces of chametz — leavened bread — from their homes and forgo eating it and products made with it for the week.
Some Upper West Side kosher restaurants stay open during the eight-day holiday, which means their kitchens, store rooms, prep areas and dining rooms must be cleansed of every stray bread crumb, an arduous task that ends with torch-wielding rabbis burning errant chametz particles into oblivion.
When the cleansing ritual is complete and menus are rid of leavened bread, restaurants like Talia's Steakhouse on Amsterdam Avenue and West 93rd Street and My Most Favorite Food on West 72nd Street and West End Avenue offer observant Jews dining-out options during the food-centric holiday, which is typically celebrated with Seder dinners on the first two nights.
"We're supporting the Jewish community on the Upper West Side," said Ephraim Nagar, owner of Talia's. "People travel from all over the world to see families and visit. If everyone is closed, where can they buy food?"
Talia's will offer Seder dinners on Friday and Saturday, with two seatings each night, one at 5:30 p.m and one at 8:30 p.m. Families can conduct their own Seders at their table, or participate in a communal version. There's also a singles area where love-seekers can sit together, "schmooze," and possibly find their "beshert," Yiddish for soulmate, Nagar said.
The fixed-price Seder dinner is $74.99 for adults, $49.99 for children. Talia's menu gets more expensive during Passover so the restaurant can make up the cost of kosherizing its kitchen and ingredients, but the price hike doesn't seem to faze customers. Talia's is already booked solid for its first night of Seders, Nagar said.
At My Most Favorite Food, a "cast of thousands" will spend two full days cleaning the restaurant, which reopens on Wednesday with a completely kosher for Passover menu, founder Doris Schechter said.
Leftover bread products are donated to a nearby soup kitchen, and My Most Favorite Food focuses on selling its trademark kosher for Passover cakes, cookies and tarts. There's also a savory menu including a veggie burger on a popover bun and spaghetti squash primavera in tomato sauce.
Some customers grumble about the higher Passover prices — for example, fish and chips jumps in price to $34.95 from $25.95 — but Schechter said others tell her they appreciate that My Most Favorite Food stays open during the holiday, which commemorates the Jews' liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Schechter said she tries to offer filling dishes like omelettes and matzoh granola to satisfy big Passover appetites.
"People during Passover are always hungry," Schechter said. "I always feel as if I have to have something to eat. Somehow or other they really miss the bread."
A handful of other Upper West Side food businesses are going completely kosher for Passover, including Chocolate Works, a new candy store on Amsterdam Avenue and West 91st Street, and Screme Gelato, which has locations on West 69th Street and Broadway and West 94th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Other neighborhood restaurants are marking the holiday with Passover-inspired special menus that aren't kosher. Rosa Mexicano on Columbus Avenue and West 62nd Street has an annual Mexican Passover, which this year features pulled beef brisket tacos and sangria spiked with kosher tequila. The restaurant's locations on First Avenue at East 58th Street and at Union Square (East 18th Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway) are also serving the Passover menu.
Henry's, a bistro-style restaurant on West 105th Street and Broadway, has a traditional Seder dinner on April 7 with a family-friendly kids' menu. Reservations are required — the three-course dinner is $45 for adults, $22 for children.
Good Enough to Eat on Amsterdam Avenue and West 83rd Street marks the holiday with a three-course dinner for $24.50, served with a glass of wine and apples and honey.
For foodies, critically acclaimed Telepan, on West 69th Street and Columbus Avenue, will have a Seder-style $75 prix fixe dinner on April 6 and 7. The meal starts with an amuse bouche of smoked trout potato latke, chopped liver and dried fruit chutney-apple salad.
If you like your matzo with a French accent, try Brasserie Julienne on Third Avenue between East 80th and 81st streets, where the non-kosher-certified Passover menu features matzo bread stuffing with mushrooms and caramelized onions.
Some Upper West Side kosher restaurants and stores close altogether during Passover.
Prime KO, the trendy kosher Japanese steakhouse on West 85th Street and Broadway, will be closed from April 6 - 14.
However, two other kosher restaurants operated by the same owners are offering Seders. The Prime Grill, on East 49th Street between Park and Madison avenues, and Solo on Madison Avenue, between West 55th and 56th streets, will both have two Seders.
Prices are $139 for adults and $79 for children. They'll also serve special lunches and dinners during Chol Hamoed, the days between the first and last nights of Passover.
Fine & Schapiro, the kosher deli and restaurant on West 72nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, will be closed for the week, but customers can pre-order catered Passover meals to serve at home; it's $320 for a meal for 10 people.
Gan Asia, a kosher Chinese, sushi and Thai restaurant on West 93rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, closes for the holiday week, which manager Arash Nefas said is a great way of giving his hard-working staff a break.
But he said closing during Passover makes sense for his customers too.
"You can't make respectable Chinese food that’s kosher for Passover," Nefas said. "The people who try fail miserably.
"A lot of places will substitute French fries for rice or bread and they'll charge three times the amount they normally would for the same dish. It's not fair to customers."