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Barry Koslow: Chef, philosopher

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Alexandra Greeley

After many years behind others' kitchen doors, Alexandria native Barry Koslow has moved into his own niche: He is chef and co-owner of Dupont Circle's high-end, almost-kosher deli, DGS Delicatessen. That means Koslow has gathered all that he has learned after cooking in such restaurants as Equinox, 2941, Michel Richard Citronelle, now-closed Mendocino Grille, and Tallulah, and turned his knowledge and skills into preparing modern Jewish dishes in his own restaurant kitchen. Well, classical Jewish food with a Koslow modern twist.

Take the tongue sandwich called the Wally B in honor of one partner's grandfather, for example. Traditionalists may eat such a sandwich with lots of mustard, maybe some lettuce or sauerkraut, all on rye. Koslow uses rye, of course, but adds pickled apple slices for a sweeter twist on this classic. He has also introduced several North African spices and preserved lemons, which spark his kasha varnishka dish of bowtie pasta, buckwheat and mushrooms.

"These dishes appeal cross-culturally," said Koslow of his modernized Jewish fare. "Washingtonians really are OK with this appeal to a broad base, to everyone. ... This food is not just solely for Jewish people." But he adds that many ex-New Yorkers come to DGS and love the food, plus many young D.C. professionals who have never had this type of food come in to experiment.

If you go
DGS Delicatessen
» Where: 1317 Connecticut Ave. NW
» Info: 202-293-4400; dgsdelicatessen.com
» Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Sunday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

But, he hastens to add, many of his dishes are based on family recipes. "This is my grandma's matzo ball soup," he said, "but minus the chicken fat. I have added duck fat instead." He added that his parent have eaten at DGS and approve of what he is doing.

Another element of Koslow's delicatessen food is that all the meats, smoked fish, mustard and pickles are made from scratch. "If you look at the history of Jewish delicatessens," he says, "they started in New York in mom-and-pop shops featuring specialties made from scratch. The delicatessens started using processed meats and serving overstuffed sandwiches. ... We saw where delis went wrong, when peopled dropped their craftsmanship and offered foods not made from scratch."

Koslow explains that pastrami needs eight days to age properly, and fresh mustard needs to set for a long period, so he makes five-gallon barrels at a time. He also hot-smokes the whitefish and cold-smokes the salmon, giving them a gentle smoky flavor. Doing all this in-house is what sets DGS apart, and what makes it so "modern."

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

You are looking at it [glancing around delicatessen]. At home I like Chinese or Thai carryout.

Which is your favorite ingredient?

Cucumbers. I love cucumbers. I have cucumbers everywhere. I even have a cucumber soup on the menu. I love its flavor and texture. I love them all.

What's in your fridge?

Chinese leftovers, yogurt baby food, bottle of sriracha sauce, Champagne, asparagus, whatever my wife is eating.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

In D.C., I really admire Frank Ruta (Palena) and Peter Pastan (Obelisk and 2 Amys). I admire their integrity and how great their food is. They don't "play the game." They just stick to their cooking. I aspire to be like that.

What's your advice to the home cook?

An Austrian chef once said, "No schnick schnock" ... or no bells and whistles, no garnishes.

Recipe

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Smoked Salmon and Labneh

Serves 4

4 medium-sized cucumbers

1/2 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 shallot, chopped

1/2 jalape?o (seeded, pith removed)

1/2 cup mint leaves

1/2 cup Thai basil leaves

1/2 cup dill leaves

1 cup sparkling water

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish: chopped smoked salmon and labneh

Peel two of the cucumbers and leave the skin on the other two. With a spoon, remove the seeds of all four cucumbers and rough chop them. Add all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times or until the soup is a smooth consistency but not completely pureed. Pour into a mixing bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within 24 hours, the color will diminish as time passes.

For serving, pour roughly 6 ounces of soup into a bowl, garnish with a dollop of labneh and a spoonful of chopped smoked salmon.

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