NEW YORK -- Plenty of restaurants these days have a theme. Few have a story. And none has such a heart-warming tale as Triplet's. This SoHo Romanian restaurant has not one owner/manager but three, though to the uninitiated that might not be apparent since the three are identical triplets. But even that's not the crux of the story.
The whole charming tale is told on table tents in the restaurant. "One day in Sullivan County (N.Y.) Community College, Robert Shafran was told he had a double, Eddy Galland, who also attended there." Sure enough, they looked alike, and as they discovered on meeting, they had even more in common. They had the same interests, grades and sports. They even had the same birthday. Both having been adopted, they finally realized they were twins.
That discovery was intriguing enough that the press picked it up, and that's how David Kellman noticed that he, too, looked like the twins. And he, too, shared their birthday. Sure enough, he, too, had been adopted. And so the twins were triplets. (Anyone else out there?)
It didn't take long for them to begin to act like triplets. They attended the same college. They worked in the same restaurant -- Sammy's Roumanian restaurant in the Lower East Side. They "took blame for each other's goofs." They all got a degree -- more accurately, degrees -- in international marketing. And they all eventually opened a restaurant -- a kind of culinary twin to Sammy's.
"We decided the city needed another upscale Romanian restaurant," said Bobby. Indeed, any city needs such a restaurant as Triplet's, one of the rare ventures that preserves a dying tradition in a modern incarnation. Sammy's is in the heart of New York's historic Jewish neighborhood. Triplet's is in the trendy young artsy neighborhood to the west of Sammy's. Its waiters wear jeans, its dining room is the kind of brick-walled, blond wood contemporary space where you expect free-range chicken morsels in raspberry vinegar. But the menu is the kind of old-fashioned Eastern European array that declares war on your arteries and massages your soul.
A pitcher of clear golden rendered chicken fat is a staple on the table along with salt, pepper, paprika and a siphon of seltzer. Pickles and pickled tomatoes crowd the pickled red and green peppers and rye bread.
Appetizers are the heart and soul of the kitchen. The chopped liver alone is the equal of any, but tossed at the table with grated radish, onions and greeven (chicken cracklings) it reaches for immortality. There are fried kreplach (nowadays called Jewish wontons) and terrific stuffed cabbage, along with such intensely ethnic dishes as karnatzlack (homemade sausage), kishka (stuffed intestines), patcha (a cousin to head cheese), sliced brains with lemon and chicken fat, broiled chicken livers with unborn eggs and the potato-stuffed dough pockets called pirogen. Soups come with noodles, kreplach, matzah balls or unborn eggs. And in a bow to modernity, there are Triplet's Famous Hot & Spicy Roumanian Chicken Wings, which are identical twins to Buffalo wings.
Main dishes are equally traditional (which, in many cases, means heavy and bland), though with them you can get kasha with bow-tie noodles, saute'ed mushrooms and onions, middling potato pancakes and perhaps the best mashed potatoes within 3,000 miles -- lumpy, tossed at the table with chicken fat and greeven.
Portions, of course, are large enough to hold you in case you can't find another traditional Jewish restaurant for a week or two. So dessert is likely to be irrelevant (in which case you can buy a box of house-made rugelach to take home). Even so, there's more. The waiter brings to the table a tray with seltzer, milk and Fox's U-Bet syrup, the makings of egg creams. And in case they flush out a little stomach space, next come halvah and chocolate-covered jelly candies.
After such a meal you need some exercise to help you cope with it, so Triplet's winds up the evening with sing-alongs, the back of the menu promoting them with the lyrics for everything from "Hava Nagila" to "New York, New York" to "Those Were the Days."
So the triplets have grown up and joined forces. Now, after a year and a half running a business together, they are 26 going on timeless.
TRIPLET'S CHOPPED CHICKEN LIVER
(8 appetizer servings)
1 pound onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chicken fat*
1/2 pound chicken livers
1/4 cup cracker meal
1 hard-cooked egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Saute' onions in chicken fat until translucent. Add livers and continue cooking until well done. Let cool. Add remaining ingredients and grind together. Mix thoroughly. This can be ground in a meat grinder or in a food processor, but be careful not to process too long. It should be slightly coarse. Chill and serve as an appetizer with crackers.
*Chicken fat can be purchased in jars or rendered at home. To render, dice chicken fat and skin, add an equal amount of sliced onion and cook over low heat in a heavy pot or microwave until the skin bits and onions are very brown. Drain, reserving fat for the chopped liver. Use the cracklings and onion -- which are called greeven -- to garnish the liver or to flavor mashed potatoes.
1988, Washington Post Writers Group