Au revoir, flanken in a pot bonjour, poisson fum

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We'll name the restaurant or catering place, you guess if it's Jewish. Answers at the bottom. Here goes: Va Bene; Le Marais; Chez Lanu; La Strada; Medici; Fuji Hana; Jasmine; La Mer; Cafe Roma; Le Tre Venezia; Lou G. Siegel.

Thank God for Siegel's.

Once upon a time Jewish guys didn't have to pretend they were from Vichy or the Garden of the Finzi-Continis to serve a kosher meal in New York.

Siegel's, where New Yorkers have been eating since 1917, closed after lunch on June 28. The lease had expired at 209 W. 38th St., where Siegel's operated since 1921.

Chances are there is not another glatt kosher meat restaurant in the world that has been around so long. When it originally opened, Woodrow Wilson was president and the Yankees played in Manhattan.

Ratner's kosher dairy restaurant, which opened in 1905, now has no one with whom to dine.

Jews used to be happy talking to the wisecracking Jewish waiter. Now, the proprietor of one of these new Jewish restaurants with the foreign names says he is thinking of offering a "scholar in residence" who would float from table to table, if requested, to provide educational and intellectual dinner conversation.

Forget the scholars. Lou G. Siegel was there for the waiters and the wise guys. Eddie Share, manager and owner of the place since shortly before Siegel died in 1965, remembers Lou G. as "a Damon Runyon character."

Siegel "was the king of the hill around here,"he recalls.

All the Jewish Broadway guys would come to eat and shmooze with Lou G. The sepia-toned photos on the restaurant wall are so ancient that the caption of a large photo of Georgie Jessel and Eddie Cantor partying at Siegel's doesn't even identify a young George Burns.

Who remembers? Over there, past the kitschy painting of a man in a tallis, is a photo of Rudy Vallee, Harry Richmond, Harry Ritz of the Ritz Brothers, and David Rubinoff of 1933's radio hit show, "The Chase & Sanborn Hour."

Eddie Share, 73, walks through the empty dining room on one of Siegel's last afternoons. The carpeting is still dark red, the wooden walls an Oriental walnut, the wrought iron still black. Share points out framed letters from Eleanor Roosevelt and long forgotten mayors and governors.

He shows where a bullet pierced the wall. Long ago, a thief ran into Siegel's, a cop followed and shot a bullet that missed the thief and hit the wall. As the cop and crook wrestled, Share ran over and "punched the thief in the face. Then the policeman hit the thief with the butt of the gun."

When does a restaurant grow old? "The neighborhoods have not been an advantage for people of my time to come down and have dinner. You've got your panhandlers out, and people breaking into cars," Share says.

Today, "the whole Garment District has gotten slow,"he adds. "And in the last few years more than five glatt kosher restaurants opened within a short walk from here."

The new places have names like Le Marais and serve soup du jour instead of soup of the day. They serve poisson fumé, gallette de pomme de terre, vinaigrette de pamplemousse, instead of flanken in a pot, derma, rugelach, kasha, beef goulash, stuffed cabbage and 13 recipes for chicken. In Siegel's you could get horseradish, a condiment oddly extinct in the modern Jewish eateries.

The restaurant tried to change. In 1966, Siegel's was the first to provide in-flight glatt kosher food to airlines. The restaurant menu began to list Israeli salad and tri-color food, but the young seemed to think the place old, an artery waiting to harden.

"The young generation, they can't identify with Siegel's like their parents do, just like they can't identify with World War II.

"The kids, they're eating all types of fast food. Here, you could get a sensible salad and some sensible boiled meat," he adds.

Share opened Siegel's to touring Israeli Orthodox youths as a Shabbat refuge. They had rooms in which to light candles, pray and eat three full Shabbat meals.

The payroll was pumping out paychecks for some 50 people. The challah, rolls and rugelach were baked on the premises. The corned beef was cured right there behind the swinging doors.

For years Share sent monthly checks to the widows of rabbis who served as his mashgichim (kosher supervisors).

Now Share is hoping to keep the Siegel's name alive through a delivery and catering service.

Aside from friends dropping by for a last sit-down meal, Share planned nothing special for the final days.

"No celebration. My heart goes out with gratitude to the people who came over the years. I was told by people in retail that the biggest times are the opening month and the closing month. But I couldn't take advantage of that situation. I just couldn't get myself to do it."

And where will kosher diners go? There are many clean, well-lit places, among them: Mendy's, Va Bene, Chez Lanu, Medici, Fuji Hana, Jasmine, Cafe Roma, La Mer or Le Marais.

We'll always have Paris.

Au revoir, les enfants.