Russ and Daughters Press
New York Press
September 29, 2004
Scaling up. When we make our infrequent but cherished outings to Zabar's and Russ and Daughters, two of the crown jewels in Manhattan's smoked-fish trade, we're usually looking for a salmon fix, not hot guys.
"Fish monger"—not the sexiest of job titles, is it? Not like, say, "meat man" or "corrections officer." So how surprised were we when we found ourselves doe-eyed before two exceptional men in uniform, doling out goodies from behind our favorite fish counters?
Beating the vocational if not the geographic odds, we were thrilled to find not only one hot fish guy uptown, but one downtown too. They may not know our name, but we sure know theirs. Behind the smoked-fish counter at Zabar's, among the alluring delicacies—pickled herring, smoked sturgeon, belly lox—stands James Bynum. When we first saw him more than five years ago, we were stunned. Still a minion at the Zabar's deli counter at the time, Bynum struck us not only with his good looks, but with a certain air of danger that hung about him. Barking out numbers, moving the line along with aggressive skill, he mesmerized us. We've seen him graduate from salami to sable, and he seems to have mellowed with the Zen-like activity of fish slicing. Downtown at a rival store, we were shocked to find a rival hottie.
In many ways, the contrast between Russ and Daughters and Zabar's is stark. When we go to Zabar's on a Saturday afternoon, we're poised to scrap. Customers are hostile and pushy, so aggressive you'd think they were stocking a bomb shelter. Russ and Daughters, with its narrow storefront, white tiled floors, carefully laid display windows with old-world delicacies like caviar and a rainbow of dried fruit, inspires a bit more calm—if not decorum. What sent our adrenaline pumping wasn't a pushy old lady cutting us off at the cheese counter, but a certain Joshua Russ Tupper. It turns out that this fourth-generation Russ left a career in chemical engineering to join the family business. That's heartwarming and all, but what gets us warm is his olive skin, lupine eyes, spanking-clean white coat and the appealing swagger of a guy who knows his trade. If Bynum's the one we'd sneak out of our bedroom window to drink in the woods with, Tupper's the guy we'd bring home to mom. Though we're embarrassed to admit it, when we first saw him, we resolved to go back the following weekend for another eyeful. And we wore a dress.