Sunday, March 19, 2006

Searching for a Real Deli in California

3200 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Daily 11am to 8pm

California Street Delicatessen & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Last tried: July 2006

The thick juicy corned beef I loved is now gone. After two disappointing sandwiches, one with thin dried out slices of corned beef and the other with flavorless and fatty yet dry pastrami, I am sadly removing the italics.

Previous summary from March 2006:

Until I experienced Katz's in New York City, I did not understand why New Yorkers constantly waxed poetic about delis. The delis I had tried, granted they were all in California, served acceptable but largely forgettable sandwiches, which were generally the best things on the menu and certainly preferable to greasy chicken soup or bland knishes. Upon seeing the light, however, I resigned myself to the fact that I would get good deli only during my business trips to New York when I could find an opportunity to steal away a couple of hours to escape to the Lower East side and satisfy my craving for a pastrami on rye. Thick, juicy, peppery, melt-in-your-mouth pastrami.

Then came the new California Street Deli at the Jewish Community Center. Having Joyce Goldstein as consultant must be the secret ingredient. The soothing chicken soup had large pieces of white meat and tender chunks of carrots and celery cut in just the right size to scoop up comfortably with a soup spoon. I have never been terribly fond of matzo balls, but here it was not bad-- more of a dumpling that adds heartiness than the soggy ball of unleavened dough I've experienced in the past. The Brooklyn potato knish, fluffy and savory inside and flaky and golden outside, was fantastic. I also appreciated that the plate of pickles, delivered first to the table like a casual amuse bouche, were full sours (I never did get used to the half-sours served in New York delis, which always tasted to me like they were not quite done.)

At a deli, the sides are almost as important as the main dish. The cole slaw at California Street Deli was so tasty with fresh, crunchy, and sweet shreds of cabbage and carrots, mixed with not too much mayonnaise and just enough vinegar and pepper, that I could not think of a better sandwich accompaniment. Until I tried the potato salad. Creamy, chunky, and mildly tangy with just the right amount of saltiness and bits of crunch from the added relish and finely diced celery pieces. The french fries, while ample in quantity, were less successful than the other side dishes as they were slightly overcooked and dry.

But what about the main event? Although the pastrami is fair, it is a bit chewy and not at the level of Katz's. The Niman Ranch corned beef though-- dare I say it?-- may actually be better. Moist, flavorful, salty and sweet, cut into thick, generous slices. With a Dr. Brown's cream soda, I was quite happy to finally have a deli that I can visit for a satisfying sandwich without having to get on a plane.


Susan said...

I can't believe you didn't have an egg cream! In Brooklyn delis, dat's a crime! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Chuckle-- I've never been a huge fan of egg creams I'm afraid, whether in New York or California.

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