Sunday, November 1, 2009
Happy Halloween! Saul's, David's, George's on 24th, Canter's Halloween
Happy Halloween from a pirate with a pickle! I've been giddy with excitement over the past few weeks. It was pleasure to meet David Sax, the author of "Save the Deli" and I had pleasure connecting with some local Bay Area deli lovers.
The Berkeley book signing was held at Saul's which is in the Gourmet Ghetto of Berkeley, Shattuck and Rose. The sandwich above is a Niman Ranch pastrami with an Acme rye bread, plus Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. After hearing the owners speak about the meat and where it comes from and what they're trying to create (a sustainable California deli), I have an appreciation for Saul's. The pastrami from Niman Ranch is an excellent drier pastrami with a salty, tasty brine. It's some of the best I've ever tasted. If I'm going to complain the sandwich, I wish it was a little more meat, more bang for my buck and I despise the Acme rye bread. To me, the Acme rye bread tastes a bit sour and doesn't really have an excellent crispy crust that I get with some other ryes.
There was a pastrami/corned beef taste test at the event. The competitors were the Niman Ranch pastrami vs Empire National pastrami (supplier of Katz's in NYC). On the Corned beef side, there was again the Niman Ranch corned beef and a Marin Sun Farms grass fed corned beef. My choices were the Niman Ranch pastrami and the Marin corned beef. The Empire National pastrami was very good, juicer than the Niman Ranch pastrami, almost corned beef like. I could see how it would be marketable and sell well. The Niman pastrami is more of a dry rub with a salty brine that I enjoyed because of the more complex flavoring and spices, it was very poignant and I could see it maybe being too strong for some. Still I liked it better. Both corned beef were too salty to be honest. I think if you want a corned beef you could do better at Brennan's - an Irish spot. I brought along a friend, a writer for the Cal State East Bay Pioneer newspaper. He wrote a commentary entitled "Pastrami is Worth Saving" which can be found in the current issue of the paper on page 2 http://pioneer.csueastbay.edu/PioneerWeb/PioneerNews10-29-09/PioneerFrame10-29-09.html
David's is located at Geary and Taylor in the City. The deli has a long back story - it was once the most prominent deli in the City with about 15 locations. It's down to it's last location which is in the one of the worst neighborhoods in SF - The Tenderloin. Tourists walk by it all the time and the area is frequented by shoppers enjoying the Downtown shopping scene while sipping coffee and people watching at Union Square. At night, it's a different story...I know where I am, try as you may to tell me I'm in Nob Hill - I'm not. I'm in the Tenderloin and everyone local knows to watch your pocket and stay on your Ps and Qs when visiting.
I drove to downtown and I found parking on a meter just a block away like a savvy SF vet. I figured....well about 50 minutes should do for me to get my pastrami and take a couple of pictures and get out. So I left 50 minutes on the meter and got stepping. The first thing I noticed about David's was the bakery window. They had black and white cookies, cakes, and other assorted pastries.I walked in and the place was full, not crowded...but busy enough. I sat down and started to read the menu. David Apfelbaum, the owner of the deli, has inserted his own message into the menu with clever anecdotes about Jewish cuisine and his mother's attempt at making him pasta.Looking over the menu, the prices were ridiculous. absolutely sky high for soup it was about 5 bucks and a pastrami was about 14$. I ordered the kreplach soup and the Pastrami on rye with Swiss. They were out of the potato pancakes...ouch. While I was waiting for my sandwich and reading the menu some more I noticed that across the way a family was finishing eating. The waitress asked "Will there be anything else?" "YES!" the lady replied. "Her sandwich!" she pointed at a young hungry girl who had just watched her entire family gorge themselves while she had not received her food yet. What a shame!
The sandwich came and it did not disappoint. It was a large pastrami comparable to other places I know. It didn't come too many ways though - just traditional rye meat and mustard...which is great when you want it like that! The pastrami was thinly cut and tasty, perhaps on point with Mosihe's pastrami which comes from Vienna Beef in Chi-town. David's has some special points, but it has so many negative I think people are afraid to support it and go often. Let me count the negatives - took forever... and a day!, high prices, difficult parking. Positives - a nice large pastrami sandwich, a kreplach soup, and a killer pastry! I ended up taking a Napoleon home, it was delicious...many flaky layers filled with powdered sugar. I highly recommend you come to David's and get a blintz and some rugelahs, because the bakery is the best thing about this place. Take the train though, by the time I was finished my meter had run out - somehow by grace of the DPT gods I was not ticketed on the corner of Leavenworth and Post on a Saturday afternoon - explain that!
The picture above is a pastrami from George's BBQ on 24th. I walked in George's around 2 PM. "I'm here for the pastrami!" I said enthusiastically. I saw the pastrami sitting there ready to be sliced and I was excited. She asked me how I wanted the pastrami - I said with rye...."Oh we don't have rye - soft roll, dutch crunch, or wheat." Uh oh, Wheat? I ordered it on a soft roll with mustard - which can be good. The chicken coop over on Taraval hand slices the meat and puts it on a soft roll and it's to die for. However this meat was not to die for. It was iridescent - fish scale like. If you want a real deal pastrami, don't waste your time with George's. If you want some bbq chicken however, it looked exceptional...go there and try something else. It's a Greek owner place that pretty much copied the Pete's BBQ down the block.
I asked them where they got their pastrami and she didn't say a word. It wasn't something she wanted to divulge....hmm makes me think.
I just got back from Los Angeles. It was an awesome less than 24 hour jaunt - the festivities down Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollyweird were reminiscent of how The Castro was back in 2004, when no one got hurt and you could still go to The Castro without it being a police state. Sadly, San Francisco, which was once known for having one of the most elaborate Halloween festivities, has lost it's fire. It's simply more fun in LA now. After we were done with the parade my dad asked me if I would like to go to My Father's office - known for a large selection of beers and a killer 15$ burger or Canter's on Fairfax. To many it would've been a tough decision, but to me it was instant decision - Canter's for pastrami on Halloween...what could be better?
That's the Brooklyn - Pastrami with Coleslaw on rye. My dad got the same thing with a Dr. Browns cream soda. We finished our sandwiches in about five minutes flat - no knishes, no soup we meant business. Canter's is really where my love of pastrami started. This place really does it well and the fact that it's open 24 hours make it the only other spot in the USA besides NYC where you can get a pastrami sandwich at 2 in the morning.
When we finished we were off to the bakery. My dad planned to buy a whole loaf of bread because his honey isn't eating bread anymore - so she won't buy it in the store anymore either. When he told me he was going to get a whole loaf I thought to myself "Is it really that good, I think I've had better now" however when I bit into the crispy crust of the rye at Canter's I was reminded how great their bakery really is.
Standard issue out the door - we always get 1/2 dozen macaroons - 3 regular, 3 chocolate. They're excellent. Above pictured are poppy rugelahs. I bought a half dozen. I ate 3 and gave the rest to my roommates. They were like a poppy fig newton!
Oh that bridge! Caltrans was supposed to perform maintenance on the Bay Bridge over the Labor Day weekend. They found a crack in the bridge and a part had to be airlifted from Arizona to Oakland within days. The same part of the bridge that was "fixed" had a large part fall on 3 cars at 5:45 on weekday. The Bay Bridge has been closed ever since and I just heard on the news it will closed for Monday's commute. People in the East Bay are suffering, but people in SF and the peninsula have been voicing an interesting opinion. Some people have suggested the City is better without the bridge, there is less traffic, you can park and the trains run later which deters drunk driving. I even heard someone say "Wouldn't it be great if they just blew up the San Mateo bridge too, just cut us off." We think we would be alright over here in the SF peninsula, but the fact is the Bay bridge, when functioning, augments regional stability. Oakland is the largest port on the West Coast, all the Hondas that people drive in California come through that port. Over 200,000 people cross the bridge daily - now they are forced to take BART which broke a single day record of ridership during the now Bay Bridge crisis.