Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Refuge - Pastrami Heaven

I featured The Refuge in a previous blog entry, but this visit had a very special twist. I had the pleasure of meeting the owner and god of pastrami himself, Mr. Matt Levine. Pictured above is the Reuben.

I came to the San Carlos Gastropub around 1 PM to have lunch and this time I was going for broke. I wanted try to everything that had pastrami on the menu. I started off with the pastrami chopped salad and the pastrami rillettes, which is under the Charcuterie.

The pastrami rillettes are on the right side, it was like a pastrami pâté with small chunks of pastrami mixed in. Matt delivered it to my table and told me he used the ends of the pastrami to make the rillettes. "Yeah it's about the only thing you can do with the ends." he said to me as he looked over to the lunch frenzy that was packing in at the Refuge on that Saturday. "It's going to be a busy day!" he said to me scurrying off to tend to the madness. This dish was amazing (amazing is an understatement). The mini cornichons and the sharp dill mustard combined with either the cracker and or the rye bread was a complex, sharp flavor that was gourmet, yet somehow reminisced back to the original pastrami on rye flavor that I love so much. My roommate and I were thoroughly impressed with the pastrami rillettes and I think it will be an every time order when I make it down to San Carlos.

That's not mustard on my pastrami, that's chopped liver spread. I've had the toasted #19 and the regular, this time it was proper to try the most cholesterol filled sandwich i could get. "Heart attack special" Matt said as he dropped it off on his way to chatting to the nice group next to us, guys with sunglasses enjoying Stanford beating USC on the TV screen over the bar. The pastrami was excellent as always and the chopped liver had a rich flavor - almost like goose liver. I must admit, by the end of the pastrami chopped salad, the pastrami rillettes, and the pastrami and chopped liver sandwich I was completely stuffed. "You earned your pastrami king title today" my roomie, Josh, remarked.

As I finished my meal, Matt finally caught a break in the action and we had a nice chat. The first thing I asked him - How do you make your pastrami so awesome?! He told me it was all about technique and the amount of care and culinary knowledge that went into the preparation of the pastrami. He makes his own brine, smokes his own meat, and hand slices it to serve. He claims a 54% yield, which means 46% of the meat is not served (well maybe some for the rillettes!) which is part of the reason the pastrami costs as much as it does. I was surprised to learn the he has no single source for his meat, "It always comes from California, but sometimes suppliers run out. So I have back ups." Each time I've been to The Refuge the pastrami has been consistently some of the best pastrami (never could tell it was different from last time) I've had bar none - even Langer's. That's tough to get an LA native like me to say - as Langer's is the shrine of pastrami in the South Land. The 38 year old Chef lived in many places during his life including Delaware for school, France to master his culinary skills, Ohio, and Los Angeles to eat deli sandwiches. "I would make up reasons to be around Langer's. It's not like I even lived close by, but somehow I managed to go there 2-3 times a week if I could." He told me. Among many interesting items on the menu one particular item caught my eye - The World's Fair Burger - which dates back to the to invention of hamburgers at a worlds fair in Ohio is the late 1800s. "When you taste a burger when your around those parts - Ohio - you know it's the way it's supposed to be." Matt was a top chef in Paris and was expected to open a more formal restaurant. "I was supposed to open a 5 star restaurant, but this is What I wanted." He said as he pointed around the room with people sipping beers down happily enjoying their afternoon on a sunny warm California Saturday. "I didn't want something that was rigid." He has truly succeeded in doing what many have sought to do in the business, create a local, moderately place that served to Stanford and middle class of the Peninsula proper. This was a place where people went to get a cheesesteak or a pastrami, have a beer, and watch the game...what could be more enjoyable? I asked him why not San Francisco to which he responded "San Carlos let me do exactly what I wanted to do. I have my family right up the hill with 2 daughters and I'm happy here." That sounds like a great life to me! We chit-chatted some more about making pastrami and the "Save the Deli" book then we took the picture at the bar you see above. It was truly a pleasure meet Matt and I can't thank him enough for taking time out of his day for the interview.

Big news! I'm going to have some cards made. It's already been designed (seen above) by my friend Jake Lung and they're being printed next week. I look forward to passing them out when I go to delis to meet owners and patrons who love pastrami. My next stop is Seattle - my plane leaves in the morning. I could not be more excited!


Michael said...

Hey brotha! This looks amazing and I'm wishing I had the time and cash to go follow your travels and enjoy some good grub - soon enough!

Enjoy yah time in Seattle and keep doing whatcha love doing - cuz we love it too!

Geoff said...

Again, when are we going to eat pastrami? It's 11am and I'm fiending for pastrami.

Tiffany! Van said...

Ughhh, why don't I eat meat again?

Pete said...

Dude, Friday at Moishe's with brother Jacob?

Pastrami King said...

Friday at Moishes - I'm down.

Ted said...

I am from the San Jose area and regularly trek to San Carlos for my Refuge pastrami fix. The belly pastrami is so tender and not overloaded with fat as many brisket pastramis served elsewhere. I usually order an extra pound to take home for pastrami hash, my passion. I nominate Refuge as number 1.

I have two suggestions: Refuge should offer longer dilled pickles together with their fresh pickles in buckets all to help with my other addiction; open a branch at Santa Row.