Category Archives: Restaurants

Dining Out: Pastrami, LA Style

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It’s been awhile. So much for creating a fan base for this blog. So, let’s look at this as an exercise in writing…for enjoyment’s sake. I need to generate the blog without any expectation, on my part, because clearly I can’t even keep to my own desired timetable.

February was a very busy month with new clients, tastes and dining out opportunities. Admittedly, for a long time, going out wasn’t my favorite thing. Noisy. Congested. Expensive. Hipster women hitting the back of my head with their over-sized purses as I sit in a crowded bar is not my idea of fun. This last month, however, I did experience several great Los Angeles meals which I feel compelled to discuss beyond my circle of cohorts. It’s because of these personal experiences, I’m feeling more optimistic about dining out and spending my hard-earned cash.

I’m not a reviewer. I’m a publicist. Granted a publicist who eats a lot and has traveled a fair amount. My resume is long in the luxury category especially for being a gay person of color who’s eaten at many Michelin-starred restaurants and placed my head on many five-starred hotel pillows. I do have a certain experience level.

One of my food clients is Carvery Kitchen, based in Santa Monica. It’s this exceptional deli, with homespun Russian/ Uzbekistan recipes such as brisket and pastrami, “roasted and toasted” by Chef Roman Shishalovsky. It’s from this delicious vantage point that I decided to embark on a taste test of LA’s best pastrami sandwiches as decided upon by dining reviewers and Yelpers. (The latter being a term that embodies a controversial, over-generalized set of the eating out public.) It would be a taste excursion between Carvery Kitchen (the newcomer); Langer’s, the historic, award-winning stalwart of LA’s Jewish delis and Wexler’s Deli, chef-driven (Micah Wexler) and loved by most restaurant critics. Each one was different but two were stand-outs.

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 Langer’s is a James Beard award-winner, the culinary world’s Oscar equivalent, and is considered to be a destination eating experience; one of the “must-dos” in a city that most culinary aficionados’ write off as not having great dining. Essentially, Angelenos don’t do carbs but we will if it’s written in history books.

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 It was a packed dining room when Nick and I went to eat. We were told that the wait would be 20 minutes for a table so we opted for a pair of empty counter seats. It felt more like an East Coast deli than sitting at a booth. We ordered up the French Dip with au jus at $15.55.  Once it came, on the diner’s oval plate, we needed to wait for the au jus. The meat was blubbery and tepid with shards of fat dangling over the bun’s edge. The dipping sauce was salty and seemed to come from a jar. It was black, too dark for it to come from a roasting pan. Not my favorite but I’m glad I went. I will never criticize people who need to eat there as it’s a place of dining history.

After sharing half of the Langer’s sandwich, we went to Wexler’s Deli at Grand Central Market. Wexler’s is that new kid, not too far from Langer’s, just a short LA drive. It’s located in another palace of eating history, LA’s Grand Central Market, recently crowned by Bon Appetit as a Top Ten “restaurant,” which it isn’t. It’s a compilation of food stalls, once occupied by a variety of vendors, mostly Latino, selling fruits, vegetables, tacos, burritos and menudo. Now, it’s becoming a food mecca with upmarket experiences such as organic butchers, noted chefs and cheese-mongers serving up designer treats to lessees of downtown LA lofts.

Wexlers

Wexler’s is counter only unless you grab one of the community tables situated “anywhere” in the market. Subway tiles and ‘50s wooden stools surround the small crescent shape “deli”…it’s actually more of a kiosk.  The idea behind Wexler’s is to recreate that famed experience of the Jewish American deli. Unfortunately, you can’t unless you do a little bit of revisionist history which is what Micah Wexler has gloriously accomplished at his tiny eatery. His cold pastrami, which is the only thing we had, was hand-sliced and lavishly swollen between two pieces of rye bread with coleslaw . It was better than I think history has envisioned. Fresh and smoked, with that little bit of peppery textured bite. Housemade pickles with that beautiful crispness and snap.  Definitely worth the effort of parking and eating. (I will admit I’ve always been a fan of Grand Central Market before the re-gentrification. I loved the Latin families bringing their kids and watching them pick out vegetables and fruit together. You don’t see that anymore.just Caucasian college-aged kids not appreciating what used to be there… only what is.)

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Lastly, there is the Santa Monica Carvery Kitchen which opened last year and is the savory, roasted and toasted brainchild of Chef Roman Shishalovsky. His pastrami which is roasted for 24 hours is simply divine. A succulent, masterful meat-lovers dream, saturated in richness but without the oily blubber. One bite and the hand-carved meat starts to dissolve on the tongue. The bread, made off-site just like Wexler’s, is a family recipe like the pastrami. Born in Eastern Europe and a transplant to Southern California, Shishalovsky uses his own family’s Russian/ Uzbekistan techniques in making his meat which is served as a salad, a plate or a sandwich in your choice of a wrap, Panini or as a “French dip” freshly made off the just roasted meat. It’s worth the trip to eat. Carvery Kitchen is one of those low-key, dining experiences that once it’s had, you will start to crave it.

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As much as I Iove old-school experiences, sometimes it’s great to move on. Nothing can change history. It’s set in stone but others can become as much a part of it, and even recreate it such as Wexler’s and Carvery Kitchen. Funny, though, how pastrami, so much a part of New York’s Lower Eastside has now become of the greatest ways to make brisket and can rival even Texas BBQ. That’s America.

 

Meatless Monday: Grilled Caesar Salad (just Meatless) and Family Suppers

Restaurant and Waiting Tables
Restaurant and Waiting Tables

It’s a funny thing about Caesar Salads. They bring me right back to waiting tables/bartending or working in a restaurant kitchen. Many of the “family meals” when I worked in restaurants consisted of a salad, burgers, pizza or pasta. There was never any of the slaved over staff dinners that is being touted in the new cookbook “OFF THE MENU: Staff Meals from America’s Favorite Restaurants”. (Lucky them!) In the almost 2 decades of not working in eateries, clearly the times have changed since I plied my trade for tips or peeled potatoes. (I wonder how many publicists actually worked in a commercial kitchen?)

Secondly, I love the salad…when made right. They have a wonderful garlicky and salty crunch that reminds me of eating a potato chip. It’s that bite of lettuce snapping and saltiness from the dissolved anchovy. (Yep, a Caesar with anchovies…kind of novel, huh?) And, then made with a coddled egg, (yep, again a little more novelty… made with an egg) just cooked so the yolk is still runny to give it the unctuouness, clinging to the Romaine and holding the freshly grated Parmesan.

Thirdly, bringing me back to where I started, the family meal at a restaurant…when the dinner shift began at one of the five New York City restaurants that I had worked in during the 80s and early 90s, and my co-workers, some of who are friends to this day, would talk about their mornings and afternoons, of auditions, of gallery installations, of stapling resumes to headshots, of writing….or of getting over last night’s hangover…of being in my early 20s.

Lastly, they remind me of warm New York City summer nights with blaring taxis horns, beautifully curvaceous women wobbling in excessively high shoes, worked out men in tight T-shirts and baggy jeans, neon lights, shots of tequila and one of the happiest times in my life. (Of course, I wish I knew it then.)

Grilled Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Grilled Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

Who knew that all these memories came in a salad and some nourishment too?

YOU WILL NEED (2 servings):
1 clove garlic
2 anchovies (or paste).
1 egg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 juice of one lemon
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan (However much you want)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce
Croutons (Store bought or homemade. Make it easy on yourself. Do what you want and have time to do.)

GRILL THE LETTUCE (Or skip this altogether and chill lettuce for about 5 minutes in the freezer. If you do this, just tear the lettuce apart just before you dress it.)
1. Heat grill.
2. Peel outer leaves of romaine off until you get to the heart. (Or you can leave a couple of the dark leaves on.) Cut in half.
3. Brush cut side with olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Place on grill until slightly charred and wilted.
5. Remove from grill.
6. Arrange prettily on plates, cut side up.

LET’S MAKE THE DRESSING:
1. Using the blade of a knife, carefully make a paste with the anchovy and garlic. Just mash it together and add a little…just a drop or two of oil.
2. Put this paste and the remaining ingredients… egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice… into a mixing bowl or food processor.
3. Whisk or process for about 30 to 40 seconds until the mixture is smooth. (If whisking, go a little longer. If you are really anal about it, pull out the timer and set it for a minute…and whisk.)
4. Now add the olive oil slowly until it becomes mixed and a little thicker, similar to a thin aoili (this may not happen if you are using a whisk…but give it a try.)
5. Add some Parmesan, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Get a pepper grinder if you don’t have one. It makes a huge difference.) You can refrigerate the dressing if you make a little too much.

LET’S FINISH THIS PUPPY UP:
1. Arrange the heads of lettuce cut side up.
2. Pour the dressing in a ‘Z’ pattern over lettuce.
3. Use enough dressing for you to be satisfied and happy. Dress the the salad to your liking but don’t over do it. (Remember, you pay that trainer at the gym a lot of money.)
4. Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan.
5. Arrange croutons, ever so….
6. Voila!
7. Take a picture and upload to Instagram. (Most important part. You can use my photo if you don’t think yours is photogenic. You have my permission.)