This week we're launching a new series called Food of the Moment which devotes itself to an ingredient or dish currently experiencing an boom at local eateries. We'll then eat it, dissect it, discuss it — and tell you where you can get some.
In a Slate piece back in September, Rachel Levin chronicled what she described as the nation's first “pastrami summit” — an event that seemed less bacchanalian and more scholarly than you might expect — inside a Jewish Community Center in Berkeley, attended by some of the Bay's top abattoir experts. According to Levin, these were the New Pastramians, “deli artisans who brine/pickle/cure/smoke/hand-slice their-own-everything; serve only humanely raised, hormone-free meat; and could care less about kosher.”
Of course, Berkeley isn't the only place where pastrami is experiencing a renaissance. In Los Angeles, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo served smoked foie gras with pastrami spices (before the ban) at Animal, while DIY meat gurus Chris Phelps and Zak Walters occasionally serve house-made pastrami and eggs as a brunch special at Salt's Cure. And The Oinkster in Eagle Rock practically revolves around chef Andre Guerrero's applewood-smoked take on L.A.-style fast-food pastrami (shaved wafer thin).
But these guys aren't alone: as sanctified as the classic Jewish deli menu is, a greater share of chefs are taking the smoked and spiced formula of pastrami and giving it their own spin. While we love our Langer's as much as the next fresser, here are some of the most prominent “new pastrami” purveyors in Los Angeles.
3. Pastrami Sandwich at Mezze:
Served only on Sunday evenings, Micah Wexler's pastrami on rye is a sandwich worth waiting all week for. There's no hint of Wexler's “modern Mediterranean” cooking from the regular menu — this is pure bubbe cuisine. Soft rye speckled with caraway seeds is piled with medium-thick slices of pink cured meat. It's intensely peppery on the outside and falls apart like brisket when you pull at it. A loving spread of sharp rough-grain mustard ties everything together.
2. Pastrami Nosh at Plan Check:
Chef Ernesto Uchimura, a former Umami Burger alum, plays fast and loose with the traditional hamburger at Sawtelle's Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, swapping in things like ketchup leather and “Americanized” dashi. So why wouldn't the Pastrami Nosh sandwich take similar liberties? It starts with thick nubs of black-hued pastrami, which sort of resemble a pot roast that someone left in the oven too long. It's insanely smokey and heavily fortified with pepper, all without being too dry. It's a sort of over-the-top Rueben homage, a slice of melted Swiss, kimchi mustard and a fried egg (which sits on top of the bread) combine for an über-messy experience. You can also have the pastrami served shredded over fries, in a sort of Animal-style mish-mash of melted cheese and pickles.
1. Pastrami Sandwich at Umamicatessen:
Adam Fleischmann's re-imagined multi-tiered deli in downtown's Broadway district might be the biggest point of contention in the old/new pastrami debate. Located just a few miles from the famous Langer's, Umamicatessen's pastrami sandwich is much smaller than Langer's, but the meat is as equally thick-cut. As Midtown Lunch's Zach Brook once sagely asked, “Why does anybody bother serving pastrami sandwiches within a 5-mile radius of Langer's?” To some, Fleischmann's creation is a sleek, simplistic play on a classic; for many others, it's a bland facsimile of an untouchable L.A. icon. Our take? Sometimes it pays to stick with the classic.
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