california street

20 August 2006
3200 California Street
San Francisco, CA

Atmosphere: Apparently new authentic deli means cold, lifeless and antiseptic. And apparently, the designer’s concept of old-world deli relied solely on black and white photos ’cause there isn’t a drop of color in the whole place. Oh, and the menu’s listing of “Executive Chef” and “Consulting Chef”? Give me a fuckin’ break. There are no chefs in Jewish delis. Even if the food was actually good (see below) I’d have strong objections to such high-falutin’ language. And speaking of language, way to win the “trying-entirely-too-hard-to-appear-authentic” award with the sandwich sizes: “nosher” and “fresser”.
Attitude: The young guy that was serving us was about as enthusiastic about the place as we were. Which is to say not at all. His mind seemed elsewhere, and I certainly don’t blame him.
Food [general]: Absolutely awful, with the exception of the fries and pickles. I don’t recall ordering the egg salad sandwich with a pint of hollandaise sauce mixed in. I literally took two bites and put it down for good. I’ve never left so much food on my plate at any restaurant. The hollandaise-like substance was literally dripping onto the plate in a wholly-threatening manner. And there was no need to threaten the accompanying potato salad – that shit had caught the hollandaise-infection long before it ever hit the plate. As mentioned, though, the fries were excellent. Must have been deep-fried in authentic pork fat.
Pickles: Very good. Full sours – not my favorite – without any variety, but I have to admit – a damn fine pickle.
Dr. Brown’s black cherry: I kid you not, it was flat. Server opened the bottle at the table and it was flat. Thankfully, the second one was fine, but that’s just weird. I should’ve interpreted it as a sign from God.
Summary: We came into this one with absolute full disclosure. We knew it was gonna suck and yet we had to really find out for ourselves. The first time we came, the place closed up early “for Father’s Day” (they just decided they didn’t want to work anymore that day). We’d actually called ahead (a mere 2-3 hours before we arrived) and asked them how late they were open, and they didn’t mention a thing. And then, when we arrived and discovered we’d driven across the bridge for nothing, the helpful security personnel (the deli is located inside a Jewish community center) passionately warned us that we should never set foot inside — that it was a “fake deli”. If only we had listened.

Atmosphere: Seems like black-and-white checkerboard floors are somehow supposed to make for the “new old world” – this place and Saul’s both have the checkerboard floor, and the effect at both locations is sort of nice-but-too-shiny. Not sure what outfitting the waitstaff in all black is supposed to represent, but it does little for creating any kind of classic deli mood. California Street deli is pleasantly bright and airy (albeit air conditioned to nigh-cryogenic levels), but feels more like a cheesy post-theater dessert shop than a deli.
Attitude: Typically Bay Area tepid. Our waiter was nice; he had the personality of a saltine. Our food was brought out to us by some second server, and Jonathan posited that it might be the “Executive Chef,” whose name was, weirdly, on the menu. And if the menu counts for attitude points, add “corny” to the list of attitude adjectives: naming Jewish deli sandwiches after nearby streets in San Francisco suggests lack of imagination at best, and straight-up sucky at worst.
Food [general]: The first time we tried to go to this place, they were “Closed early [2pm] for Father’s Day.” Too bad dad wanted to go out for pastrami, eh? Guess the old man should’ve called ahead. Anyhow, as we stood outside griping about the unpublicized early closure, the JCC staff warned us in no uncertain terms that the food was “really bad,” and that people who came in wanting real NY-style deli routinely voiced their disappointment. As such, my hopes were never high for this place, though it wasn’t as vile as I expected. The fries were outstanding—thin, audibly crispy, and freshly made — and our waiter kept me stocked on coffee through the whole meal. They made my sandwich for me exactly to spec, with the pastrami stacked admirably high. And even though the bread was soggy and the pastrami bland, the coleslaw was pretty okay (not over-mayoed) and made for a decent sandwich. Still, let’s not kid ourselves: it was probably the worst pastrami sandwich I’ve had yet in the Bay Area. And the looks of Jonathan’s pukey egg salad was enough to ruin the whole meal.
Pickles: The high point of this deli. Very crunchy and very yellow. Some of the best I’ve had in a West Coast deli (and that includes LA). Intensely sour, so I imagine not everyone would love them. In retrospect, I wish I had asked where they get them, though I’m not sure it’s worth going back to find out.
Summary: I only ate half my sandwich; I took the second half to go, but only out of pity, and then i actually threw it away on my way out. Skip this place. Or rather, if you’re going to go, go for fries, pickles, and coffee. They’re faking the deli thing, and they’re not pulling it off.