*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
Since the first night of Passover was on the 12th, I figured it was as good a time as any to write about a new place where you can enjoy some matzo, which is especially fantastic when you've spread some chopped chicken liver on it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
As part of the former Sydney's makeover in the JCC is the addition of the ~CALIFORNIA STREET DELICATESSEN AND CAFE~, right next door to the new (415) Asian Restaurant & Lounge. The authentic New York-style deli menu was put together and sourced under the watchful eye of local cookbook author, restaurant consultant, and all-around culinary goddess, Joyce Goldstein, who worked alongside executive chef, John Beardsley.
The café has a crisp look: black and white checkered floors, vintage black and white photos on the walls, glossy black chairs, and a marble counter for those who want to look out the window and gross out passer-by while scarfing on a messy meaty sandwich. The menu is a melee of opportunities for indulgence. And since I was having lunch with Ms. Goldstein, I totally let her drive. (I'm smart that way.) We started with the afore-mentioned chopped chicken liver (who, me?) ($5.50), which was smooth and studded with hard-boiled egg, heaven. Especially sublime with the crispy little bad-for-you chicken skin crackling bits (called gribines) on top, which Joyce charmingly referred to as Jewish popcorn.
The saga of the crispy and the fatty continued with the toothy potato latkes ($5.95), fried pancakes of shredded potato and onion, served with thick sour cream and applesauce. What's not to love? Well, my waistline probably had a couple things to say about it, but I told it to shut the hell up. Because next up was an order of kasha varnishkes ($4.95), which I am totally craving as I write this. It's a hearty little side dish of petite bowtie pasta with buckwheat, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. Totally homey. I need to pretend I'm a Jewish grandmother and make this for myself, stat, and then kvetch to myself about how I made it wrong and it's not as good as Joyce's.
We also tried "Grandma Rae's" sweet and sour stuffed cabbage ($9.95), tight bundles that arrive in pool of bright tomato sauce. No offense to Grandma Rae, but it just wasn't my favorite dish. Especially for $9.95, oy vey. But I am sure there are those who will order it for dinner every week. Now, how about some cheese blintzes ($7.95), why hello there. More sour cream, along with apple-huckleberry compote, and a dusting of sugar. And butter. This is exactly the kind of sweet and sour I like to hang with.
And who could resist a side of a potato knish ($2.50)? Especially this one with its flaky and fluffy crust. And it has Joyce's name in front of it, so you know it represents. I also dug the complimentary pickle, which was brined (no vinegar), so it was tart without being totally puckery, and had a nice snap.
So you're probably wondering where the hell is my review of their sandwiches, right? Well, unless you haven't been paying a lot of attention, Joyce and I seriously chowed down. There was no way I was gonna sneak a corned beef or tongue sandwich in there between the latkes and the knish and the cabbage. So I'll have to report back on the sandwiches another day.
All I can say is Joyce was very choosy about the meats they use, so you'll find Niman Ranch braised brisket, but the rest of the meats were sourced elsewhere. They offer three sizes for their warm sandwiches (nosher, fresser, and super fresser)—I can only imagine what a $14.95 super fresser corned beef on rye looks like. Maybe I'll stage a battle of the hand-carved pastrami sandwiches, pitting East Coast West Deli, Moishe's Pippic, and California Street's sandwiches against each other in a blind tasting. Sounds fun. I'll let you know.
California Street Delicatessen and Cafe
3200 California Street
Cross: Presidio St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Open daily 11am–8pm
Dinner plates $9.95-$14.95