Last year when I was in San Francisco, I saw traces of an emerging gourmet deli scene. The city has long been a central player in high end American gastronomy. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, and the recently opened Ferry Building Marketplace. It is arguably the starting point of Asian food in America, and remains the best place in the country to live on a 100 mile diet (what with Napa and Sonoma so close by). Northern California is blessed with ingredients, culinary talent, and a willingness to step it up in the kitchen.
But for years San Fran lacked deli. While those in Los Angeles thrived, those in the Bay Area fell by the wayside…brought low by fat phobic orthodoxy, or made bankrupt by emerging restaurant trends. In the past few years, people have been fighting back. I saw this firsthand just over a year ago, when I visited the city on my research tour for the book. READ ABOUT IT HERE
Places like Robby Morgenstern’s Miller’s East Cost Delicatessen, and Saul’s were approaching deli with the respect of a fine dining establishment, primarily because they were run by former chefs at some of the city’s best kitchens. Food radio hosts Rachel and David Michael Cane created David’s Old World Brand Pastrami from scratch, using the time honored methods of dry curing and wood smoking that pastrami fans have almost forgotten, simply because they weren’t satisfied with what was offered.
Pastrami at The Refuge
Now we can add to that list The Refuge, a wine bar and pastrami lounge that has recently opened in downtown SF. Helmed by Matt Levin, a Hebe of the fine dining world, who wrote me that he’s “chucked my michelin stars for the almighty navel cut.” What we get is a high end/low key place to nosh hand carved pastrami with a glass of Domaine Vincent, Auxey Duresses “Les Bretterins”, Burgundy – France, 2005. The menu is a hybrid of French charcuterie with Yiddish classics, which may sound strange, unless you’ve visited Maison David in Paris. As Matt wrote on the Refuge website:
Coming from a Jewish background, Matt began to notice many similarities between a Deli Man and a French Charcutier.
They both worked in the world of cured meats and had culinary traditions that go back hundreds of years. Also, they were both a natural, grassroots product of the community. The greatest cooks, Matt believes, work within the spectre of ‘Tour de Main’, or ‘slight of hand’. These are the minute details and techniques that are not in the recipes or presentations. Rather, they are sublime expressions that elevate what is seemingly ordinary to the extraordinary, and show their face at the most unlikely times, in every level of cuisine. Overwhelmed with inspiration, Matt made up his mind that this was the type of restaurant he’d like to own.
Here’s wishing him luck.
963 Laurel Street,
San Carlos, CA 94070