Posted by Rob Eshman
Just when things seem to be on the verge of coming together—or a split second from spinning wildly out of control—that’s when a lot of people would turn to God and pray for strength, wisdom, guidance.
It’s not even that I don’t believe in God—it’s just that to me prayer often feels more like really pointless thinking. And I do enough of that already.
So my tendency is to go for the comfort, and calm, and certainty, of the kitchen. Make something. This weekend, when I had one of those weekends, I took Adi into the kitchen and made challah.
This is how much succor I needed—I left the Kitchenaid in the cupboard. I did it on a Sunday, and by hand, in a big wood bowl Naomi and I got for our wedding. Adi videoed it because it appears that’s his form of devotion.
Here’s the place I could go on about braiding the three strands of dough, bringing together the varying strands of my life into a unified whole, blah blah blah. But it wasn’t like that. I braided them quickly, automatically. Brushed them with a beaten egg. And after the loaves were baked and cooled, I felt better. Not holier. Not wiser. Just a bit more grounded and calm. What prayer does.
Here’s the recipe:
2 packages active dry yeast (2 tablespoons)
1 ¾ ciups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
2. Whisk the oil, 4 eggs, sugar and salt into yeast/water.
3. Gradually add flour, stirring with spoon or mixer paddle. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 7-10 minutes. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. Braid challah. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Let rise another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.
Here’s the Video:
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August 10, 2009 | 7:51 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
In the Foodaism pantheon, She is as close to deity as you get.
I learned to cook by watching her shows and working my way, recipe by recipe, through The French Chef Cookbook. I was 11. I took a paperback copy with me to college, to San Francisco, to LA. When I needed comfort, I read her clear, enthusiastic prose.
Two years before she died, I met her.
Of course this all came flooding back when I watched Julie and Julia last night at the Crest.
I hadn’t read Julie Powell’s book for the same reason I’m not a Catholic: I don’t lik anyone to mitigate my relationship with God.
I had my own intense, almost maternal relationship with Julia Child—though we met only once, and for five minutes, she nurtured a substantial part of me, the part that loves food, knows food, cooks. So I never logged on to Powell’s blog, never followed the coverage of it—I simply wanted to keep Julia to myself.
But the movie’s a different story. That’s Meryl Streep. That’s Nora Ephron. That’s Paris. That’s a food movie, and I can’t miss one of those.
(Foodaism’s 5 Best Food Movies, in order: Big Night, Tampopo, Babette’s Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe.)
The movie’s central theme is a central tenet of Foodaism—that cooking has the power to save your soul. It plays out in Julia Powell’s life, rescuing her from a dead end job and the dread of turning 30. It plays out in a parallel track in Julia Child’s life, rescuing her from an essentially meaningless existence in Paris.
The Julia Child thread was so powerful, and Streep so remarkable, I think—I think—I would have preferred if the movie had been solely about her. She was a big enough character, with an interesting enough life, to sustain it.
But I understand how the theme played out in their twin stories, and watching Amy Adam act overweight was a lovely Hollywood fantasy—only in LA can women with protruding hip bones and concave bellies complain that they’re getting fat.
As for Julia, Streep’s portrayal only burnished my memory, which I got to share with my kids at a post-movie dinner at the new French brasserie in Culver City, Le Saint Amour. (We had—we HAD to have—the Ile Flottante for desert. It was fine, but the one in the cookbook is better).
It was at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2002. A friend invited me to a fundraiser for an organization that was trying to preserve cookbooks and the culinary hasty of early California—recipes and manuscripts going back to the days of the Californios, the first Mexican settlers. The guest of honor was Julia Child.
Of course I went to the luncheon, and promptly fortified myself with two glasses of wine so I could face the very frail-looking woman in a wheelchair seated a few tables away from me.
I watched her the whole time, noticed how she nodded off during the proceedings, and how, when the audience erupted in applause for her, she waved from her seat with the same joy she showed on the TV show.
Finally, I saw that her attendant, who had driven her down from her home in Santa Barbara, was making a move to wheel her away. I took another couple swallows then walked over to her…
…and I knelt at her feet.
I had to—she was in a wheelchair—but it nevertheless it felt like the right stance—I worshipped this woman.
I introduced myself, and told her that from the time I was 11, I watched her, read her cookbooks, and I thanked her for inspiring me and teaching me how to cook.
She nodded, not at all ungracious, just that how many times had she heard that same speech, this time delivered on a vapor trail of red wine breath?
“And what do you do with food now?” she asked—Julia Child talking to me!
“I used to cater,” I said, “Now I just cook for my family. I do something else for a living.”
Did I see disappointment, or boredom, or fatigue, or utter disinterest, in her face? Either way, I had hooked her, then I lost her.
“Oh, well, thank you very much,” she lilted.
I didn’t know what else to say, so I added, “I’m so glad you came today.”
“Well, it’s very hard for me to travel these days,” she said. “I need an assistant.”
Someone spoke from the dais, and our attention shifted.
“Nice to meet you!” she finally said.
And I said thank you, and goodbye.
And that was it.
I met Her without really meeting Her—but it wasn’t unpleasant, and I was in her presence, and that wouldn’t happen again until, many years later, I would se Meryl Streep on screen.
August 7, 2009 | 7:07 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
If you read my post on how a small, quiet restaurant can be as quiet and holy a place for me as a sanctuary, you won’t be surprised that a fruit and sundries vendor at the corner of Harvard St. and James Wood (the developer, not the actor) took the idea a step farther, making his catering coach into a traveling church, collapsing the distance between the holy and the hungry to one truck panel.
Inside the truck were the best and cheapest avocados I’ve had in a while, perfectly ripe Haas for 50 cents each. I bought one, a bollilo and a Coke, and that was my $2.45 lunch.
Have a great Shabbat…..
August 6, 2009 | 3:18 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sue Fishkoff reports on JTA that Subway is now the largest kosher chain restaurant in the world.
This proves one thing: kosher may be at a higher ethical standard than non-kosher, but it is not at the highest ethical standard. Kosher is not as kosher as people think it is, or as it should be.
Subway is a nice place, don’t get me wrong. One non-kosher one opened across from our office and I go there a lot for a foot long avocado and tomato sub, with lettuce, hot peppers and oil and vinegar. Good deal. The primary taste of a Subway sandwich is crunchy and cold, which of course are not tastes. But it beats greasy, sugary and salty fast food, even if the vegetables spent more time in refrigerator warehouses than in the dirt.
The kosher Subway on Pico is a real ‘hood restaurant, especially on Sundays when it packs in families, 20 kids per young, stressed out couple it seems, and the counter help is working like Zabars fish-slicers on speed to keep up with the requests. (You can check out our video of it below.)
As for Subway’s meat sandwiches, the suppliers are Orthodox Union-certified kosher factory farms, which deliver the meat to the shops pre-sliced. At these factories, the well-being of the animal takes second-place to cost effective meat production. This is inherently less ethical than the higher standard of humane animal husbandry. But as anyone who has checked out the meat prices at Whole Foods knows, you don’t get 9 dollar corned beef subs by pasturing cows on grass and killing them via state-of-the-art humane techniques. According to failedmessiah.com:
I’m truly sorry to say this but, as things now stand, your only true option if you care about humane slaughter and humane growing of chickens, cattle and other kosher food animals is to go veg. That shouldn’t be the case. Sadly, however, it is.
That was written in 2007, before all the Agriprocessor folk, responsible for doing more to harm the “kosher” brand than 100 years of Reform Judaism, headed to the Big House.
Now, it may be that Subway, Wise and other kosher slaughterers adhere to the highest standards, but given the industry’s past the bottom line is this: the burden of proof is on them. Kosher consumers deserve, and must demand, absolute transparency in the entire kosher food chain, from husbandry to slaughter, including of course the treatment of employees. Without that the idea of kosher—one of the great gifts of the Jews to the world—will remain suspect, if not ridiculous.
Here’s Sue’s piece, followed by our Subway video…..
Eat fresh, eat kosher: Subway the largest U.S. kosher restaurant chain
By Sue Fishkoff
SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—What’s the largest kosher restaurant chain?
Mendy’s? Six branches, seven if you count the meat and dairy counters at New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Dougie’s? Five branches in New York and New Jersey.
Don’t even bring up Nathan’s Famous—it stopped making kosher hot dogs altogether.
The dark-horse winner is Subway, the made-to-order sandwich giant poised to open its ninth kosher franchise Aug. 18 inside the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, Fla. New Subways opening in Indianapolis and Skokie, Ill., will make it 11 by the end of the year. Five more are planned for next year.
Subway, the second largest fast-food franchise in the world, didn’t set out to be No. 1 in the kosher market. Staffers at company headquarters in Milford, Conn., seemed bemused by the news.
“Really?” laughed Kevin Kane in the marketing department.
Sure, 11 kosher stores pales in comparison to the 22,000 non-kosher Subways in the United States, or to the hundreds of halal Subways in England and the Arab world. But it’s more than anyone else is offering.
And it’s a creative solution for Jewish community centers that want to offer kosher food but don’t want to take the financial risk themselves. Some would rather offer no food than violate kosher law.
“There are very few JCCs that run successful food establishments,” says Eric Koehler, director of the JCC of Northern Virginia, which has never provided food services in its building. “In this economy, it doesn’t make sense to have something that loses $20,000 to $30,000 a year.”
That’s why the Mandel JCC in Cleveland rented space to the country’s first kosher Subway in May 2006. The center had offered only kosher dining options since it opened in 1986, but none lasted very long. When Michael Hyman arrived in 2004 as the center’s new director, he closed the building’s last struggling cafe without knowing whether he could replace it.
In stepped Ghazi Faddoul, a Lebanese Christian who had opened 100 Subways in Cleveland and was willing to give kosher a try with the clout of a global chain behind him.
Ham and bacon were removed from the menu, the “cheese” is made of soy, and the Seafood Sensation sandwich is filled with imitation crab. Two microwaves and toaster ovens ensure that fish and meat are kept separate, a consideration for more observant Jews. There is a full-time mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, and the restaurant is closed on Shabbat.
“It’s been wildly successful,” Hyman says.
In June, the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., picked up on Cleveland’s experience, opening a kosher Subway in a space formerly filled by a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts. Executive director Michael Friedman says the center has been getting much more foot traffic since it opened, particularly from Orthodox Jews.
“There aren’t that many kosher restaurants in the D.C. area, so it’s nice for the community to have this option,” Friedman says. “And it’s great for us because it gets people into our building who might not otherwise be there.”
The Miami Beach JCC also looked to Cleveland’s example. The center’s director, Gary Bomzer, notes that the building already has an in-house kosher caterer, but no sit-down restaurant.
“Bringing in a national chain gives us real credibility,” he explains. “A brand name like Subway provides more than a cup of coffee.”
The remaining kosher Subways are freestanding stores: two in New York City, in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as one in Cedarhurst in the city’s Long Island suburbs; and one each in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Kansas City.
The U.S. stores are the only kosher Subways. Israel opened the world’s first kosher Subway in 1992 but the operation, which reached 23 stores at its peak, shut down in 2004 after the original manager died.
Subway spokesman Les Winograd says the company used its experience with halal, the Muslim standard, to learn how to deal with kashrut challenges such as sourcing specific meat and following strict dietary laws. The first halal Subway opened in Bahrain in 1984, followed by branches in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Zambia and other countries with large Muslim communities. England alone has nearly 60 halal branches.
Kosher Subways are more difficult to keep open, Winograd says. Some open and shut, like one that lasted for about a year in Livingston, N.J., and a Wall Street branch that closed last winter when the economy collapsed.
While Winograd receives lots of inquiries from potential franchise owners in other countries who are interested in the kosher option, none have panned out.
“The population has not always been there to support the business,” he says.
Subway serves meat, so a kosher store requires full-time kosher supervision—an extra expense added to ingredients that already cost more than their non-kosher equivalents.
Maurice Lichy, owner of the new Miami JCC Subway, says he’s trying to keep his prices “competitive” and hopes to charge no more than $1.50 extra per sandwich.
Will he offer a kosher $5 Footlong?
“No,” he says, “but I’ll try to manage a $6 Footlong. Probably tuna or turkey; not the corned beef.”
August 5, 2009 | 9:23 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Last night, just past sunset, Naomi and I took a walk on the Venice pier. It was jammed with fishermen—men, women, kids, black, white Korean, Latino. All it needed was a velvet rope by the lifeguard station and you’d think it was the most popular club in LA.
It was a warm night and the fish were biting.
As we walked to the end, we saw an elderly black man reel a spiny lobster up on the end of his line and land it on the concrete deck. The thing was a foot long and flapping its tail like mad.
“You got dinner!” a couple of younger guys yelled over to him. The man shoved the lobster, still very much alive and snapping, into a backpack.
A few feet down a man reeled in a small sting ray as a blond family of tourists took pictures, and just then the man next to him hooked another stingray. “I caught his brother!”
The pier smelled of dead fish and sweat and saltwater and had the compressed energy of a crowded subway. Lines flying, hooks being yanked and set, crowds milling about the latest catch.
It made me think of the last time I went fishing. Last year I took our son Adi on a man’s trip to Rancho Leonero near Cabo. We went with my dad, my brother Mark and brother-in-law Jeff, slept in cabanas by the beach, fished for mahi mahi, and drank beer and played cards at night. It was supposed to be major men-in-the-family bonding time, because men love to fish, right?
It was fun, but the fun was marred by… fishing. We caught big fish, real animals, and it became clear to me I’d lost the emotional detachment to all the blood and brutality that entailed. I was thinking about this when Naomi—reading my thoughts?—turned to me and said, “Adi told me he was really grossed out on your fishing trip.”
“He said it was like murder.”
The truth is, it skeeved me too. My dad hooked a marlin, and by the time he got it to the boat it was dead tired. It’;s skin was riuven with parasites and scars, and the thing was barely breathing. Marlins are catch and release—they’re basically lions with fins, as beautiful and as rare. But the captain decided it was old and was about to die anyway, and commanded the Mexican deck hands to kill it. They took to it with a pair of billy clubs, bashing it’s thick skull with a series of horror-movie thuds: “Otra mas! Otra mas!” Until the life went out of it.
I saw Adi turning away. I turned away.
“I felt the same way,” I told Naomi. “But we eat fish.” Even Adi, who is otherwise a vegetarian, eats fish still.
“Yeah, but we don’t kill it.”
“There’s no difference,” I said. “If you can eat it, you should be able to kill it.”
There followed. On that hot, killing field of a pier, a discussion between the seminarian and her student on the levels of moral culpability.
If you can’t kill it, don’t eat it, I said. That’s the beginning of moral responsibility.
“I can eat all the chicken I want,” she said, “I don’t want to kill it.”
“But you’re still responsible for that chicken’s death,” I said.
“Not if I didn’t kill it,” she said. “Are you the same as a soldier on a battlefield? Are you as responsible for the death of the person he kills as he is?”
“If you support the war, yes,” I said.
“That makes no sense.” Mrs. First-in-Her-Class-in-Talmud was trained to think in fine distinctions, in varying shades of grarys within grays. She had married someone who tends to think with his gut… who tends to live by his gut.
We went back and forth like that. We never agreed, we never will on this point. There’s some people who can separate the wrapped chicken from the clucking bird, and some who can’t, even if we wish we could.
Really Tiny Smelly Fish
I realize this blog needs less words and more recipes, so here’s what I made a couple of nights ago, when Whole Foods had fresh sardines that, unlike most things at Whole Foods, didn’t require a second mortgage.
So you can’t eat tuna because there’s like three of them left. And each one of those has enough mercury to poison a new planet. And you can’t eat swordfish because they have worms the size of cobras curled up in their firm white flesh. Farmed salmon destroys the environment and anyway has the texture of flab. And rockfish is out because it’s depleted, along with roughy, sea bass, grouper, and Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean seabass). What’s left? Really tiny smelly fish, like sardines and herring and mackeral and anchovies. There’s plenty of them so far, they’re wild, they don’t live long so they haven’t the time to collect toxins, and they are high in Omega-3 fish oil, which is the Lipitor of the Sea.
½ c. olive oil
1 t. fresh thyme and a bay leaf
1 strip lemon rind, chopped
salt and pepper
¼ c. fruity white wine
6 large fresh grape leaves
6 fresh sardines
In a large bowl or casserole, mix the first five ingredients together. Marinate sardines a few minutes in the mixture.
Wrap each fish in a grape leaf. Place on preheated hot grill for 10 minutes, or until the leaves are blistered and the fish is cooked through. Serve it with fresh lemon.
Naomi devoured the fish, but my favorite part was the crispy grape leaves.
August 4, 2009 | 9:05 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The New York Times finally got around to writing about the backyard chicken- raising craze, which makes it official: there’s a backyard chicken-raising craze.
My own personal backyard chicken raising craze started a bit earlier, in June of 1992.
Naomi and I were living in a ground floor apartment on Beverly Ave. in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica—the same apartment where I discovered her tuna cans and potato chips. We had been married a year.
The apartment was on the ground floor on a hill facing the ocean. The front yard was covered in English ivy, a haven for rats and an eternal resting place for soda cans and beer bottles tossed from passing cars. We didn’t have kids then, but we had a beagle, which is like having octoplets. Sophie the beagle needed a place to run and play and poop off leash, but it had to be fenced—beagles are the David Blaines of the dog world.
The landlord, a congregant of Naomi’s, said I could fence the front yard in. Once that was done, I thought: chickens.
Actually, I thought chickens…eggs. Why not?
I finally had a little land in my adult life, and I’d always wanted to be able to eat my own fresh eggs.
So I bought a pamphlet-sized book, Chickens in Your Backyard, went to Malibu Feed Bin, picked out three chicks, and began.
One of those chickens died, one disappeared and one we gave away when we moved to Venice, and set about raising two small children instead.
Then, about three years ago, I decided it was time to bring chickens back into my life. I bought a self-contained, English made chicken coop, the Omlet, purchased three grown live chickens from a butcher shop, and began again.
It is easy to raise chickens. The craze deserves to be upgraded to a trend, and the trend to just a thing people do. With the right equipment (I’ll get to that), a few chickens require hardly any effort, and they reward you, unlike beagles, with the best eggs you will ever taste.
But it’s not just about eggs.
I check on the chickens even when I know there won’t be an egg in the nest. I wander out there after I get home from work. I see them in the morning as I sip my yerba mate (it will be the next big thing, yerba mate. I was way ahead of the curve on chickens and I’m ahead on this, too….).
The truth is, the chickens calm me. I watch them being satisfied with their lot— their stretch of fenced in yard, their wood chips and straw, their laying mash and water—and I try to absorb that ability, to be happy with my lot. At least, I assume they’re happy. They have different clucks, and the one I hear most frequently I associate with contentedness. Maybe every time they scratch in the ground and peck and come up empty they feel grave disappointment, and their cluck means, “Oh, Shit!” like a the cry of a screenwriter hearing a steady streams of rejections. I don’t know, They have it all and they seem happy. They loll in the dirt and fan their wings in the sun. Watching them do that doesn’t give me eggs, but it feeds my soul.
Tomorrow: More hardcore chicken info. This is a blog after all.
August 4, 2009 | 1:28 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
My wife woke up on the first morning of our honeymoon, turned to my
side of the bed, and I was gone.
That’s what they call a sign.
We were staying at an inn on the Mendocino coast. It was a romantic
Victorian pile, perched on a cliff a hundred yards above a rocky
beach. Our room—the Honeymoon Suite—overlooked the beach and
thousands of miles of ocean.
The bed was massive. It was the very same bed used in the movie
Wuthering Heights. I know that because there was picture of the bed
in the brochure that pointed out the fact, and the owner told us that
when we checked in, and a sign in the room proclaimed that where we
were about to lie down, Lawrence Olivier already had.
Nomi slept late the next morning. She awoke, where Lawrence Olivier
once did, to see that I was gone. She called to the bathroom: gone.
She followed the sound of the crashing surf to the window, swung it
open, and looked far out at the horizon, at the endless expanse of
ocean, at the rugged, rock-strewn beach.
And at me.
“ROB?” she called down, then: “ROB!”
When I turned to look up, a string of seaweed was hanging from my mouth.
“What are you doing?”
I was chewing seaweed.
Eating seaweed fascinated me. It still does. I just never bothered to
tell Naomi that fact in our ten months of courtship and engagement. And
she had never thought to ask, “By the way, do you have a seaweed
Sometime before our wedding, in anticipation of our honeymoon on the
Mendocino coast, I’d bought a small pamphlet, “Edible Seaweeds of the
Pacific Coast.” It featured line-drawings and hand-lettering. I
studied up before our trip, but there is nothing like carrying your
field guide into the field.
I woke up while Naomi was still fast asleep. Was it a bad omen to duck
out of our marital bed on the first morning of our honeymoon? Well, I
figured, we spent the first night after our wedding at the Beverly
Hills Hotel, in the same room my parents had spent their wedding
night, and where my sister and brother had spent their first nights.
So technically this was our second married morning. And if that hotel
room worked for us like it did for my parents and siblings—70 married
years among them, at that point (and still going strong)—I didn’t have
to ration out the mornings so carefully.
Besides, it was low tide.
I slipped out of Lawrence Olivier’s side of the bed, pulled on my
shorts and a T-shirt, and grabbed the pamphlet. I followed a steep
path down to the beach, where seaweeds swirled and tangled among the
newly-exposed rocks. Just a few feet away, an otter head broke the
surface, and I swear his black marble eyes looked at me
coldly—Dude, you’re eating my salad.
I was. I started with dulse, a wispy greenish brown leaf that floated
like the billow of a jellyfish against my calf. I compared it with the
picture in the book, lifted it pre-washed and pre-salted, and let it
slide down my throat. It was as slick and bracing as an oyster.
Hijiki was next: dark russet strands that my guide described as chewy
and high in iron. I plucked one from its anchor in a nearby rock and
sucked it down, chewing on it like a piece of al dente pasta. It was
halfway down my mouth when I heard Naomi call.
“Rob, what are you doing?”
She looked beautiful. The early sunlight. Her face framed in the
window of a romantic Victorian. And this is what she saw: her new
husband, a gash opened up on his stark white calf, blood seeping into
the roiling water, his old army surplus shorts soaked through, his T-shirt
weighted down with water and stuck to his spindly chest, and something
black and stringy hanging from his mouth—a rat tail? A braid?
“Rob! What are you doing!?”
I thought of that scene in Wuthering Heights where Cathy despairs of
the man she truly loves:
“I shouldn’t talk to you at all,” she cries. “Look at you! You get worse every day.
Dirty and unkempt and in rags. Why aren’t you a man? Why aren’t you my
prince like we said long ago? Why can’t you rescue me, Heathcliff?”
But Naomi didn’t despair. She wasn’t even angry that I’d slipped out
of bed, or that I spent the second morning of our married life up to
my waist in seawater, scavenging for seaweed.
“Did you know,” I told her later, “there is no such thing as poisonous
seaweed? Every kind of seaweed is edible.”
Many years later, after the sushi craze hit big, after we’d had
umpteen bowls of miso soup with tofu and seaweed, after our daughter
Noa decided that the crispy nori seaweed at Whole Foods was her
favorite snack, Naomi must have realized I wasn’t so crazy, maybe I
was even a little prescient, the way I’d be with the backyard
chickens, the front lawn I ripped out to make way for a crop of
artichokes, the yerba mate I took to drinking long before it became
popular (okay, the last one hasn’t exactly caught on, but mark my
I suppose, looking out that window, Naomi could have thought that she
really didn’t know this guy after all—wet, and bloody, and eating
seaweed. But she chose not to assume the worst. She listened to my
explanation, once I had come in and dried off and bandaged up. She
listened some more as I read the descriptions from the book, though I
knew then and know now that there’s a part of her that wishes I’d be
the kind of guy to study Torah with her, not sea vegetables.
If I were strange, Naomi figured, I was strange in a way she could
recognize, if not exactly relate to: Naomi the wife might be appalled,
but Naomi the rabbi recognized religious fervor when she saw it.
Because only two types of people go down to the sea in their clothes: those who
want to drown themselves, and those who want to be baptized. Naomi the
rabbi recognized a true believer when she saw one, and she could
appreciate it. She was one too, after all. Her faith was in God—but
the joy on her face in synagogue mirrored the joy on mine that
morning at sea.
She hadn’t found a freak, she’d found a soulmate.
July 24, 2009 | 7:03 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I just got a peek inside David Sax’s new book, “Save the Deli,“ due out Oct. 19, and can report that it is official: L.A. is the best deli city in America.
Bite that, New York.
Flip to Chapter 10 of Sax’s fanatically researched, snappily-written tome, whose full title is “Save the Deli: In Search of the Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of the Jewish Delicatessen” (Houghton Mifflin). Right there Sax says it:
“Brace yourself New York, because what I am about to write is definitey going to piss a lot of you off, but it needs to be said: Los Angeles has become America’s premier deli city.“
Sax lives in Brooklyn. He’s traveled the breadth of this country, and to Europe, tasting deli at every stop. He knows what he’s talking about—it’s what WE’VE been talking about for years. In a 2002 cover story on delis in The Jewish Journal, Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold told our writer:
I think Los Angeles might be the best deli town in the country right now. I have spent my entire life being sneered at by New Yorkers for living some inferior version of Jewish life here, and then I move to New York and find out that, gosh sakes, it’s right here in Los Angeles.
But, hey, now the world knows.
Sax, who spent a lot of meals out here noshing his way to proof, presents his evidence: Nate ‘n Als, Arts, Canters, Brents, Greenblatt’s, Factors, Juniors and… Langers, home of the finest pastrami sandwich in the universe, much less the country.
And Sax still leaves out Barney Greengrass, Fromins, Izzy’s and Pico Kosher, which ain’t bad (and it’s kosher). I’d also include the Broadway Deli—an LA-hybrid, to be sure— GotKosher, which, while not an official deli, has quality cured meats, and Jeff’s Kosher Sausage, which actually makes its own pastrami. See, NYC, we have deli to spare.
What has happened, according to Sax, is that while NYC’s delis have become tourist spots and museums, LA’s remain integral to the life and business of the people who live here. He writes:
There has been no grand decline in the L.A. deli scene. Most are packed, sometimes around the clock…The delis out there are bigger, are more comfortable, and ultimately serve better food than any other city in America, including the best pastrami sandwich on earth. Los Angeles is both the exeception to the rule of the deli’s inevitable decline and the example to the rest of the nation of how deli can ultimately stay relevant.
Relevant deli. Sure, it sounds like the ideal name for a post-modern rock band, but what does “relevant deli” mean? It means a restaurant that serves the business, social and spiritual needs of the people who live around it. Sax doesn’t go there, but I believe a deli, to be relevant, has to hit all three notes. It has to have the quality and comfort that make it an easy spot to bring the family and do business, and it also has to feel like home, and like the Old Country, whether that old country is real or imagined. That feeling has to come through in the atmosphere, in the clientele, and in the taste. There is something in nostalgia that feeds the soul—and a good deli supplies it. And somehow it bwas nostalgia, the yearning for the past, that ensured LA’s deli future: All those ex-pat New York writers, agents and producers taking meetings over lox and onions actually turned LA into into a better deli city than the place they were trying to recreate.
The Journal will have more closer to pub date, and you can read more about Sax and his book at his web site.
Let me just take a second to say this again, though:
Bite that, New York.
To read about Langer’s in our cover story by Joan Nathan, click here.
To see a video on “A Day at Canters,“ click here.
For our October 3, 2002 interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold in which he says, “I think Los Angeles might be the best deli town in the country right now,“ click here.
For my piece on Jonathan Gold, click here.