Let's face it, when a hankering for Jewish deli food hits, our options in this town are pretty limited. One need not have seen San Francisco magazine's recent story "Is the city a Jewish food desert?" to know that we're not exactly swimming in options.
We do have our darling of a deli, Wise Sons, and now, newcomer Shorty Goldstein's*. The East Bay has its old stand-by, Saul's Deli. The North Bay has Miller's East Coast Deli. You get the picture.
While Daniel Patterson's restaurants are not the first place you'd think of to get your deli fix, Patterson clearly gives his executive chefs free reign over their menus, as a few items at Alta CA will satisfy your cravings. With executive chef Yoni Levy at the helm, a nod to his Jewish roots is apparent by the appearance of whitefish salad, pastrami, and house-baked bialys on the menu.
Traditional whitefish salad -- a staple at East Coast bagel joints -- is usually not much more than the smoked fish mixed with a combo of mayo, sour cream, and a few spices. Levy brines and smokes his cod in-house, spikes it with a few non-traditional ingredients like Tobasco and champagne vinegar, and serves it with bagel chips. We appreciated that it didn't taste like the whitefish salad we're used to, which can be a bit gloppy, it tasted lighter and brighter.
The pastrami was divine, full stop. It had the savory and sweet elements that good pastrami should have, with a bit of crustiness on the edges. It also wasn't too fatty, which pastrami often can be, and the whole-grain mustard it was served with was an excellent compliment.
Our server recommended the bialys to be eaten with the pastrami, though with the accompanying schmear of house-made cream cheese garnished with fried sage leaves, they can easily be eaten on their own. (For the uninitiated, the bialy is a cousin of the bagel, though it's baked without being boiled first, meaning it's lacking the sheen and crust of its cousin, and rather than a hole, has a filling sunken into the middle).
We enjoyed the bialy on its own with the cream cheese, but found the onion mixture to taste mostly of smoke; when eaten with the pastrami, it overpowered the delicate subtlety of the meat.
While Alta's vibe and prices make it way more posh than your average Jewish deli, we'll take more deli offerings in this town, wherever they happen to appear.
*This post was edited to include a mention of FiDi deli Shorty Goldstein's. SF Weekly regrets the omission.