I have just returned from a 5-day visit to LA, during which I ate a pastrami sandwich, cole slaw, and chicken soup with kreplach at three restaurants (on three consecutive days...).
The one I consider best is Art's Deli, on Ventura Bvd. in Studio City. A busy, bustling room, no-nonsense friendly service, extensive/complete menu of Jewish deli specialties. The pastrami was moist, aromatic, with appropriate traces of fat, thinly sliced, piled high. The default seeded rye bread was fresh, crusty, fragrant. The soup was properly chickeny, the kreplachs well filled. A hot pastrami sandwich is an eternal verity, and Art's is a worthy keeper of that faith.
The second prize goes to Nate'n Al, on North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. Also busy... etc., but the pastrami was unpleasantly dry: I found it difficult to get through a mouthful without some assistance from the pickle and cole slaw, and could not detect the aroma I expect from pastrami because of the dryness.The rye bread was also dryer and less tasty than Art's. The soup and kreplach were excellent. The fact that Beverly Drive is one block away and parallel to Rodeo Drive, and that the restaurant is surrounded by UPUPUPscale shops may or may not explain the absence of the minimal fat content required by a genuine pastrami sandwich. As it stands, I had the impression of a back lot staging for a Jewish deli, compared to the genuine atmosphere at Art's.
I am sad to say that the last in line is Canter's on Fairfax, a few blocks away from the Farmer's Market, in an older section of LA. Sad because it is the most authentic of the three, surrounded by other business catering to an older Jewish clientele. Unfortunately, it has grown ungraciously old itself: second rate meat, bouillon cube soup, badly cooked and barely filled kreplach. It survives on its past glory, and for that alone, it was worth being there.
P.S. The suggestion I received on this board for Cicada proved to be very good. The setting is superb, Lalique glass all over, original Art-Deco; the food is first class, careful preparation, elegant presentation, polished service. Thankyou.
P.P.S. Anyone planning a visit to LA should take an extra day to visit the Getty Museum. World-class setting, magnificent architecture, exquisitely mounted exhibits.
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