When my editor asked to me check out the changes at a “Jew-ish” deli in Soma, I knew I needed to be prepared when I went got there. Solid expertise is crucial in these matters and I knew who to ask for help. I brought my favorite Jew.
“Jew-ish”? Well, even the promotional materials for Rye Project, the most recent endeavor of Deli Board founder, Adam Mesnick, describes the SOMA sandwich joint as a “Newish Delicatessen.” In other words, he's “taking classic items like smoked fish, rye bread, steamed turkey, and pastrami, and modernizing the preparations while ensuring the quality of the product” as the restaurant's publicist, touting the year old establishment's new menu, puts it.
And he's doing it pretty darned well. Seat Two, my Jewish expert (originally from Syracuse, N.Y.), liked what he found and he appreciated Rye Project's honesty.
[jump] “It's not New York,” he said, after downing a few bites of his corned beef on rye and looking around the room. “It's not a New York place. It doesn't pretend to be.”
It doesn't have to. Rye Project's menu is quite simple: sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, bagels, and soup. While we only tried the sandwiches, they were delicious and put together with enough care that I'd happily consider working my way through the rest of the menu. In addition to Seat Two's corned beef, I ordered the Romanian pastrami on rye. We opted not to add anything to them – no cheese, no mustard, no slaw, no kraut. But we did order the Tysyacha sauce, Rye Project's take on Russian dressing.
Seat Two, dabbing a finger tip into the sauce, gave it a taste and said he thought he tasted horseradish. I did so, as well, and thought I could detect the flavor of pickling juice, too. In any case, the stuff is delicious and we slathered it over our sandwiches with each bite.
Seat Two was particularly impressed with the rye bread which he described as “just right. Great. Fresh.”
And sliced just right, as well. As we were digging into our meal, Mesnick himself stopped alongside our table, pleased to see that we had traded half our sandwiches with each other so we could each sample more of the menu. The rye bread, he noted, arrived par-baked from Los Angeles and was finished off on site. It was also sliced by hand, a little thicker than usual. Given how messy the sandwiches were – a mark of a good sandwich, according to Seat Two – that little bit of extra thickness was a good idea. While shavings of meat fell to our platters, the slices of bread remained intact, making eating far easier and tidier, to boot.
Speaking of bread from Los Angeles, the sour pickles are imported from New York, Mesnick said. Those, too, won Seat Two's favor, and he praised their crisp texture. Seat Two considers the pickle an important part of a deli meal. If a pickle hadn't been included as part of the order, he said, he would have ordered it separately.
Mesnick has thought about a few other things as well, such as the thickness of the corned beef. Opting for a slightly thicker cut — one-eighth of an inch thicker, he said — Mesnick also called attention to its leanness. Seat Two lamented the loss of fat — fat is flavor, he reminded me — and while he thought it might be a bit salty, he still plainly enjoyed what he was eating. (For the record, Seat Two is watching his sodium intake.)
I can't say much more without commenting on the Romanian pastrami. It's delicious. Smoky and salty, it's sliced paper-thin, steamed, and then piled generously — at least an inch-and-a-half thick — on that wonderful rye bread. It might be good with cheese or kraut or mustard but I'm glad I ordered it plain and was able to enjoy its full, rich flavor. I don't know how they spiced it, but it's far more interesting than any pastrami I've had before.
In fact, I found the food so good I had to reconsider my earlier uneasiness about Rye Project's prices. My sandwich cost $14, which along with the Dr. Brown's Ginger Ale for $2.50, and tax, brought my total to $17.65. Once I began eating, however, those misgivings gave way to appreciation for a sandwich into which Mesnick and his staff had clearly put some effort. And, frankly, there was plenty of food for the price.
“I'm totally filled without being overstuffed,” said Seat Two.
Rye Project, 180 Seventh Street, 415-552-8984.