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In Praise of Pastrami
Jewish Journal ^

Posted on 02/06/2013 5:54:01 PM PST by nickcarraway

You know you’re getting old when every meal starts and ends with an admonition about how food will kill you.

For a few years now, whenever my friends and I sit down to eat, the conversation veers toward illness, and how to avoid it, and somehow, it all comes down to food. No fat, no sugar, no salt, no wheat, no dairy, no bread, no carbs, no meat, no tuna, no alcohol, no caffeine, but maintain a well-rounded diet. Tap water is polluted with carcinogens, and bottled water is polluted with plastic, which is also a carcinogen; rainwater has acid, and well water has gasoline particles, but drink at least eight glasses of water every day. Raw meat and vegetables can give you salmonella poisoning, which can kill you, but nonstick cookware, glass, plastic and earthenware can give you cancer, which can also kill you. Fruits are sprayed with poison. Restaurant food is unclean; organic is a hoax, and even if you dug a hole in the floor of your apartment and grew your own food, the compost is contaminated with hormones, pesticides and other deadly agents.

To me, all this implies an overabundance of optimism on the part of the speaker: that, A) she won’t be hit by something and die instantly the minute she gets up from the table, and B) she can avoid illness and death by maintaining a diet of boiled whitefish farmed in her own bathtub and steamed spinach raised with music and conversation and, for dessert, fresh mint steeped in hot water, no sugar, honey or other sweeteners added. It’s a very “California” mentality — this idea that if you eat dinner at 4 p.m. and run up and down the Santa Monica steps 110 times a day, you’re going to feel good, look good and not die.

I try to point this out every time my friends go on about the latest Dr. something or other who’s charging $800 a visit to cure them of all their ills, but that always casts a pall over the group, because no one likes to be told that they’ve just wasted a bunch of money, starved and exerted themselves and are going to get sick and die anyway. The truth is, I don’t have my friends’ discipline or dedication; I’m too cheap and pessimistic and enamored of coffee.

And you know you’re getting old when your friends are afraid to take you out to a restaurant, because you’ll inevitably misbehave.

Whenever we go out to some swanky new place, I either offend the maitre d’ by refusing to sit at the table nearest the bathroom when all 300 other tables in the restaurant are empty, or scandalize the waiter by pointing out that there was a time, not so long ago, when EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) was just something you cooked with, and not considered worthy of mention as a “side item” on the menu.

And you really know you’re getting old when you lobby in favor of eating at Canter’s, at 8:30 on a Saturday night, on the occasion of a dear friend’s birthday.

That was last week. We were a party of six. The guest of honor had decided she wanted to live dangerously without risking clogged arteries; she was tired of boiled fish and steamed spinach, so she picked somewhere we’d never been before, called on Tuesday to make a reservation and was laughed out of town.

“You mean, this Saturday night?” the person on the other end had asked.

No, in 2015.

I personally would have told the guy he’s booking tables for dinner, not performing liver and kidney transplants, and hung up. Then I would have opted for some boring old place that served bad things like bread and cheese. But my friends are not as curmudgeonly as I; they don’t eat bread or cheese. And this place, they had been told, offers new and exciting options. It put out a cookbook that was voted one of the “Top 10 of 2008” by National Public Radio. It’s called Animal — on Fairfax near Melrose, a quarter of a block down from Canter’s, across the street from a kosher butcher. It’s a steakhouse that offers only one kind of steak, because steak is bad for you.

So my friend called in a half-dozen favors until, finally, we managed to “secure” (isn’t secure a word you use when the plane’s about to crash and someone’s telling you that the seatbelt, if “secured,” will save you from dying in a fiery inferno?) a reservation for 8 o’clock.

So we turn up on time and are told by the very sweet hostess that her No. 1 priority this night is to give us a table, but that we’re going to have to wait outside on the patio, which is really the sidewalk. I get the bright idea to look at the menu while we wait. I take out my reading glasses and turn on the flashlight app on my iPhone. I hold the menu right-side up, think I’ve made a mistake and turn it upside down, then over and back, and still, I must be reading wrong — there are things on this menu that can’t be, not in California, anyway, and certainly not on Fairfax, practically next door to a Jewish deli:

Buffalo-style Pig’s Tail. Pig Ear With Lime and Chili. Crispy Pig’s Head With Pickled Vegetable Aioli. Pork Cheek With Burnt Apple and Cauliflower.

I’m the most unhealthy eater in this bunch, and I can’t fathom eating from a kitchen that cooks this kind of food. Then again, it’s a birthday dinner, someone’s promised her firstborn to get this reservation, and I don’t want to be the poor sport who ruins the great adventure. At 8:30, I take advantage of the fact that we still don’t have a table and suggest, ever so cautiously, that we modify our risk taking and walk down to Canter’s to eat. The birthday girl won’t hear of it: She can’t digest pastrami, she says, and matzah-ball soup has too much salt.

“Have you seen this menu?” I ask.

“It can’t all be bad stuff,” my friend assures me. “There’s a whole lot here that’s not pig.”

Yeah, but we don’t know what it is because we’ve never heard of it. Poutine. Skate wing. Pho fumet.

“Really, guys, is pastrami that bad for you?”

At 9, I try again, but pastrami is out of the question. So is Canter’s.

Tandoori Octopus. Beef-heart Babaganoush. Crispy Beef Tendon. Beef-tail Stew Over French Fries.

At 9:15, I try a different tack: “Aren’t you cold? Or tired of waiting for the table?”

If the Donner party could brave snow and sleet by setting off in rickety wagons across Utah and Nevada, our group can weather the patio in 68-degree weather for a few more minutes.

Veal Brain. Chicken Sweetbreads.

When we finally sit down, someone pulls out a phone with a dictionary app, and we all spend a good half hour looking up the meaning of one item or another on the menu. It’s 9:30, and we’re beginning to understand the Donner party’s dilemma over cannibalism versus death by starvation. The healthy eaters locate kale and lettuce in the midst of all the novelty, and I, the eternal slob, have located something resembling ravioli drenched in butter, sour cream and cheese.

As for bread, it’s something sliced paper-thin, dried out, and smeared with oil and garlic, and served, four pieces a serving, for a dollar apiece. I eat that, too, but my friends decline. Then it’s time for the birthday dessert, and the waiter announces, ever so remorsefully, “It’s too bad you don’t like pork or I would recommend the bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt-and-pepper ice cream.”

But the nail in the coffin — what makes you a certified walking corpse just taking up space on this earth — is when you leave dinner at a swanky new place, then tell your husband, “We should have gone to Canter’s,” and ask him to stop at a Rite Aid because you need to pick up some Alka-Seltzer.


TOPICS: Food
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 02/06/2013 5:54:08 PM PST by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway
“We should have gone to Canter’s,”

Indeed.

2 posted on 02/06/2013 6:08:23 PM PST by null and void (Gun confiscation enables tyranny. Don't enable tyranny.)
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To: nickcarraway
Buffalo-style Pig’s Tail. Pig Ear With Lime and Chili. Crispy Pig’s Head With Pickled Vegetable Aioli. Pork Cheek With Burnt Apple and Cauliflower.

I'm drooling here. It used to be these cuts where the secret of chefs and peasants who knew they were the best part and cheap, cheap, cheap. Now offal is becoming popular and the price is skyrocketing. Beef cheeks, one of my favorite cuts, have more than tripled in price in the past few years.

3 posted on 02/06/2013 6:16:28 PM PST by mnehring
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To: nickcarraway
best pastrami i ever had...

4 posted on 02/06/2013 6:29:59 PM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: mnehring

So are these secrets brined, slow cooked, crusted with cracked pepper and served shaved & piled high on rye bread, with a crisp garlic dill?

No? I’ll take the pastrami, thanks.

Actually, I do like offal and grew up on my grandmother’s lungen stew, but pastrami is food of the gods.


5 posted on 02/06/2013 7:03:43 PM PST by reformedliberal
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To: Chode

YUM!! I was thinking of pastrami just today - does that ever look super!! Hope it comes with cole slaw. What city?


6 posted on 02/06/2013 7:10:18 PM PST by Thank You Rush
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To: Thank You Rush
NYC...
7 posted on 02/06/2013 7:14:26 PM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: nickcarraway

Pastrami bacon cheeseburger on a sourdough roll...mmmm.


8 posted on 02/06/2013 7:15:48 PM PST by eldoradude (Let's water the tree of liberty with THEIR blood...)
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To: nickcarraway

Loved this!


9 posted on 02/06/2013 7:30:37 PM PST by miami33
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To: nickcarraway

I hate to admit it, but the very best sandwich this Alabama boy ever ate was a pastrami sandwich at a deli in New York City on 5th Avenue at about 50th or 51st Street in the late 1990’s. Whatever sauce they had on it was awesome!!


10 posted on 02/06/2013 7:35:31 PM PST by RatRipper (Self-centeredness, greed, envy, deceit and lawless corruption has killed this once great nation.)
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To: RatRipper
sure it wasn't the Carnegie? it's at 7th Ave & 55 St
11 posted on 02/06/2013 7:59:17 PM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: Chode

I don’t think so. From the office I was working in, I could look down on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the same block behind us. After looking at a map, our building may have fronted Madison Av. I am pretty sure we walked less than a block to the north and the deli was on the east side of the street.


12 posted on 02/06/2013 8:11:14 PM PST by RatRipper (Self-centeredness, greed, envy, deceit and lawless corruption has killed this once great nation.)
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To: RatRipper
well, there's sure no shortage of good deli's in the city that's for sure
13 posted on 02/06/2013 8:15:16 PM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: nickcarraway

Been a bunch of years ago but I still remember the famous Katz.


14 posted on 02/06/2013 8:24:03 PM PST by count-your-change (you don't have to be brilliant, not being stupid is enough)
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To: nickcarraway

Salami and Swiss cheese on a bulkie roll with deli mustard; one of the best in the world.

However, it’s VERY difficult to find good pastrami outside New York City, IMO.


15 posted on 02/06/2013 8:35:58 PM PST by Jack Hammer
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To: nickcarraway
Think Steve Jobs. A lifetime vegetarian, drank Odwalla juices, lived in a mansion with one piece of furniture, a man who despite his billions, lived like a Buddhist monk.

You know the rest of the story.

Meanwhile during my 50 years (so far), I've had countless plates of fried clams, pastrami sandwiches, cheesecake, bottles of beer, etc., and I'm still in excellent health. Looking forward to another 30 or so years of decadence!

16 posted on 02/06/2013 8:39:07 PM PST by SamAdams76
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To: nickcarraway
Think Steve Jobs. A lifetime vegetarian, drank Odwalla juices, lived in a mansion with one piece of furniture, a man who despite his billions, lived like a Buddhist monk.

You know the rest of the story.

Meanwhile during my 50 years (so far), I've had countless plates of fried clams, pastrami sandwiches, cheesecake, bottles of beer, etc., and I'm still in excellent health. Looking forward to another 30 or so years of decadence!

17 posted on 02/06/2013 8:39:10 PM PST by SamAdams76
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To: Chode

That’s corned beef.


18 posted on 02/06/2013 9:00:24 PM PST by Hoosier-Daddy ( "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.")
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To: Hoosier-Daddy

Pastrami is usually cut thinner, has a spice bark, and is tighter. Damn it’s hard to find good pastrami.


19 posted on 02/06/2013 9:03:42 PM PST by Hoosier-Daddy ( "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.")
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To: Chode
I used to go to the Stage Deli but it closed last year.

Still make hot Pastrami on Rye at home.

20 posted on 02/06/2013 9:16:58 PM PST by Focault's Pendulum (I live in NJ....I want a bailout!!!)
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To: Hoosier-Daddy
oops, yer right!!! but my statement still stands that the best ones i've ever had came from there...
21 posted on 02/07/2013 4:55:35 AM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: Focault's Pendulum
yeah, that was sad... IIRC something about the rent
22 posted on 02/07/2013 4:57:37 AM PST by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: nickcarraway
Meh. Pastrami. Heart Attack Poutine


23 posted on 02/07/2013 5:19:26 AM PST by Daffynition (The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted. — D.H.)
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To: Chode

No doubt


24 posted on 02/07/2013 6:27:58 AM PST by RatRipper (Self-centeredness, greed, envy, deceit and lawless corruption has killed this once great nation.)
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To: Jack Hammer

Sorry - make that pastrami.

Sheesh!


25 posted on 02/07/2013 6:37:14 AM PST by Jack Hammer
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