San Diego's ethnic dining options have grown exponentially. We attract brand name chefs from across the country and across borders, and field more Top Chef alumni (including a winner) than any but the top food cities in the country. But there's one way in which our current scene is no better—and possibly worse—than it once was: deli. There's the expense of Milton's, the lack of excitement at Elijah's and the uneven quality of D.Z. Akins.
Enter Nosh Delicatessen (670 West B St.) in downtown San Diego. Nosh isn't new—a La Jolla location closed last year—but it is a welcome addition to the downtown lunch scene. The terms "Jewish Deli" and "New York Deli" have become interchangeable. That's mostly because distinct delicatessen heritages—the word derives from German and French and roughly translates as "delicacies" or "delicious things to eat"—merged into a more standardized Greatest Hits collection of Eastern European Yiddish staples. Nosh offers most of those.
The chopped liver sandwich is a good place to start. It's simple: chopped livers (both beef and chicken) and bread, though the schmaltz (chicken fat) is an important flavoring ingredient. That very simplicity is what makes it a deceptively difficult sandwich to make and Nosh's was quite good: rich to the point of overload with broad savory warmth.
Good deli is dependent on the quality of the meats. Nowhere is that clearer than the stack of meat that is Nosh's corn beef sandwich. It may not hit the dizzying level of classic New York delis but the meat was rich and warmly spiced, the acidity of the sauerkraut set it off perfectly and the hit of mustard pulled the whole thing together. There was nothing wrong with this sandwich.
While Nosh's meat quality products are good, the availability of those products was less so. On four trips over three weeks I tried to order the beef tongue sandwich only to be told the tongue hadn't arrived. The story was the same with pastrami on two occasions. Nosh's meat is good but it does no good to order good meat if you don't get it.
On the occasion I couldn't get a pastrami Reuben sandwich I made the mistake of being talked into getting a turkey pastrami Reuben sandwich. Don't make the same mistake. It was more like a turkey Reuben than a turkey pastrami Reuben and it was fundamentally tasteless. When I finally got to try its pastrami it was excellent. There is no more direct delivery system for deli than a pastrami sandwich.
But the best sandwich at Nosh, its entry in the best sandwich on the planet sweepstakes, had to be the whitefish sandwich. A play, simultaneously, on both a tuna salad sandwich and the classic whitefish deli platter, this was nearly a perfect sandwich. The rich meatiness of the fish, the smoothing qualities of the mayonnaise and the acidity of the tomato yielded a sandwich that is worth going back for repeatedly.
It is deli at its best (at least, in San Diego).