Monday, August 13, 2007

Pastrami again - Sam La Grassa this time

The folks over at Chowhound (and elsewhere) have discussed the relative merits of various Boston area pastrami offerings. Here, for instance is one thread on "romanian pastrami" in and around Boston:
That discussion and other references left me curious about Sam LaGrassa's pastrami, so when a friend told me she wanted to take me to SLG for a pastrami I jumped at the opportunity. There were three of us in the party so we tried three different pastrami sandwich offerings and shared them around - A basic hot pastrami on (light) rye with mustard, a pastrami ruben, and another grilled sandwich they call a Traveler.
I may have missed something , but it seemed that at SLG, pastrami is exclusively "romanian". In my previous Brookline pastrami post I spoke to what makes pastrami "Romanian" at least here in Boston. The short version is that Romanian around here is distinguished by the addition of a heavy sugar rub in the final cooking. Other spices may be involved - as with the cinnamon used on the "Romanian" at Rubin's in Brookline. The pastrami at SLG is decidedly sweet. The meat in all three of our sandwiches was sweet. It was also tender, lean, and mildly spiced.
Now of course there's an element of the subjective about such matters - but for me, and for both of my companions today, the sweetness was off-putting. Insipid, actually. And the relative lack of spice didn't help there either. If you like sweet pastrami, then I suppose the basic sandwich could be to your liking. But in the two other cases, even if your preference runs to the sweet, the combinations did not benefit from this treatment. For example, the combination of sweet meat, Dijon mustard, and tomato - panini grilled on dark rye in the Traveler - not good. The sweet meat on the Rubin likewise. Of course in fairness to SLG, their Rubin standardly includes the canonical corned beef and not pastrami so one can not hold them responsible for the recipe there. We requested the offending sandwich specifically.

Other notes - the pastrami seemed to have been thoroughly cooked, but on the sandwich line it was not held in a steam cabinet. Of course, they're going through the stuff pretty fast in there, so maybe it doesn't spend long out of the steam before it's used up. They're slicing the meat to order on a rotary slicer - very thin. It was quite lean. I regret to say that I'm not sure whether they were slicing brisket or plate - but if pressed to guess without a return visit, I'd say brisket.
We also got a side of potato salad. It was a bit sweet too.
I came away from the visit feeling that SLG may be a better than average sandwich shop, but it is neither a pastrami destination of importance nor even a proper deli. Sweetness aside, the composition of their signature sandwich - the Traveler - for me constituted irrefutable evidence that they simply don't understand the ingredients they are working with.

Alas, I'm still noshstalgic. Next outing, I have to make my way over to Michael's in Brookline - I've heard good things about the place and I'm looking forward to it. I sincerely hope it will be great. To this point, the best publicly available pastrami experience I've had in Boston has been the regular (not Romanian) at Rubin's - if requested hand sliced, not lean. And they're very nice people over there.

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