La Jolla’s new Gold Finch is not your (Jewish) grandma’s deli, but it’s just as delicious

Jewish delis are all about tradition. Take New York’s famous Katz’s Delicatessen, which has used the same recipe for its house-cured-and-smoked pastrami since 1888.

That if-it-ain’t-broke tradition, combined with massive menus, cluttered wall décor, old-fashioned dining rooms and long rows of refrigerated cases, are what most Americans think of when they think of Jewish delis.

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Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen, which opened in La Jolla in September, is none of the above. And yet, its made-from-scratch ethos, careful ingredient sourcing and thoughtful reimagination of traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish recipes has quickly attracted an enthusiastic clientele of both Jewish and non-Jewish diners over the past two months.

The interior of Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

(Courtsy of Kimberly Motos)

Gold Finch doesn’t look like any Jewish deli you’ve seen before, either. Borkum designed the clean, bright, airy, modern and minimalist décor and there’s only one deli case for takeout orders.

Gold Finch is the newest restaurant from Urban Kitchen Group founder Tracy Borkum and her chef partner Tim Kolanko. The name comes from the Jewish neighborhoods of Golders Green and Finchley in London, England, where Borkum grew up. Some of the Gold Finch recipes, like the featherlight matzo ball soup and heavenly banana fritters dessert are either Borkum’s grandmother’s personal recipes or they were inspired by her cooking.

Gold Finch is not a Kosher restaurant, but it does serve many of the dishes Jewish deli fans expect. There are Reuben, brisket and pastrami sandwiches, soups, salads, chicken liver pâté, kugel, latkes, blintzes and house-baked baklava, babka, knish and rugelach (for deli newbies, a glossary of terms is printed on the back of the menu).

Berbere-spiced fried artichoke with sumac aioli at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

Berbere-spiced fried artichoke with sumac aioli at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

Kolanko and his chef team of Jeff Armstrong and Frankie Becerra have taken many of these standard dishes, lightened them up and accented them with more international flavors. Many dishes have the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean ingredients from Jewish recipes of Sephardic ancestry, like muhammara dip, labneh spread, za’atar and berber spices, zhoug sauce, hawaij seasoning and halvah sweets.

Chef Armstrong, who co-created the Maghreb tasting menu last spring at Urban Kitchen Group’s Artifact restaurant in Balboa Park, said these warm-climate ingredients are his favorites to work with and popular with Southern California diners.

A good example is the restaurant’s richly multilayered shakshuka. The North African/Middle Eastern breakfast dish is traditionally made with poached eggs in tomato sauce with herbs. The Gold Finch version has a green sauce made from Mexican tomatillos with spinach, za’atar seasoning, black kale and dill.

Another winner is the Moroccan carrot salad, which replaces the high-calorie cole slaw found at most delis. This sweet and spicy chilled dish features spaghettini-like carrot strips tossed with harissa vinaigrette, garbanzo beans, chopped dates, sesame seeds, parsley and cilantro leaves.

There is a potato salad on the menu, but it’s made with baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped egg and Dijon mustard. Or potato lovers may want to try the super-savory Schmaltz crushed potatoes, where creamy Russian banana potatoes are slightly flattened, fried in chicken fat and tossed with Parmesan cheese.

The Brisket 'French Dip' sandwich at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

The Brisket ‘French Dip’ sandwich at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

But my favorite dish is the big-enough-for-two Brisket “French Dip” sandwich. Armstrong marinates the meat in tzimmes, an Ashkenazi sauce made with sweet potatoes, prunes, brown sugar, honey and orange juice. The beef cooks slowly overnight at 180 degrees, delivering a juicy but crispy and caramelized brisket topped with crispy fried shallots, Grueyère cheese and house-made pickles on a butter-toasted ciabatta roll. The big finish is a dipping bowl of the tzimmes pan drippings, which is thicker, meatier and more flavorful that the usual brothlike French dip.

Virtually everything on the menu at Gold Finch is made in-house and Armstrong, who’s not Jewish, said he’s been listening carefully to suggestions from Jewish customers. He recently switched pastrami-makers to RC Provisions in Burbank, which supplies L.A.’s famous Langer’s Deli. He’s also considering a revamp of the deli’s nontraditional kugel casserole.

Fare from Gold Finch deli provide a modern take on classic Jewish dishes.

Fare from Gold Finch deli provide a modern take on classic Jewish dishes.

(Kimberly Motos)

Gold Finch is located in La Jolla’s new Muse science office park, which will soon be brimming with workers when the buildings open next spring. To attract a wider range of office workers, Gold Finch’s menu offers more than just Jewish deli food. There’s a full coffee bar and SoCal items like an acai bowl, veggie wrap and and Mexican-style breakfast burrito.

The only thing I found disappointing on my visits to Gold Finch are the hours. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays, though a Sunday brunch will be introduced early next year. If it offered dinner service, I’d make it a regular stop on my drives south from my home in North County.

Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Sunday brunch coming early next year

Where: The Muse at Torrey Pines, 3040 Science Park Road, San Diego

Phone: (858) 866-9965

Online: urbankitchengroup.com/goldfinch-deli

The patio dining area at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

The patio dining area at Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)


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