Well, after all the buzz, the constant chit chat, the hardy hullabaloo surrounding tonight's long-awaited opening of Delicatessen in SoHo, I was fortunate to have experienced it first hand, at a 6:30 reservation.
Having arrived a bit early (around 6:15), we were promptly greeted by at least 2 host(esses) who invited us to wait at the bar while they prepared our table. Admittedly, I wasn't quite sure what they had to do to "prepare" the table, since 90% of the house was calm at this early hour, but I went along with it. Hey it's opening night! Be merry!
After a couple of drinks at the bar, which were good, but probably not worth the $14 price tag they each carry (are they ever?), we were promptly seated on time. Excellent. I was ready to eat.
This is a soigne spot. In fact, not surprisingly, Delicatessen feels cool, fun, and hip in a way that makes you comfortable and not at all self-conscious, much like its older sibling Cafeteria in Chelsea does. I always loved that about Cafeteria, and now I feel the same about Delicatessen.
If I had to describe the basket of offerings that make up the menu at Delicatessen, I would say "down to earth favorites with an astute twist." Starters include a soup of day (tonight was roasted tomato), Matzoh Ball Soup, and a Summer Panzanella that we almost ordered but decided against in the interest of being a bit more adventurous.
Appetizers include those already talked about Reuben Fritters and Cheeseburger Spring Rolls, to Halibut Fish Tacos, and the more traditional Chopped Liver.
We had to try the Cheeseburger Spring Rolls (below), as well as the Halibut Fish Tacos. The Cheeseburger Spring Rolls were surprisingly tasty, and actually tasted like cheeseburgers. Essentially, they are exactly what you'd think, ground beef mixed with cheese (I believe it was white cheddar), wrapped in a traditional asian spring roll, and fried until golden brown. While I was probably expecting an over-fried, super-oily cylinder of tastless mush, these were quite light, and full of flavor. They actually tasted like little cheeseburgers, and were even better dipped in the red pepper ketchup that came along on the side. I don't like ketchup, but this stuff was good. The key to the Cheeseburger Spring rolls success is that its fried path to the table doesn't compromise the flavor of the beef and cheese, both of which are absolutely necessary for something like this to work. So far so good.
The fish tacos (you get 4 in an order) were filled with delicately shredded Halibut topped with a conservative (but proper) schmear of guacamole, and accompanied by a Kimchee Sour cream. I was expecting hot, baja-style tacos sporting battered chunks of white fish, but these were served at room temperature, were actually quite refreshing given the Judgement Day-type heat outside. Interestingly, the "taco shells" were reminiscent in consistency and texture of the Chinese fried noodles you often find on the table, along with duck sauce and hot mustard as something to munch on before the meal. This made the dish much easier to eat than it otherwise would've been. Though I enjoyed these very much, the Cheeseburger Spring Rolls were my favorite of the two.
On to the entree's, and there were a whole slew of them to choose from. The menu featured 4 salads as Entrees (Caesar, Cobb, Asian-Vegetable, and Nicoise), as well as an impressive array of main courses that ranged from American traditional (Grilled Lamb Chops in Red Pepper Vinaigrette) to Pub-style (Bangers and Mash and Fish and Chips), to more Eastern-bloc (Pork Schnitzel and Short Ribs Stroganoff). I, of course, having just spent a weekend in Savannah, went for the menu's incarnation of the American South, Chicken in a Bucket (below).
Because we all know what fried chicken is, I'll keep it simple. Delicatessen's fried chicken is out of this world, and by far the best I've ever had. In fact, 50 times better than the fried chicken I had at Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons last weekend. My "bucket" contained three plump thighs (boneless), and a drumstick, all piping hot, and covered in a salty-peppery crispy crust that was just criminally good. The chicken comes with a helping of the homemade ranch "sauce" (it wasn't a dressing) that I could not stop raving about at the table. It was neither goopy or gloppy, nor "Tzatiki-like" in any way, but instead, remained thin and rich, and perfectly apt to provide a velvety coat of tang to the large chunks of juicy-moist tender dark meat chicken. The jalapeno biscuit had a nice pepper flavor, but would've been better served warm, and the spicy slaw was less than memorable (3rd below). But that doesn't matter. The chicken is all that mattered here.
In following her predilection for Cafeteria's version, Meghan opted for Delicatessens' BBQ Meatloaf. Arriving as a plump, circular "patty" (But thick), this morsel of meat was dense, textured, and flecked with crunchy minced onion and pickles. There was no doubt this was good, but I would've liked a bit more sauce on top, and overall, it could've been a bit more moist. Still, it was better than most meatloaf's you get in the city, and its adjoining veggies were exceptionally seasoned. Still, I may like Cafeteria's 'loaf better...for now anyway.
In the end, Delicatessen will be a great addition to lower Manhattan. Given the stresses, possible pitfalls, and myriad uncertainties of an opening night, our meal, and I suspect all others, went remarkably smoothly. The menu is expansive and interesting and is varied enough to appeal to a wide range of tastes. Quite simply, if you like Cafeteria, I think you'll really love Delicatessen.
I look forward to a second visit real soon. (I'm thinking about the Pork Schnitzel).
Tentative ratings (have to go back again):
Food: A (The Chicken in the Bucket stole the show - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Ambiance: A (A touch loud, but not comfortable..great place for a drink after dinner)
Service: A (Extremely attentive, constant water refills, fresh plates, etc. - first night fawning at its finest!)
In a thought: "Now you can finally get good fried chicken at a Deli!"