The state of Jewish food in the Bay Area is a lot like the weather: Everyone complains about it, but no one does anything about it.
But check this out: There are actually a few unexpected spots serving Jewish food that even the most seasoned fresser may be unaware of.
For example, did you know that Delancey Street Restaurant in San Francisco serves “Grandma Dena’s” matzah ball soup as well as H&H bagels and a plethora of other Jewish items? Or that a café tucked into a quaint San Anselmo inn offers lox and onion scrambled eggs with challah French toast and deli-style sandwiches? Or that the Oakland Marriott has a separate kosher kitchen?
Each of these places would make a great spot for a special event or celebration. Here’s a rundown on each.
Delancey Street Restaurant
Known as an ethnic American bistro, the Delancey Street Foundation’s restaurant features a three-course Jewish dinner for every Thursday night for $16.95.
The meal consists of Grandma Dena’s chicken matzah ball soup, stuffed cabbage or brisket, latkes, vegetables and noodle kugel for dessert. Yes, a full Jewish meal. Every Thursday night. In San Francisco.
Not only that, but the Delancey Street menu includes many other Jewish items on other days of the week.
Mimi Silbert, the founder and president of the Delancey Street Foundation, jokingly said that the restaurant has had Jewish items on the menu for 19 years because “I’m Jewish, it’s my restaurant, and I can do what I want to.” Silbert is also a master chef.
The restaurant bakes challah every Friday, and there are numerous other Jewish items on the regular lunch, dinner and brunch menus, such as: cheese blintzes, an assorted smoked fish platter, a Reuben sandwich, and latkes with sour cream and applesauce.
As for bagels, Delancey Street is the West Coast distributor for H&H Bagels, among New York’s finest, which regularly are flown in frozen from the Big Apple. The restaurant bakes them up and sells them on the weekends, while the foundation’s casual diner, the Crossroads Café — located just a block away from the restaurant — bakes and serves them every day.
“In my opinion, they’re the only bagels. They are the best,” Silbert said. “We also make ‘Egg-els,’ where you can choose eggs and lox, or eggs, bacon and cheese, whatever you want, in any bagel you want. We have different kinds of shmears, too — it’ all H&H.”
As with any cuisine, the quality of the ingredients is what makes the difference, something Silbert keeps a keen eye on.
“In our Reubens, for example, I called both the Stage and Carnegie delis [in New York] to find out where they get their corned beef, and we use the same supplier,” she said.
Although the Jewish recipes are Silbert’s, they come from her rich family tradition. “My family are all Litvaks,” she said. “Cooking was everything, and sitting around the kitchen table was the way I grew up. Uncles, aunts and all of the cousins all came to visit momma and papa. We had a kugel, blintzes and challah every Shabbat.”
Delancey Street Restaurant, 600 The Embarcadero, San Francisco. (415) 512-5179. Crossroads Café, 699 Delancey St., San Francisco, (415) 836-5624.
Those looking to book a wedding or b’nai mitzvah — or any event that requires strict adherence to kosher standards — should know about the Oakland Marriott’s fully kosher kitchen.
Working with Rabbi Ben-Tzion Welton of Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California (the local kosher certification board), the Marriott has maintained a separate a kosher kitchen for 15 years.
“I started to get a lot of calls about 15 to 16 years ago for a venue to do kosher catering, dinners and receptions,” said chef Michael Wolf. “There weren’t very many hotels participating in kosher events at that time, and there still aren’t. We are the only one that does serious kosher catering on this side of the bay. Most hotels have given it up — it’s really difficult to do, and you really need to know what you’re doing.”
The Marriott’s kosher kitchen is kashered before each event, an involved process with tough standards.
“They go through the kitchen with blowtorches,” Wolf explained. “They take everything apart, and all of the surfaces — stainless steel or otherwise — are blowtorched at 700 to 800 degrees. It’s a process that takes a couple of days. Everything in the kosher kitchen stays within the kitchen and is supervised.”
Their biggest event is a yearly AIPAC banquet, with more than 900 guests sitting down for a three-course kosher dinner. The Marriott also does approximately nine other kosher events of various sizes each year, and is hoping to institute kosher catering soon.
“We really want to get into kosher catering because we feel that we’ve done our homework. We’re good at it, we have the equipment, we have the kitchen — we have everything lined up and ready to go. We know what we’re doing,” Wolf said.
Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland. (510) 466-6455.
This breakfast and lunch spot is located in the San Anselmo Inn — in the heart of a charming downtown district — and features a number of Jewish items on its menu.
According to Debbie Ghiringhelli, wife of owner Don Walker, the Jewish items were instituted by former restaurant partner Hilary Ghiringhelli, who used to own the House of Bagels in San Rafael.
After Hilary’s departure from the Sunflower Café, Don and Debbie decided to keep the Jewish items, which she said continue to be popular.
“Some of the cooking is a carry-over from the Jewish menu: We have Reuben and Rachel sandwiches, as well as hot pastrami or corned beef on rye. The rye bread is the traditional Jewish rye from the House of Bagels,” Debbie said.
The restaurant also makes challah French toast and matzah ball soup. A combination of high-quality ingredients and maintaining Hilary Ghiringhelli’s standards are the keys to the success of the Jewish offerings, according to Debbie.
“The Jewish items move on a consistent basis,” she said. “We buy our corned beef and pastrami from Roberts [the oldest corned beef company in San Francisco] and we get our sauerkraut and pickles from the traditional places. Our cook worked with Hilary previously at the House of Bagels, and she brought him in from the very beginning. He knows all of the recipes, and we kept the ones we felt we could do well.”
Ghiringhelli said she and her husband hope to expand to dinner service. Currently, the restaurant can be booked for special events. n
Sunflower Café, 337 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. (415) 256-9290.