Katz’s. Katzing. Katz as Katz can. The sound of one Katz clapping. Katz, the Musical. Katzmandu. Katzooks…
A quick brainstorm of Katz-play, Katziphenelia (but not a Katzechism), most of them not worth the ink they aren’t printed on, most of them reeking of indolence. I don’t want to write Chapter Four. I don’t want to write about how Katz’s, my best hope for a Reuben to rival Canter’s, was vanquished in single combat in the arena of memory. So maybe I just won’t, maybe I’ll skip all the sordid details, the parries and thrusts, the guts hanging out, the blood. Maybe I’ll just write about what was, really, an excellent sandwich. I mean, look at the picture. It looks even better in 3D, less warped by the sag of gravity, unbitten, more evenly distributed. But no–the wounds are too new, and speak to me so. Compare them I must.
It should be stated, first of all, that I ordered a pastrami Reuben, as is my wont. Perhaps corned beef would have been a better choice–the man behind the counter did a double take when I made my order. I did try the corned beef, though: on rye, with tomatoes and mustard (my companion’s creation, a variation on Canter’s O’Malley, the sandwich which won her over to the cause of the Big Jewish Deli Sandwich). It was good, but awfully, awfully fatty. Maybe Russian and ‘kraut would have mitigated these sensations, but maybe not.
After your order your sandwich, the man making it gives you a few bites of your chosen meat; those morsels of pastrami were among the most amazing of my life. Tender, perfectly textured, rich & creamy (without the overbearing fattiness of the corned beef)–delicate, even. Was this the perfect synthesis of nuance and ambition? I was in awe–a whole sandwich of this, I was sure, would easily overmatch the perfect bluntness of a Canter’s Reuben. Gliding over to a table with the sandwich, I noticed that it was distinctly smaller than its west coast competitor, by a good half-inch of meat at least. Undeterred, I sat down and bit. Good, yes. Not dry or squishy or tangy. Flavorful, harmonius… but subdued, somehow. Crushed by the weight of tradition, perhaps, while its cousin in Fairfax drives around in the guiltless Hollywood limousine of freedom.
Not really–Canter’s is as much of an historic establishment as Katz’s, and L.A. has no shortage of Jews–but you get the idea: Katz’s Reuben does not dwell in the high realm of glorious greatness that Canter’s Reuben does. Its texture is better, smoother, but the flavors aren’t as deep, the overall effect not orgasmic, subtle without being mind-blowing. It basically does everything right, but just so: basically. Good rye, good cheese and ‘kraut, good distribution of Russian, but without adding up to something ecstatic. Less than the sum of its parts. Not an epic voyage to Pleasure City but a walk around the town square of Feels-good-ville.
Maybe it deserves another chance–I gave one to Carnegie Deli, after all–but at $15.75 a try they should get it right the first time. Hard to say what’s lacking, even: not ambition, certainly, and mere size doesn’t seem an adequate explanation. Complacence, maybe, though Canter’s could be just as complacent–things are just as much in decline on that coast as they are on this one. So much for my best–but not last–hope.