La Jolla’s new Gold Finch isn’t your (Jewish) grandmother’s deli, but it’s just as delicious

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

This tradition if not broken, combined with massive menus, cluttered wall decor, old-fashioned dining rooms and long rows of refrigerated display cases, is what most Americans think of when they think at Jewish delicatessens.

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Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen, which opened in La Jolla in September, is none of these. And yet, its build-from-scratch philosophy, careful sourcing of ingredients, and thoughtful reimagining of traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish recipes have quickly garnered an enthusiastic following of Jewish and non-Jewish diners alike over the past two months.

The interior of Gold Finch Modern Delicatessen in La Jolla.

(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

Gold Finch also doesn’t look like a Jewish grocery store you’ve seen before. Borkum designed the decor to be clean, bright, airy, modern and minimalist and there is only one deli counter for takeout orders.

Gold Finch is the new restaurant of 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 Gold Finch’s recipes, like Feather-light Matzo Ball Soup and Heavenly Banana Fritter Dessert are either Borkum’s grandmother’s personal recipes or were inspired by her cooking.

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

Kolanko and his team of chefs, Jeff Armstrong and Frankie Becerra, have taken many of these standard dishes, lightened them up, and accented them with more international flavors. Many dishes contain Middle Eastern/Mediterranean ingredients from Sephardic Jewish recipes, such as 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 and popular with diners from southern California.

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

Another winner is Moroccan carrot salad, which replaces the high-calorie coleslaw found in most delis. This sweet and spicy fresh dish features spaghettini-like strips of carrots tossed with harissa dressing, chickpeas, chopped dates, sesame seeds, parsley and cilantro leaves.

There’s a potato salad on the menu, but it’s made with baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped eggs, and Dijon mustard. Or potato lovers might want to try the super tasty Schmaltz Smashed Potatoes, where creamy Russian banana potatoes are lightly 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 Brisket “French Dip” sandwich big enough for two. Armstrong marinates the meat in tzimmes, an Ashkenazi sauce made with sweet potatoes, prunes, brown sugar, honey and orange juice. The beef slowly cooks overnight at 180 degrees, delivering a juicy but crispy caramelized brisket topped with crispy fried shallots, Gruyere and homemade pickles on a buttery toasted ciabatta bun. The big finish is a tzimme drippings dipping bowl, which is thicker, meatier, and tastier than the usual broth-like French dip.

Virtually all of Gold Finch’s menu is homemade, and Armstrong, who is not Jewish, said he listens carefully to suggestions from Jewish customers. He recently switched pastrami makers to RC Provisions in Burbank, which supplies LA’s famed Langer’s Deli. He’s also considering a revamp of the deli’s non-traditional kugel casserole.

Gold Finch deli dishes offer a modern take on classic Jewish dishes.

Gold Finch deli dishes offer a modern take on classic Jewish dishes.

(Kimberley Motorcycles)

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

The only thing I found disappointing during my visits to Gold Finch were the hours. It is only open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays, although a Sunday brunch will be introduced early next year. If it offered dinner service, I would make it a regular stop on my trips south from my home in North County.

Gold Finch Modern Charcuterie

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

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

Call: (858) 866-9965

On line: urbankitchengroup.com/goldfinch-deli

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

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

(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

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