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A meal fit for schmiels
DGS Delicatessen aims to bring classic Jewish cooking to Dupont Circle. Advertising itself as a “Restaurant, Sandwich Shop, and Bar,” the deli takes a modern approach to Jewish cooking. While such an approach may seem refreshing, however, it renders the word “delicatessen” almost arbitrary.
DGS is less a delicatessen and more a restaurant attempting to specialize in the food of its namesake: the wood and tile décor alone make it appear clean almost to the point of sterility. A set of curtains behind the front door give way to the sandwich shop—which sells a grand total of six different kinds of sandwiches—and a staircase, where the maître d (seriously? I need to make a reservation here?) leads customers to the dimly-lit dining area. The wait staff is young and friendly, but they’re eager to recommend everything on the menu, from cocktails (the perfect complement to your Reuben!) to dessert: when the drink menu is fuller than the dinner menu, I think there’s a problem at this delicatessen.
A few standards, including pastrami and corned beef on rye, chopped liver, matzo ball soup, knish, and smoked salmon, give DGS at least some right to call itself a deli. The pickle plate, which includes pickled radishes and fennel among the dills and half-sours, is a pleasant surprise, but the pickles were smaller than I expected and more salty than sour. The pastrami sandwich is tasty, but unremarkable considering its $13 price: it’s warm and chewy, but the rye bread and the house mustard pack more flavor than the meat itself – not to mention that this easily-devoured sandwich doesn’t have a lot of meat to begin with.
For maybe a couple dollars more at one of New York City’s more famous delis, you can get something twice as large, and unlike at DGS, you won’t feel the incongruity of eating in a place that looks clean and fashionable while serving food that tries to compete with your Jewish grandmother’s.
DGS is a good restaurant, but it’s definitely not your typical deli: the menu is sparse, the portions are small, the food is expensive, and the modern décor is less than inviting. When I walk into a deli, I expect to be overwhelmed by sights and smells of meat and cheese: DGS doesn’t tempt me in any of these ways. DGS is alright I suppose, but after a visit it’s hard to believe they have the chutzpah to call themselves a delicatessen.