It's hard to find someone as dedicated to pastrami as Micah Wexler, co-owner and chef of the newly opened Wexler's Deli at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A.
The former chef of the now-closed Mezze restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard, who also spent time as the sous-chef at Craft and chef de partie at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, has turned his attention to cured and smoked meat, fish and bagels.
At Wexler's Deli, he is slicing up thick slabs of spiced pastrami and smearing bagels with cream cheese and house-smoked sturgeon. He's created an old-school deli menu with corned beef, roast turkey, egg salad, tuna salad and a hat tip to Brooklyn with chocolate egg creams.
What's coming up next on your menu?
I'd like to explore more smoked and pickled fish. I'm trying to source some high-quality herring right now to do pickled herring in cream sauce. Also, when I was a kid we always had barbecued cod whenever we had bagels and smoked fish. It was one of my favorites, and you can't find it anymore, so I think it would be a special thing to bring back.
Latest ingredient obsession?
Bay leaf. I think it's an overlooked herb. People always have a jar of dried bay leaves that have been kicking around their pantry for 15 years, and cooks often overlook them as something we just throw in a stock. But when you use them fresh, they have an intense aroma and flavor that can be great in braises, marinades and preserves.
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again -- and what do you order?
Terroni. It's like an extension of my living room. I hang out there all the time and have meetings there. The owners are good friends, and it's really the perfect neighborhood restaurant. Cavatelli alla Norma is my go-to, and the arancini are probably the best in the world.
Favorite kitchen soundtrack?
Ted Hawkins. He was a street musician who played on the Venice boardwalk for years, and he recorded a few albums in the '90s. Also, the new Black Keys album is pretty killer.
What chef has most influenced you?
Joel Robuchon. His ability to discover purity of flavors and make things taste more intensely of themselves is second to none.