"If this were New York," said a transplanted Brooklynite I dragged to Solley's in Sherman Oaks, "I'd give this place about a five. In the Valley, it's about an eight."
Whaddya expect? When it comes to the subject of deli food, nobody can be harder to please than a New Yorker. But the truth is, you can find dried-out corned beef and stale kishke just as easily in New York as here. Even in Manhattan, truly great delis on the level of the Second Avenue Deli are few and far between.
All right, already--I like Solley's. True, the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches aren't as good as those at Art's, Brent's or Jerry's Famous, to say nothing of the delis of New York.
But there are lots of good things at the two Solley's locations: breads and bagels from an in-house bakery, excellent knishes in tasty brown gravy, great smoked fish platters and a first-rate brisket sandwich.
Each table is equipped with an enormous plastic tub of half-sour pickles. Add pleasant service and a cheery ambience, and the noshing is easy.
Solley's is your deli super store; the menu is so huge I actually find it confusing. I never expected to see the word "Thai" on a deli menu, for instance, but here it is--twice, even. Spicy Thai stir fry consists of gummy buckwheat pasta with peanut sauce, stir-fried vegetables and a few slices of char-broiled chicken. The Thai salad is similar, with fettuccine as the pasta.
This a great place for matzo ball soup. The matzo ball itself is a light, fluffy sphere so big it won't fit in a soup cup. It comes in a bowl of delicious chicken broth and lots of eggy noodles--it's a meal.
Solley's kreplach soup is far heavier. The kreplach in this bowl is a leaden object about as big as one of my size 12 Rockports. Listen, when I was a kid and saw won ton written on a Chinese menu, the word kreplach unfailingly appeared in parentheses next to it.
Kreplach used to be bite-sized meat-filled dumplings rendered in schmaltz. What ever happened to them? Please, somebody, bring back the old-time kreplach .
There are beautiful smoked fish platters here, generously garnished with cream cheese, Bermuda onion, tomatoes and your choice of four great, chewy bagels. The fish itself is good and plentiful, whether you order Nova lox, smoked cod, delicately perfumed whitefish or the fresh-testing creamed herring.
For a hearty breakfast, try the potato pancakes, three large, crunchy cakes with sour cream and applesauce.
Order a sandwich and it comes on good, crusty rye bread--unless you ask for one of Solley's many other breads; 7-grain for instance, or onion.
The best sandwich is certainly the huge brisket sandwich, made with lean, meaty brisket--you plunge it into a salty dipping liquid. Solley's corned beef, though, is machine-sliced and tough.
The knishes are wonderful heavy pockets of dough, stuffed with potato, spinach or meat, that pretty much steal away the appetite. The potato knish has a soft filling much like that of the Ukrainian specialty vareniki . The meat version has a crumbly filling that spills out generously when it's cut open.
The entrees are competently done. Solley's makes a decent roast chicken with nice crisp skin and reasonably moist meat, and the liver and onions are in the classic deli style. The stuffed cabbage rolls are huge logs with a rich meat and rice filling, slightly sweet and redolent of paprika. Jump on the lean Romanian skirt steak with confidence. The French fries with it are terrific too.
I'd avoid the overly salty stuffed kishke , however. And the turkey leg tends to be a bit dried out (the waitress insisted on taking it off our check when she saw we were less than thrilled).
Do not miss Solley's huge array of breads, cookies, cakes, rugelach, tortes, pies and other baked goods; there are well over 100 here. Solley's also features a cappuccino bar, but I'm having American coffee with these dishes, thank you.
Is cappuccino the rage in New York delis these days? On second thought, who cares?
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* WHAT: Solley's.
* WHERE: Two locations: 21857 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 340-0810, and 4578 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 905-5774.
* WHEN: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
* HOW MUCH: Lunch for two, $12-$23.
* ETC: Beer and wine only. Parking in rear lot. American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Suggested dishes: chicken matzo ball soup, $4.25; brisket sandwich, $8.10; potato knish, $3.95; the smoked fish feast, $27.95 (serves 2-3).