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DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle - Report

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  • Steve Nov 27, 2012 07:56 PM
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Expensive, but this is going to be a major destination in Washington. $13 got me a pastrami sandwich (no mixing of meats, so no combo pastrami/corned beef). A gorgeous, smoky sandwich, a bit too salty which is why I prefer a combo to straight up pastrami. Bread is excellent.

Also got a side order of the kasha varnishkas. It is a Mediterranean preparation with a tomatoey and spicy sauce with olives. Excellent.

And just for the purpose of research, also got the noodle kugel for dessert. Too expensive, but excellent as well.

This is more 'deli as a culinary treat' than a regular occasion for me. But a great treat nonetheless.

I believe they take reservations, which I predict will be necessary for dinner before long.

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  1. Thanks for this report! DGS is one of the new places I've been hoping to try, and you just bumped it up the list.

    Patrick
    New Restaurant Reviews @ www.firstbitedc.com

    1. Wow, I wish I could have had your sandwich - i just got back from there and I thought it was awful - the pickles were limp and mushy, my Rueben was so greasy the bread was falling apart, and the corned beef was mealy and tasteless. Even the kraut was bland.
      However, the one bright star in the meal was the Matzo Ball soup, tasty broth with a light and fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth ball, simple yet elegant. The staff were attentive and pleasant.
      On my way out, I saw another sandwich on the counter that looked better than mine, they may have consistancy problems (wouldn't explain the corned beef, though) - I would have stopped and spoken to management but I was already running very late (not their fault, mine!)

      1 Reply
      1. re: tommyskitchen

        I feel a bit bad about the report above, but call them as I see them. So when co-workers decided to order from DGS yesterday, I was anxious to give it another try.

        I was tempted to order the soup again as it was so good the first time - But ended up starting with the chopped liver, which was really, really nice - the flavor was spot-on, savory and a tad sweet, the liver shining through but not overpowering. The texture was a but creamier than I was used to, not as chunky as most, and was served in 'cups' of raddicchio with somewhat boring toasts.

        I also ordered the pastrami sandwich - I was not going to chance the Reuben once again! The meat was delicious, not at all mealy as before and was a very nice sandwich - HOWEVER - the bread still sucked, as it fell apart while eating even without being soaked with grease as before. A minor quirk was that the pastrami was cut very thickly, in chunks, and while I prefer it sliced thin on a sandwich, the flavor was so nice that it didn't matter as much to me.

        The pickles were crunchy and not mushy like before; I tried both slaws and neither were anything to write home about.

        All in all, a positive experience - there are some consistency problems that they need to work out and hopefully those will be resolved in time, but my new go-to light lunch just might be an order of chopped liver and a bowl of Matzo Ball soup....

      2. Is this joint carry out in addition to dine in? Nothing like some great pastrami.

        1. On my second visit, I got a terrific whitefish salad sandwich (Highly recommended), a Tunisian-style knish -(very delicious), and a bowl of borscht that was more precious than hearty. The kind of borscht that might appeal to someone who doesn't like beets. I would not get the borscht again. But the other items were big winners.

          They have already started to do carryout.

          23 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            I can't even begin to imagine a borscht for someone who doesn't like beets. They should serve that at the steakhouse for people who don't like red meat.

            1. re: monkeyrotica

              Borscht for someone who doesn't like beets is called schav. 8<D

              My great-aunt Pearl also made a borscht out of green beans, but I haven't seen that in 40 years.

              1. re: Bob W

                Schav is not an alternate name for borscht. Schav is green and it is made out of sorrel.

                http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles...

                http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/3860/S...

                1. re: Just Visiting

                  You missed his joke - but he did include a 'funny' emoticon for those who might not get it.

                  1. re: Steve

                    I got it but then again, I am one of those who knows what borscht and shav are. I wrote that for the many people who wouldn't have a clue. Which is probably 99.9% of the people who read it.

                    1. re: Just Visiting

                      Then you should have phrased your response differently.

                      1. re: Just Visiting

                        Then there is the percentage that don't care. Save a few points for us.

                2. re: monkeyrotica

                  You have caught the real problem: this is not a true deli. It is a melange of deli like things. It is not kosher, they use fusion, like Tunisian knish, and Tunisian spices, and they don't know how to cut the meat. It is over priced, trendy nonsense. It will no doubt have its run and flame out.

                  1. re: law_doc89

                    Again, when you say a true deli is kosher, I'm not sure what you're talking about.

                    In NYC, of the big name delis, only Second Avenue is kosher.

                    1. re: DanielK

                      Should be kosher style at this point, originally kosher. My bad.

                      Anyway, DGS is a joke, and should be billed as fusion, it is not even remotely deli. So, Daniel, do you have any idea what I am talking about in the cutting of the meat?

                      1. re: law_doc89

                        DGS features corned beef and pastrami sandwiches surrounded mostly by Sephardic Jewish cooking. They purposely said they did not want to recreate a standard Jewish Deli that featured heavy foods. Their goal was to have a Kosher-style deli, which specifically has come to mean no shellfish and no pork.

                        I ate at two Sephardic Jewish restaurants in Andalusia that were excellent, and these flavors and items would fit in perfectly with what I had at DGS.

                        Meanwhile, in a separate thread on Chowhound you offer Loeb's as an example of a Jewish Deli:

                        "Loeb's downtown does remind one of Katz' in NY, for instance."

                        Link:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8682...

                        A place where you can get, of all things, New England Clam Chowder, Lobster Rolls, and all your favorite Jewish Deli shellfish favorites. Want bacon or ham on your breakfast special? No problem!

                        1. re: Steve

                          I have not been to Loeb's since it moved and have no idea of any new menu, the old Loebs (first time in 1960) was very much like Katz, and it was fun to talk to guys there who could say that it was their fathers who probably served my father.

                          Oh well, I am sure the hipster hoard will be happy for another trendy place. Trick in DC is finding something of quality through the haze of the trendiness that dominates here.

                          1. re: law_doc89

                            The 'trick' is making kasha varnishkas and knishes that enough people will actually pay you money for. I make traditional KV, as did my grandmother. It's good stuff, but do I believe anyone will pay for it? No.

                            So here I find these wonderful dishes made from a different tradition with great unique recipes, and I am happy for it. I can now have a great dinner downtown that is not crazy expensive.....just expensive.

                            The serious downside of all this is that reservations will be necessary.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Yeah, and Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery has only been doing it for 120 years. You need a clientele that has some modicum sophistication and adventure. You prove my point, DC has a superficial, conformist, hipster culture that makes it hard for good stuff to break through. When some melange of stuff is passed off as a style, or authentic, and the clientele don
                              't know enough to spot it for what it is, that is sad.

                              DuPont Circle perhaps represents poor taste in food more than any other area of town.

                              And DC area is the place that invented sous vide, has L"Academie de Cuisine; we can do better.

                            2. re: law_doc89

                              Loeb's, when I last visited about 5 years ago, was closer to Subway in quality than a Jewish-style deli, except in price. If that's your standard, than I'm not sure we're on the same page.

                              I'm not often downtown, so not sure when I'll be able to try DGS, but my current standard in the area is Brooklyn's Deli in Potomac. They "properly cut" the meat, as you say, and have the best rye bread around.

                              But I am a bit offended by your easy dismissal of Sephardic Jewish cuisine. I'll remind you that what you describe as Jewish deli is a 20th century creation of NY Jews, and Sephardic cuisine has roots more than 500 years old.

                              1. re: DanielK

                                Where did I say anything bad about Sephardic cuisine? Try reacting to what I actually wrote. I am trying to highligh poor sophistication, not Sephardics. This restaurant is inauthentic fusion, and the dodge for their in authenticity is to say they are using Sephardic recipes or some such. I was attacking the dodge, not Sephardic cooking.

                                I repeat:

                                DuPont Circle perhaps represents poor taste in food more than any other area of town.

                                And DC area is the place that invented sous vide, has L"Academie de Cuisine; we can do better.

                                1. re: law_doc89

                                  You still haven't answered - authentic as compared to what?

                                  Or, even better, what are they claiming to be that they are not delivering?

                                  Here's what they claim:
                                  "DGS is a next generation Jewish delicatessen and restaurant ...The delicatessen was born in Eastern Europe. It traveled with the wave of Jewish immigrants to America ... DGS is a nod to the mom-and-pop District Grocery Stores that lined street corners in DC at the turn of twentieth century. DGS plans to honor this rich legacy. Chef Koslow’s menu revitalizes the craft of Jewish cooking and brings it forward for 21st century diners."

                                  Sounds like they're not trying to replicate the "authentic" NYC deli, but create their own thing. Still not sure what you're railing about.

                                  1. re: DanielK

                                    Here's a 10 minute trailer for Deli Man. It's a pretty good quick history of the New York delicatessen.

                                    http://vimeo.com/53381762

                                    1. re: DanielK

                                      I don't get the railing either - if it's good, and its customers are happy and plentiful, who cares?
                                      It's not billing itself as a Jewish deli circa 2nd Ave.

                                      FYI, I just ate at Hymies in Philly. Grilled cheese with bacon, anyone? But the wait is long, the customers leave happy, and it's an institution where I grew up. I'm sure someone, somewhere (other than the hassidic community nearby) is railing about how it isn't authentic. But the pickle bar makes everything better.

                                      DC restaurants always piss people off because they think DC is a second-rate city in many levels. I find it interesting that most talk about how great NYC is, yet don't make an effort to continue living there. The food in NY is great, but with 8 million people on manhattan alone, it better be! DC has improved SO much since I moved here, it's amazing.

                                      Can't wait to try DGS and NOT compare it to the Jewish delis of my youth!

                                    2. re: law_doc89

                                      Well I _did_ eat there, and I thought it was the most expensive, smallest, and by far the BEST pastrami sandwich I've had, especially in DC. Whitefish was very good too, although I didn't love the knish.

                                      And now, plonk (no, I'm not talking about wine).

                                      P.S. and I'm soooo not a hipster.

                                      1. re: noamb

                                        In Washingtonian, Todd Kliman makes the highly perceptive comment that the pastrami takes its cue more from the Canadian deli staple of Montreal Smoked Meat than it does from the standard NYC version.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Oy, aren't we all mispacha?

                                          Seriously, though, I just caught wind of this place a week or two ago, and it reminded me of the restaurant concept that Sheldon had on Top Chef - refined, reimagined Filipino cuisine. Isn't that what they're doing - taking some of the homiest elements of a homey cuisine (Ashkenazit Jewish), and reimagining it with flavors and traditions of other branches of Jewish and American cuisine. Or like Raskia is to Indian (just about to post my review from there).

                                          1. re: edub

                                            And who fights like mishpacheh? Including how to spell mishpacheh?

                                            To me, this is like the blueberry bagel discussion. It may be good, but it ain't a bagel.

                                            I am a Katz's loyalist/traditionalist when it comes to deli, notwithstanding the lousy bread, and so I doubt I would enjoy DGS, but to each his own.

                    2. Just got back from lunch at DGS with my brother Orson W., visiting from NY. Here is what we had (we shared everything):

                      1. Smoked bluefish appetizer -- the surprise hit of the lunch. This was really good.
                      2. Chopped liver appetizer -- my family has very high standards for chopped liver, which are rarely met. I had read good things about DGS's chopped liver, and it lived up to expectations.
                      3. Pickle appetizer -- I grew up eating pickled tomatoes that really curl your toes. These were pretty weak.
                      4. Corned beef/pastrami combo sandwich -- They still won't give you two half-sandwiches, but they now will layer both meats on one sandwich. The meats were very tender and tasty. Unlike some people, I have no interest in a one-pound Carnegie Deli-size sandwich, so DGS's was plenty for me.

                      No room for dessert. Service was good. We also had a nice chat with the proprietor about Kutsher's Tribeca, Jewish food in general, and the restaurant biz in general. We asked him to consider putting rugelach on the dessert menu, and he said it was indeed under consideration.

                      The four dishes came to around $42. Definitely more lunch than I usually eat, but well worth the walk.

                      My brother tried the "left side of the menu or club sandwiches only?" line from Diner on our server; she had no clue. 8<D

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Bob W

                        Can not tell you how relieved I am to hear that you enjoyed their chopped liver. Now it's safe to go and try it haha. I've only been here once so far and has the pastrami sandwich which was excellent!

                        I also have very high standards for chopped liver and have found it impossible to get a decent rendition of the dish here in DC. Looks like DGS is the place....my Jewish food prayers have been answered.

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          Hey, I used to help my great-aunt Pearl make her legendary chopped liver, in a wooden bowl, of course. I know from chopped liver. 8<D

                          But they really need to work on those pickles! The GM told us they spent a couple days in NYC doing research -- they somehow missed what a good pickle tastes like.

                          PS Did you know that the highlight of Visiting Day at Camp Manitou was Aunt Sis's chopped liver? Yum.

                        2. re: Bob W

                          OK, paid a return visit to DGS on Saturday with Mrs W this time and for the most part we tried different things this time around:

                          1. Reuben: Very good, nice sized sandwich. Would definitely order one of these for myself.
                          2.Pickles: Mrs W wanted to try these so I was happy to give them another shot. This plate had more zing than on my first visit.
                          3. Latkes: This was a pretty small serving -- two little latkes with sour cream and honeyed apricots for $7 -- but they were really good. I definitely wanted more.
                          4. Toasted Montreal bagel w/ shmear: I had never had one of these legendary bagels so I really had no idea what to expect. The bagel is pretty small, with a hint of sweetness. Actually reminded me, at least sizewise, of the bagels we used to get way back when in Providence. I liked it, and think it's a good choice for people who think the typical modern bagel is too much of a carbo bomb.
                          5. Chicken soup with matzo ball: Outstanding. The matzo balls were gigantic (each bowl comes with one) and really light. I'd guess they use club soda, like an old pro.
                          6. Sweet noodle kugel with cinnamon ice cream and honeyed apricots: This was the problematic item of the meal. The kugel is in fact hardly sweet at all. It has a nice amount of fruit -- raisins, prunes -- but the kugel tastes only of cinnamon. You really need the ice cream and honeyed apricots to have a sweet dessert, and once I swirled it all together it was very nice. But sweet kugel should stand on its own. Next time I will try the cheesecake.

                          So after two visits, in terms of food, service, value, I'd say right around an A-/B+. Lots more on the menu to try!

                          1. re: Bob W

                            Thank you for this comprehensive report. I really need to head back there soon to check out the various items---I've only had the pastrami so far (which was great). I reallly want to try to Babka Bread Pudding.

                            1. re: Elyssa

                              We saw some whitefish salad plates go by that looked really good -- each plate had a toasted bagel half topped with a generous scoop of whitefish.

                              The bread pudding is on my hit list too. I actually asked the server to help me choose between the kugel and the cheesecake, and she said,"oh, you can get cheesecake anywhere." Well, apparently you can't get good sweet kugel just anywhere! I am reminded of what Otter said to Flounder in Animal House -- "You [effed up.. You trusted us."

                        3. So no one else had a bad texture experience with the corned beef sandwich? When I went for dinner a week or two ago, they toasted the rye bread and then slathered on a tasteless mustard (no bite whatsoever, they were very proud to say it's homemade...), which then produces this clammy mushy layer of bread which I found extremely distracting from the (very good) corned beef innards of the sandwich. Granted, I am not a big rye fan, but I thought the texture situation was just bizarre.
                          I also thought the pickle plate was ho-hum, and the smoked fish special good but kind of a tiny portion. They only included 4 teeny half pieces of bread and charged 50 cents IIRC for extra bread - which was a much larger portion. Just odd.

                          1. I went yesterday for lunch -- 45 minute wait, but we were lucky to snag a seat at the counter. Had a pastrami sandwich. In NYC I would rate it a 7.5, and call it a bit small. In DC it's a 9 or 10 -- there's no competition for this, not even close. The rye bread is outstanding for any city, and the pastrami very good. Split a chopped liver appetizer which was very good -- which even had gribenes, though they were no where near as good as what you get at the 2nd Ave. Deli. The pickle spear was OK -- I asked for a sour and got what tasted like a 3/4 sour.

                            This review might sound like a whine, but its not meant to be -- I'll be back to DGS. It was quite a treat and very good. There's nothing to compare to it for a couple hundred miles.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: chesapeake72000

                              Have you been to Deli City in NE DC?

                              1. re: Steve

                                Or Attman's? Or Weiss Deli? Or Edmart?

                                Sigh. You had to mention Deli City. Now there's a sandwich you can set your watch to.

                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  Just happened upon this thread after dining at DGS twice in the last two weeks on visits from Baltimore. I actually agree with both camps of remarks here -- it's pretty good, but it doesn't quite meet the standards of NY (or Baltimore) institutions, and is considerably more expensive than both, at least for what you get. A sandwich at either Attman's or the Edmart is better for around half the price. The pickles are excellent, but expensive. The chopped liver was a bit watery for my taste. Great rye bread, though.

                                  On the other hand, you can't get a terrific variant on the Old Fashioned calls the Gentlemen's Agreement at any of these.

                                2. re: Steve

                                  Yeah, I've been to Deli City and like it, but not as good as DGS. I've also been to the Batiimore places Attmans and Edmart and have not been impressed. Although Deli City certainly has more character, and characters, than does DGS.

                              2. Put me in the meh category.

                                I don't care if the dish was new wave like the Knish, dough tough and chewy, the filling like mediocre Indian samosa filling with too many raisins sitting on two smears of glop, or traditional, bland as can be chicken soup with a nice but totally flavorless matzo ball. We ate other stuff too but there is noting more to say other than it was all equally bland except for sadly oversalted and dry chicken liver.

                                When the best part of a meal is the sound track on the sound system, it says a lot. Great beer & cocktail choices! But I can't imagine going back.

                                1. $27 for bottomless mimosa brunch with one app and one entree sounded like a pretty good deal so I stopped in DGS before visiting the Van Gogh exhibit at the Phillips Collection. I started with the chopped chicken liver, which came with fried chicken skin (tasted like pork rind) and some bread. I enjoyed the chicken liver, smooth but not overly sweet. The entree was whitefish on Montreal bagel. I ordered the whitefish in lieu of pastrami because I'm sort of on a diet. The whitefish was not distinguishable from other whitefish salads and it wasn't piled high. So I had 3 mimosas to make up for that loss.

                                  The Van Gogh exhibit was interesting. He did several series of paintings of the same subjects. Seeing them side by side provided wonderful contrast.

                                  1. If ever there was a cynical dish at a restaurant, the new 'corned beef terrine' is it.

                                    Take a few scraps of leftover corned beef, press them together, serve a tiny wedge of it ice box cold along with some grilled bread and a mustard 'sauce' and charge $11. The product is dense, hard to cut, and surprisingly flavorless.

                                    Is DGS becoming too precious? I thought this after the Happy Hour $5 bar bite of pickled bluefish which was more artful plated than good. Not nearly as satisfying as a halfway decent smoked bluefish or pickled herring either which usually manages to retains its fish flavor. This was just faintly sour and annoying.

                                    1. The prime rib dinner they serve on Saturdays for $30 is a good deal and very well executed.