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Betsy Block

Restaurant Review: Rubin's Kosher Deli

When people hear you're going to eat at Rubin's Kosher Deli and Restaurant, they'll tell you it's good, but it's not New York. Not New York? Honey, this isn't even Paris, Texas.

If you're familiar with kosher food, then you may already know all about Rubin's. But if you're not, then think of this as a place to go on a cultural field trip. Come here for a peek at Jewish life, come here for a great deli sandwich, or come here because there aren't that many places in town where you can get whitefish for your family's Sunday brunch. But, I'm truly sad to report, don't come here expecting to eat like Queen Esther. Still, the place is wildly popular, crowded at all hours and on all days. Can you say "captive audience"?

I respect those who are committed enough to turn every meal into an act of reverence. That's why writing this review is no fun. While I certainly don't keep kosher, this is still the food of my youth. When I walked into the rough-hewn deli, I couldn't wait for those latkes. I love matzo ball soup. I was weaned on whitefish. So I was excited to get this assignment.

First, the good news. When we got there, we dived right into the reason Rubin's was voted Best Deli by Boston magazine this year: meat and smoked fish.

The meats were the epitome of top-notch: thinly sliced, ultra-fresh deli chow. The pastrami, tongue, roast beef, turkey and chopped liver all passed muster (while we passed the mustard). But when I pay 11 bucks for a roast beef platter, I expect the sides to be pretty darn good. They weren't. The cole slaw and potato salad tasted sadly industrial and lackluster, like they'd been sitting around for too long in a jar.

Then there was the time we ordered the "mouth-watering medley" of smoked fish (for $16), which came with only two out of the four promised fish and was served without a word of acknowledgment or apology. Hmm... maybe they thought we wouldn't know better. (In fact, the deli maestro actually asked me if I was Jewish. Yeah, Jewish enough to know there's no sable or herring here, bud.)

Outside the deli, things went downhill in the sit-down restaurant section. Those latkes? Greasy, heavy, cold in the middle. Matzo ball soup? The broth tasted like the Red Sea, and the matzo balls -- my husband makes better, and he doesn't even eat them. The roast chicken was way too salty, the veggies had that plastic, freezer-burned taste, the kasha varnishkes were greasy. One night I had to steal some of my son's (plump, delicious) hot dog because I was still so hungry after dinner.

Then there's the service, which one evening was no less than atrocious. Imagine you've been invited to a progressive dinner, only nobody told you. So you get one drink five minutes after everyone's ordered, then a cup of soup, then another drink, then another appetizer, a drink, a long wait, some bread, an entree, one more drink ... my companion had to get her meal to go, since by the time it arrived everyone else had finished eating and her son was (understandably) melting down. At least they apologized and gave us two desserts for free.

The relatively good news? The brisket was OK, the pickles and sour tomatoes were appropriately mouth-puckering and crunchy, and the carrot cake and tofu-based blueberry-topped "cheesecake" were surprisingly good. And, like I said, the hot dog was a winner.

Bottom line: Rubin's is a tease. It looks and acts the part, but it just doesn't deliver the goods.The moral? I can't think of one. If you do, let me know.