Delicatessen, which opened on the corner of Lafayette and Prince in Soho, aims to do for corned beef and pickles what Ruby Foo’s did for the Chinese dumpling. Peer around the clean corner space on a busy evening and you will witness all sorts of pseudo-nightclub oddities. Famished-looking models lounge around white Formica tabletops, nibbling hesitantly on bits of vulcanized pastrami and noxious helpings of bland chopped liver. There are blintzes filled with saccharine deposits of cherry verbena (bad), and ricotta cheese and corn (not so bad), and a Reuben sandwich that looks like it’s been issued directly from the kitchens of Continental Airlines. There is also a stygian cocktail lounge decorated with ancient apothecary bottles, and as you chew your way through your silver bucket of deep-fried “Reuben Fritters,” you’re serenaded by the unceasing thrum of a disco backbeat.
This leaden fritter creation has a certain deathly allure (it’s a kind of savory, corned beef–filled zeppole, with a side of Thousand Island dressing), but most of the faux deli dishes at Delicatessen (beef stroganoff without any beef, salt-saturated matzo balls) are pretty grim. But a few of the non-pseudo-deli items are palatable, especially if you visit during the daylight hours, when the backbeat is turned down and the joint fills up with assorted flaneurs from the neighborhood. My “Chinese-style” salmon fillet was decent, and so was the fritto misto, containing haricots verts and wheels of frizzled lemon. There’s a nice Caesar salad on the menu (dressed with appealingly silvery anchovies), a series of good lunchtime baguette sandwiches (try the Vietnamese bánh mì with ground pork), and an Ovaltine pudding parfait for dessert that’s better than it sounds. The breakfast service is semicompetent, too, but beware: When I ordered the scrambled-egg “Delicatessen scramble” one bright Sun morning, this pseudo-deli was out of lox. — Adam Platt