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RESTAURANT REVIEW : The Deli Dilemma : Factor's Famous tries to fill the void left after the earthquake, but when the pastrami is stacked, it just isn't Art's.

July 01, 1994|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Max Jacobson reviews restaurants every Friday in Valley Life!

ENCINO — "I'm depressed," confides one of my pickier dining companions. "Since the earthquake closed down Art's, I don't know where to go for a great corned beef sandwich."

Relief does not appear imminent. The San Fernando Valley fairly abounds with delis, such as Jerry's Famous in Studio City, the very good Brent's up in Northridge and the spiffy new Factor's Famous over in Encino, but none of them seems quite poised to take up Art's mantle as the Valley's best deli. And who wants to schlep Downtown to Seventh and Alvarado just to feast on the corned beef and pastrami at Langer's? (I will, if you give my arm a little twist.)

Factor's Encino certainly does look the part of the typical California deli. It's a huge, confident, upscale sort of room with high ceilings and an attractive takeout counter by the front door. Never mind that it's a branch of a humbler place on Pico in Beverlywood. This is the Valley Factor's, and that's that.

The beige walls are lined with posters advertising newish movies: "Cocoon," "Fried Green Tomatoes," even the just-released "Blown Away." Most customers eat clustered together at wooden tables crammed into the wide-open center of the room. Come during the lunch rush, and that's where you will probably sit, too. We, however, arrive by 11:30 and are able to grab one of the low-slung, vinyl-upholstered side booths that generally fill up by noon.

Now that we are hunkered down in our choice spot, a waiter comes over and plies us with a basket of crisp bagel chips and snappy-fresh, half-sour pickles. We nibble on them at our ease, blissfully unaware that they are going to be the best appetizers we will taste.

Our first order to arrive is stuffed kishka, a deli acid test. This interpretation of the traditional Jewish meatless sausage is stuffed as usual with flour, chicken fat, carrots and spices, but it comes up gluey and insipid. And it's grilled , a deli blasphemy. (Listen, this is not California Cuisine here. Kishka is supposed to be steamed.) A thick, caramel-brown gravy fails to add any charm.

If you're not in the mood for the properly salty chopped herring or the rather solidly packed chopped liver, the soups are a reasonably good way to start a meal. Soup-er-pot, a reduced version of the even more substantial entree called chicken in the pot, is a good-sized metal tureen containing chicken soup, a couple of fluffy matzo balls, one rather large and leaden chicken kreplach, some noodles and, supposedly, rice and kasha. My tureen is loaded with noodles and matzo balls, plus a good deal of white meat chicken, but as far as I can tell, no rice, no kasha. (Kvetch, kvetch.)

The waiter now suggests we try what he terms the deli's "excellent sandwich meats," managing to sound just like Keanu Reeves in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," dude. No one is put off, of course. We are already sure that this isn't the Second Avenue Deli, so the Valley accent feels oddly appropriate.

The meats, however, are just OK--not particularly tender. The best sandwich deal has to be one of the massive combination sandwiches, triple-deckers served with decently runny cole slaw and a creamy potato salad that is perhaps a bit heavy with the celery salt. My favorite is No. 9: corned beef, pastrami, tongue, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and lettuce and tomato.

The pastrami at Factor's lacks peppery bite, and the brisket has little flavor, but the corned beef is grainy and fine, and the tongue is tender and flavorful. I'd complain less if the deli had a better selection of mustards, but you are forced to choose between Beaver's Sweet and Sour and a whole-grain type that is sticky and overly pungent.

Factor's is temporarily closed for remodeling during dinner, but you can rely on the roast chicken, which is crisp-skinned and on the well-done side. There's also a marinated Romanian skirt steak with lots of flavor and a dense, chunky turkey loaf that reminds me of a misbegotten country pate.

Desserts come through with flying colors, anyway. You can choose creamy New York-style cheesecake, home-baked apple pie, even a richly glazed chocolate cake with the name Sacher drooled across the top in frosting. This cake bears little resemblance to a real Viennese Sacher torte, but hey, dude, this is Encino, not Vienna, and certainly not Second Avenue. And the cake really is, like, excellent.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Factor's Famous Deli.

Location: 16348 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

Suggested dishes: Soup-er-pot, $4.95; No. 9 sandwich, $7.95; chopped herring, $4.95; roast half chicken, $7.95 ($9.95 complete dinner); tongue, $6.25.

Hours: Breakfast and lunch 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday to Sunday.

Price: Lunch for two, $10 to $22. Beer and wine only. Parking lot. American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

Call: (818) 386-2629.

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