As a rule, you don’t go to museums to eat. Unless you’re like me — someone who, when push comes to shove, prefers great food to great art. I make no apologies: The last time I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I ate a tasteless, watery and expensive fruit salad in the cafe there. That I remember. What exhibit I was there to see I’ve long forgotten. It had something to do with famous dead artists.
Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center is memorable — for all the right reasons. Forget that it’s located in a museum lobby. If Zeidler’s Cafe were on Ventura or Wilshire boulevards, you’d have to reserve a table for lunch.
The light, large space shares a stone floor with the outdoor patio, which stretches out past a wall of plate glass. Somewhere beyond the atrium, the city and Valley lie far beneath you. Never mind that the Mulholland Drive exit on the 405 is only a few hundred yards away — this place feels like a getaway.
The menu at Zeidler’s mixes deli with California creative — not surprising, considering that it is owned by Marvin and Judy Zeidler, who also own the Broadway Deli and Citrus. (Zeidler’s is dairy, but not kosher.) You’ll find crisp, generous pizzas with Puck-esque top-quality ingredients (around $7 to $8) such as kalamata olives and smoked Gouda. The sandwiches (around $6) are simple and clean-flavored: tuna, egg, salmon salad; no olive pastes and sun-dried tomato spreads lurking under the bread.
About a half pound of nicely seared tuna comes with the seared ahi salad. Though the fish is ice-cold — I like mine still warm on the outside from the sear — it is perfectly cooked, high-quality tuna, crusted with black and white sesame seeds. The bright composed salad beneath it is lightly dressed with a sesame dressing and laced through with peppery daikon sprouts.
Mushroom pot sticker salad is flavorful, if a little too much like…pot sticker salad. And who needs that?
The barley soup has a swell peppery kick, the meatless cousin to the barley shitake mushroom soup down at the Broadway Deli. Other deli selections, such as latkes ($2.50) and rich, light blintzes tangy with lemon peel ($6.95), make Zeidler’s a good choice for Sunday brunch.
The desserts, made on premises, are large and homey. Cheesecake tastes more of New York than Los Angeles. It’s a good-sized wedge, perfumed with vanilla and creamy at the core.
I like the service at Zeidler’s too. A manager comes by to check the water level in my teapot. When I sent back a cup of coffee because it tasted sour, the teapot and some black tea appeared in seconds, with a smile.
Zeidler’s is, of course, the place to eat when visiting the Skirball. But it may be the perfect midpoint spot for friends coming from the Valley and the city to rendezvous, and a good choice for pre- or post- Getty Center viewing. That little place should be so lucky to house a Zeidler’s of its own.
Zeidler’s Cafe is open weekdays (except Monday), 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and weekends, noon-5 p m. (310) 440-4515.
Ashkenazic Jews eat latkes because they’re fried in oil, and well-oiled foods symbolize the Chanukah miracle of the oil lamp that burned in the sanctuary for eight days. Italian Jews make an ethereal fried chicken for the holiday, using lemon peel in the batter. And Sephardic Jews have a battery of fried desserts. Israelis eat jelly doughnuts, sufganyot, baseball-sized blobs of dough stuffed with a red goo that might share some distant lineage with a real fruit.
But I like latkes.
The recipes that follow are from Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Cultural Center. Created by Chef Jim Herringer, they push the envelope of Jewish tradition while incorporating traditional Mexican and French ingredients. These might not be your first choice for a Chanukah latke, but they’ll work well as an hors d’oeuvre any time of year.
Southwestern Latke with Chunky Salsa
4 medium russet potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
8 ounces chunky salsa
1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater.
2) Beat the eggs in a bowl and fold in the cilantro and potatoes.
3) Heat the oil and form small circles with the potato mixture. Fry to golden brown, remove from the skillet and top with salsa.
4) Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
1 pound ripe tomatoes
4 serrano chile peppers
1 clove garlic
salt to taste
1) Preheat broiler and place the tomatoes and chile peppers on the broiler pan. Broil, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered and slightly charred.
2) Allow the tomatoes and chili peppers to cool at room temperature. Remove the skin and seeds.
3) In a food processor, process the garlic and chile peppers on the chop setting. Add tomatoes and salt to taste. Pulse on and off until chopped, not puréed.
4) Place a dollop of salsa atop each latke just prior to service.
Crisp Potato Latke with Goat Cheese
4 russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
8 ounces goat cheese
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1) Halve the potatoes and grate on a coarse panel grater. Do not rinse potatoes. Squeeze moisture from potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
2) Add one tablespoon of oil to a large skillet. Lay out a thin layer of grated potatoes, forming a circle. Top the potato circle with one ounce of goat cheese, sprinkle generously with chives. Cover the goat cheese with another thin layer of potato, ensuring that the cheese is completely covered. Add remaining oil and carefully turn the latke over and cook to golden brown on both sides. Repeat, making a total of eight latkes.