Visiting Springfield, Illinois: The Land of Lincoln and other Americana


People have preconceived notions and prejudices that prevent them from seeing cool places and interesting things in life. I grew up in Illinois. Back in the day, at least, all the public schools brought their students around 8th grade to Springfield, Illinois – the place where Abraham Lincoln lived in the only home he ever bought, practiced law, ran for office and eventually was buried. But I went to a private school that was more concerned with us reciting La Marseilles in perfect French, than seeing a Presidential library and museum in our own state. Later, when I moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I saw many battlefields of the Civil War. They’re extremely popular. But for some reason, people don’t talk about visiting Springfield . . . and they’re really missing out.

Getting there: I took a very modestly priced Amtrak from Chicago’s Union Station. Chicago is a big train hub, so you’re likely to be at the beginning of a long haul trip, with classic sleeper cars, full service dining cars with freshly made food, observation decks, ladies’ lounges. Along the way, you see what others ignorantly refer to as “flyover country,” including the funny stadium for the Frontier League Joliet Slammers. Another way you can go: drive or ride. The famous Route 66 goes right through the center of town.

Where to stay: High atop “Aristocracy Hill” sits an inn — Inn at 835 — that used to serve as apartments for movers and shakers and indeed, still features long-term residences for them. After all, Springfield is Illinois’ capital; legislators from here have gone far up the political ladder. The place was conceived and designed over 100 years ago by a high-society florist. It’s still very grand! Rooms are very spacious, some with a butler’s pantry filled with books, Jacuzzi with heat lamp, four-poster bed, gorgeous antiques. Wine and cheese is left out for guests downstairs, but they bring cookies in a basket to your door at night. They provide a free shuttle from the Amtrak station until 8:30 pm.

What to do: See how Lincoln and his family actually lived at the Lincoln Home, a national historic site. He expanded the premises as his success and prosperity grew. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is simply outstanding! I started out at its fantastic gift shop. The museum’s permanent exhibit takes you through life-sized recreations of his log cabin home, his law office, and political ascent. Walk through the whispering gallery of political sniping from both ends of the spectrum – just like elections today! – and nasty gossip against Mary Todd Lincoln. Feel yourself attending the play at Ford’s Theater. We all know how it ends . . . but I wasn’t prepared for the stunning majesty of the darkened recreation of the closed casket in the Representatives Hall in Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Today, we are reminded that Lincoln’s catafalque was lent by Congress for Justice Scalia’s funeral.

Of course, there’s no substitute for the real thing. President Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Also in town is his law office, which had a business-friendly location by the courthouse and right on what is now Route 66.

Edwards Place is the oldest remaining structure in Springfield. The Edwards were Illinois’ most powerful political family, with one serving as the first Governor when Illinois became a state after serving as Kentucky’s Chief Justice on the Court of Appeals. Illinois was originally settled mostly by Kentuckians and this family crossed the Ohio River with their slaves. Another Edwards was the first person born in Illinois to graduate from Yale. Their home is beautifully restored, with many interesting archeological finds.

Art and architecture enthusiasts will be fascinated with the Dana-Thomas house, an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design. At the time, Wright was young and not as well known enough to totally impose his will upon homeowners, but he managed to ink some covenants. The lady of the house had enough money and social clout to include some of her Art Nouveau era preferences, so the fusion here is one-of-a-kind.

Springfield has a cute, thriving main street. There are several quality antique stores; Abe’s Old Hat has several rooms, each with its own specialty and vibe. Check out such Americana finds like feed sacks upcycled into men’s ties and cornbread scented candles.

A small town has got to consider itself sweet with two independently owned candy stores, both with Depression-era origins. Pease’s is older by a tad; their specialty is chocolates made to look like actual designer shoes! Del’s Popcorn Shop is now located next to the Lincoln-Herndon law office, with a real old-timey feel inside. They have all kinds of flavors of freshly popped corn, which feels like the perfect snack to crunch on in Illinois, plus it makes an inexpensive souvenir gift.

Where to eat: Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery is located in a rehabbed historic home, owned by direct descendants of neighbors of Abraham Lincoln. They brew the freshest beer in town and also have excellent locally made, fruit forward cider. Their growlers are so cute, with tributes to Lincoln and Route 66, I happily paid for plastic boxes and checked luggage to bring some cider home. They’ve got a real gastropub thing going, with highly flavorful offerings like spicy cheesy soup, an old family recipe for 15 spice chili and Scotch eggs.

D’Arcy’s Pint is an Irish pub that’s enormously popular. They serve bar food as well as the famous Springfield Horseshoe. Lots of cities have a beloved big sandwich, this is theirs. It’s generally slices of thick Texas toast, topped with meat, French fries and cheese sauce. You can get veggies or hotdogs on it . . . even Midwestern walleye!

American Harvest Eatery is a new restaurant little bit up the road from the state capital building, so it’s not quite run over by lobbyists yet. While still finding its footing when I was there, they have an admirable concept: using the foodstuffs of Illinois to re-create comfort food favorites.

I saw a Quonset in the middle of nowhere and wondered how it could be a restaurant. Well, Charlie Parker’s Diner is world-famous and has been featured on the Food Network many times! It’s a fun, 50’s party atmosphere with that kind of classic menu.

Anecdotally, I wondered in the land of farms if things like heirloom tomatoes, etc., were popular. It turns out, not so much: commercial agriculture earnings are so crucial, people aren’t playing around with specialized, small-yield crops here.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln life-like figures at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Figures of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Recreation of the scene at Ford’s Theater at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

President Abraham Lincoln’s tomb Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

 

Yamashiro: The mountain palace built by Jews


Yamashiro, the famous Hollywood restaurant with a Japanese-style building and name, served its last meal by its longtime owners recently, before changing hands and reopening under a new operator. The venue has long been known to generations of Angelenos and tourists as an Asian-fusion restaurant with a hilltop view of Hollywood and beyond, but what is less known is that the building and terraced grounds, both historic cultural landmarks, were the creation of two German Jewish middle-aged bachelors, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer.

Walking the paths and stairs of Yamashiro’s surrounding gardens, stopping to take a photo of the site’s more than 600-year-old imported Japanese pagoda, or its giant golden Buddha, a visitor wonders how this “mountain palace,” as the name Yamashiro means in Japanese, came to be. Originally the Bernheimer residence, it was completed in 1914, when Hollywood still had orchards and fields. The Los Angeles Times, describing the main villa in 1914 as both a “Wonder-house of California,” and a “feudal fortress with a metropolitan setting,” noted the “striking strangeness of it all.”

The Bernheimer brothers, Eugene Elija (1865-1924) and Adolph Leopold Avraham (1866-1944), were born in Ulm, Germany, and came to the United States in 1888. Their father, Leopold, was in the dry goods business. Along with their brother Charles (1864-1944), at the turn of the century they were the principal owners of Bear Mill Manufacturing Company of New York, a maker of cotton products and an exporter-importer of “Oriental goods” for the American market, which made them wealthy. In 1904, a list of members and contributors of United Hebrew Charities of New York includes Eugene and Adolph in both categories.

Adolph Bernheimer 1943

Traveling extensively throughout Asia, Adolph and Eugene developed a taste for Chinese and Japanese art and began to collect it. Much of their history was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, and the building is also on the list of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments. 

The brothers arrived in Los Angeles in 1911, and in 1913 they purchased from prominent developer Hobart J. Whitley seven acres of hillside property overlooking the former Rollins estate, which today is the site of the Magic Castle. The brothers hired New York architect Franklin M. Small (with supervising local architect Walter Webber) to design an appropriate house to exhibit their growing collection of Asian art. Completed in 1914, it preceded the nearby Asian-inspired Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1926.

Japanese craftsmen lived in tents on the property’s hillside while helping to build the house and gardens, according to Tom Glover, whose father bought the building and surrounding property from Leo Post and Bernard Brown in 1948, and whose family only recently sold it. The building was authentically Japanese, Glover said, and designed after a temple near Kyoto. The Department of the Interior application notes “the design [is a] prominent example of orientalism as applied to architecture,” and “is based on seventeenth-century Japanese architectural traditions.”

Yet, it also had touches that were modern for its time, including hot water and vacuum systems. “A lot of the interior,” selected by Adolph Bernheimer, “was supplied by a Kyoto art dealer,” Glover added.

In an article in the Times on Nov. 15, 1914, a writer exhorts the charms of the “Japanese Villa.” Adolph’s den is described as “done in red silk, with a dazzling painting of a woman” predominating. There was also a bedroom light (we don’t know whose) and an electrolier in the form of an “inverted athlete swinging from a trapeze.”

The main house was square and two stories high, with its exterior clad in Japanese-inspired half-timbering and smooth white stucco. There were two wings with living quarters — one for each brother. In a touch of what the Times in 1914 called “sinister romance,” the newspaper reported it was “rumored” that the brothers had “made a pact that no women shall ever enter the place as an invited guest.” Dispelling that rumor, however, the Aug. 11, 1915, edition of the Los Angeles Herald reported that “Marcus M. Marks, president of the borough of Manhattan, Greater New York City, and his wife and family” and “[Los Angeles] Mayor and Mrs. [Charles] Sebastian” were invited as “guests of Eugene and Adolph Bernheimer, at their Hollywood villa.”

Creating for their mountain palace a movie-like setting, the terraced grounds were filled with lush gardens, waterfalls, goldfish and a private zoo of exotic birds and monkeys. Miniature bronze houseboats floated along tiny canals and through a miniature Japanese village.

The Bernheimers had succeeded in raising the flag of Asian art and design in L.A., but their own foreign backgrounds flagged a different kind of attention. With the rise of strong anti-German sentiment during World War I (a rise in anti-Semitism may have played a role, as well), the German-born brothers were suspected of some kind of espionage up in their serene foreign-looking retreat. “For weeks, ever since war was declared,” read a piece in the Herald on April 25, 1917, “it has been a favorite pastime of rumor circulators to proclaim the home as an arsenal. … A thorough search at the request of Mr. [Adolph] Bernheimer disclosed nothing of more importance than the usual appurtenances of a well-ordered home.”

Perhaps to stop the suspicions, in 1918 each brother bought a $5,000 Victory Bond. In 1921, their home was “thrown open to the public,” as the article in the Times put it, for the Committee of Foreign Relief to conduct an afternoon and evening benefit “for the children of Poland and Serbia.”

Around 1924, apparently still upset over the war-time suspicions, as well as the city’s building an unsightly water tower behind their home, the Bernheimers sold their palace.

In 1924, Eugene, living in San Francisco as a “retired capitalist,” died unexpectedly. (Both brothers are buried in the Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn along with other prominent Jewish families like the Guggenheims and Shuberts). In Eugene’s will, the millionaire, in addition to leaving bequests for family members as well as his nurse, left $5,000 to the Jewish Philanthropic Society of New York. In 1925, with much of the brothers’ art collection and furnishings having been auctioned off, Adolph’s attention turned to the Pacific Palisades, where he had purchased from Alphonso E. Bell an ocean-view property for another Asian-themed project called Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, turning it into a tourist attraction where, as the brochure said, “the Orient Meets the Occident.” But this project lost favor during World War II due to anti-Asian feelings and because Adolph was of German heritage. By the early 1950s, all of the structures were demolished.

In the 1920s, the Yamashiro property became headquarters for the “400 Club,” whose members included Hollywood’s motion-picture elite, such as actors Lillian Gish and Ramon Novarro. Later in the ’20s, it became a brothel, and during the Depression, tours of the garden were offered for 25 cents.

During World War II, after Pearl Harbor and with the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment, the Yamashiro house and gardens were vandalized and many of the decorative elements were stripped. Yamashiro’s distinctive Asian architecture was disguised and the estate became a boys military school.

By the time Glover’s father purchased the property, the house had been turned “into an apartment house,” according to Tom Glover. “He began to tear off all the coverings; he was going to tear it down, but when he started to pull off all the sheetrock, underneath was silk wallpapers and carved wood,” said Glover, who recalls at age 9 helping to dig sewer lines on the property. Eventually, his father won a liquor license in the state’s lottery, opened a little bar, and as the place grew in popularity, he opened up more rooms.

 “Gray Line tours, sometimes six buses a night, would come up,” recalled Glover, who for several years lived in an apartment on the property that had been fashioned from the monkey house. By 1972, Tom Glover had taken over and started serving food along with the drinks.

This year, Yamashiro was sold for nearly $40 million to the JE Group of Beijing, “a hotel operator known for refurbishing historic properties on its home turf,” according to the Times. There will be few changes to the site, except for sprucing up the aging buildings, Kang Jianyi, chairman of JE, told the Times.

Yet, on June 12, the restaurant closed. Glover said it “will be taken over by another operator.” 

“I didn’t want to sell,” said Glover, who managed the restaurant for 50 years. His extended family had gone to court and forced the sale.

Over the years, he added, Yamashiro has also “been the location for many bar mitzvah parties and Jewish weddings.”

It’s “been heartbreaking to leave,” he said.

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon J. Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Ohio Israeli eatery to close following February machete attack


An Israeli restaurant owner from Ohio whose eatery was targeted by a knife-wielding assailant said the incident has caused him losses requiring him to declare bankruptcy.

Hany Baransi, the Christian Israeli Arab whose Nazareth Restaurant & Deli in Columbus was attacked in February, reopened shortly after the attack but has been unable to stay afloat, The Times of Israel reported Monday. The restaurant has been open for 27 years.

“Business bounced back once we reopened. Customers were coming, but we just couldn’t make it work,” said Baransi, 50. “I’m going to be filing for bankruptcy.”

He blamed his financial woes on not receiving any compensation from local, state or federal governments following the attack. Baransi said he personally footed the bill for the expensive cleanup.

“I fell $12,000 behind on payroll and tried to work out a deal with my employees so I could keep the doors open, but it didn’t work out,” the restaurateur told The Times of Israel by phone Sunday, only three weeks after returning to Columbus from a vacation in his native Haifa.

Mohamed Bary, a West African Muslim with a history of making radical Islamist statements, wounded four people in the attack before he was shot dead by police. Baransi said he believes Bary targeted the restaurant because Baransi is Israeli and has Israeli flags there.

In late February, The Associated Press reported the FBI had not found any evidence to suggest that the assault was an orchestrated terror attack.

Earlier this month, Baransi hung a large Israeli flag given him by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and held an Israel Independence Day celebration at the Nazareth for the first time. He has also posed with customers in front of the flag for photos posted to social media.

On May 10, Baransi attended and gave testimony at an Ohio House of Representatives Government Oversight and Accountability hearing on a bill that would prohibit a state agency from contracting with a company that is boycotting Israel or divesting from Israel.

“I am Israeli and I am sick and tired of all of this cutting Israel out and boycotting us. Israel is the safest place in the world for me as a Christian Arab,” he told The Times of Israel.

The Carving Board takes sandwiches to new heights


It may sound like a sin to order spaghetti at an artisan sandwich shop, but not when the pasta is the bread.

“We actually take cooked spaghetti, mix it with some binding ingredients and bake it into a bread,” said David Adir, co-owner of The Carving Board restaurants with his brother Yovie. “Basically, you’re eating a spaghetti flatbread.”

The slightly crunchy, swirly, cerebrum-looking result provides the perfect bookends to — what else? — a spaghetti and meatball sandwich that popped up on their menu as a recent special.

“To keep the menu fresh and to keep the menu kind of energetic, we create a new sandwich every two weeks,” Adir said.

And that’s something he and his brother — both bachelors in their 30s who live together in Woodland Hills — love more than anything.

“Honestly, I love sandwiches. So does my brother. It’s something we enjoy,” Adir said.

So when they started their first restaurant in Tarzana in 2012, there was no question what it would feature.

“When we initially wrote the menu, it was more about the food that we enjoyed, and then it was a trial-and-error process,” he said.

The pair grew up in Miami, the sons of an Israeli father and a Brooklyn-born mother. They started working in the fast-food business as teens and fell in love with it as they worked their way through all aspects of the enterprise. When they grew older, they hopped in a car and headed west, looking for a change.

Eventually, they took their years of accumulated knowledge — all they loved and all they hated about the industry — and made a plan to enter the “fast-casual” food industry, which seemed to have done well during the Great Recession. 

Then the real fun began.

“We wrote the menu out, and then a few weeks before we were ready to launch, we made every sandwich — experimented all day, every day,” Adir said. “We did all of the work ourselves on the menu.”

Each brings a little something different to the (carving) table — Adir has a love of meats, turkey and chicken while his brother has a soft spot for seafood. And while Adir admits that “we absolutely fight,” the restaurant always comes first. 

What they’ve created together on Ventura Boulevard is a popular space with wood-top tables and a clean, crisp aesthetic. It has since blossomed into locations in West Los Angeles, Hollywood and, soon, Burbank.

And the menu remains undeniably theirs. Consider the Turkey Dinner, crammed full of roasted turkey (light and dark meat), stuffing, dried cranberries and grilled onions — plus gravy, of course.

“It’s a sandwich that I am excited to eat after Thanksgiving,” Adir said. “We have leftovers and I just make this massive sandwich. I decided to do it the way I like it.”

Sandwiches arrive artfully displayed on a wooden carving board next to a fresh mound of mixed greens or large, crispy homemade potato chips that are sculptural — and gastronomical — masterpieces. (Special sides, such as tomato soup and kale pasta salad, are available for an extra charge.)

The Bentley sandwich, famous among customers for its filet mignon and blue cheese (The Carving Board is not kosher), may win first-in-class as the most popular item on the menu, but the Big Kahuna also is a thing of beauty. A tower of seared ahi tuna on a brioche bun, it’s topped by an impeccable flower-shaped design of cucumbers, thin red onion slices, tomato and marinated seaweed.

There are tender burgers and breakfast sandwiches, as well as a selection of creatively constructed grilled cheese sandwiches. If the latter were only perfectly toasted — light on the sides, brown in the middle — dayenu! — but offerings like the French Onion Grilled Cheese, oozing with gruyere, really do taste like you’re eating soup in a sandwich. (And they’re cut into triangles, natch.)

The French Onion Grilled Cheese sandwich.

There are a variety of salads and cold sandwiches, too. Vegetarians may be drawn to the Roughage sandwich (mozzarella, portobello mushroom, basil, cucumber, tomato, avocado and lettuce on sliced nine-grain bread), while turkey lovers who appreciate the savory/sweet contrast of goat cheese and dried cranberries can try the Sweet November. 

And for dessert? Yes, there’s cotton candy and fried candy bars, but don’t overlook the simple goodness of The Carving Board’s medley of freshly baked cookies. Representing four different flavors, including Lemon Cooler, they’re richer, softer and — gasp! — better than Mom used to make.

A medley of freshly baked cookies.

“We just serve good food — quality ingredients and good food,” Adir said. “There’s nothing on the menu that’s erroneous. Everything on the menu is great.”

That’s not to say that every combination they’ve tried has worked.

“We definitely didn’t get it right the first time,” Adir said. “I deep-fried an egg. … I was like, ‘Hey, let’s see what happens.’ I cracked an egg into a fryer and it just dissipated!”

Who knows what the brothers will come up with next, but their guiding principle, according to Adir, will remain simple.

“We’re trying to make good food for people who like food.”

Harvest Bar: Healthfulness in Sherman Oaks


Why eat regular food when you can have “superfood”?
 
That’s the question Aric Haut sought to answer when he helped start the Harvest Bar in Sherman Oaks last May.
 
“I strive to eat all-natural foods with low sugar and no flour — not saying I’m perfect,” the 31-year-old bachelor said. “Being healthy is of the utmost importance to me, so eating well and working out makes me a happier person, and I want to share that with the world.”
 
The self-proclaimed “superfood cafe,” located in the corner of a plaza on Ventura Boulevard just east of the 405 Freeway, leaves no question as to its purpose. During rush hour one recent morning, a woman stood streetside with a sign asking passers-by to “Honk if you’re healthy.”
 
Inside, signs declare the value of consuming the various ingredients used in Harvest Bar’s bowls and smoothies, including goji berries (“the most nutritionally dense fruit on Earth”), spirulina (“formed from a blue-green algae that grows in warm, fresh bodies of water”) and hemp seeds (“high in protein and packed with all nine amino acids”).
 
The café’s black-and-white decor is interrupted by a pop of fruity colors at the toppings bar. Electric-green kiwi slices are joined by bulging blueberries and fire engine-red strawberries that scream freshness. 
 
“Our goal is to deliver the freshest ingredients, never adding sugar or dairy … in a customizable format,” explained Haut, who lives in Studio City. 
 
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the reddish-purple berry from Central and South America that is rich in antioxidants, is used in the base of many of the menu items. Other bases include pitaya (dragon fruit) and quinoa. These are blended with various frozen fruits and juices, then served in a bowl with a mix of toppings — chia seeds, granola, nuts, bee pollen, more fruit — or as a smoothie. 
The creamy quinoa, served hot, could be mistaken for oatmeal, while the chilly fruit-based bowls are remarkably similar to a frozen yogurt sundae in taste and consistency.
 
“The trick is blending it for the right amount of time and having the contents be at the right temperature so it doesn’t get soupy,” Haut said. “Instead of going to your local ice cream or yogurt place, it’s definitely a substitute.”
 
He added that the generously sized dishes are versatile enough to work for breakfast, lunch or a snack. Patrons can mix and match ingredients on their own or choose from numerous pre-selected concoctions —which are vegan but not certified kosher.
 
The tart and tangy Classic Signature Bowl blends acai and apple juice with strawberries, blueberries and banana — then tops it with those last three fruits, along with some granola for a nice crunch. The acai-based Island Bowl combines even more: a blend of eight fruits and juices that’s topped with a kaleidoscope of color — mango, kiwi, shredded coconut, granola and delicious goji berries that manage to be both chewy and crunchy.
 
The Super Protein Bowl features peanut butter (and 13 other ingredients and toppings), while the Super Greens Bowl combines everything you hated as a kid — kale, spinach and more — but now know you are supposed to eat.
 
“You’re going to feel great and less bloated,” Haut promised. “Because of the nutrients that the bowl is packed with, you’ll find that you have more energy. It feels guilt-free. You feel light afterward.”
 
Want to really power up? There’s the Energize Smoothie. It includes banana, dates, acai, agave, goji, bee pollen, pumpkin seeds, maca, cacao nibs, wheatgrass, hemp, vanilla and coconut. The result looks and tastes like melted dark chocolate.
 
While the Harvest Bar’s mission is consistent with how Haut lives his life, he’s by no means a food expert. With a degree in business management from the University of Arizona, he comes to the endeavor from more of an entrepreneurial background. A veteran of the sports and entertainment ticketing industry, he started at the online ticket resale site StubHub in its infancy and went on to co-found a company called Spotlight Ticket Management.
 
In 2013, his friend Chris Gors approached him with the concept for a superfood business, and they were later joined by Gors’ lifelong friend Dustin White (who, like Haut, is Jewish). All three are graduates of Taft High School in Woodland Hills.
 
“I’ve always been very interested in food fads,” Haut said. “Being an entrepreneur, seeing frozen yogurt and ice cream … seeing the cupcake fad and how that blew up, seeing juice most recently and how that has exploded … it’s always been of interest to me.”
He said the superfood trend is catching on among everyone from martial artists to fitness-minded moms.
 
“And just people who like delicious food,” he added. “Basically, it’s addicting.”

Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs under 40


What do the young Jewish star chefs in Los Angeles have in common? For those on the cutting edge of the city’s food scene, it’s not the laws of kashrut. Instead, for each of the 10 chefs and teams profiled here, all under age 40, the foundation of their cooking is seasonality, sustainability and a strong sense of place. Their styles and philosophy can be traced back to the temple of  Berkeley’s Alice Waters, who is not Jewish, as well as some leading local godmothers of L.A. cooking, such as Nancy Silverton, Evan Kleiman, Suzanne Tracht and Susan Feniger, who certainly are. 

Many of these younger chefs spent their formative years training with marquee names in iconic restaurants, like Campanile, Michael’s and Spago. Others have made their names via big-time reality TV food shows, while the rest have forged independent, idiosyncratic and often surprising paths. 

Most of the chefs we’ve included are Los Angeles natives who at some point left their hometown to develop their skills and knowledge in other cities, some overseas, but we’ve also highlighted a selection of transplants from the East Coast, as well as other parts of California, who’ve found inspiration and success in Los Angeles. All of these chefs benefited from supportive families, education and access, and almost all have an ownership stake in their current businesses.

They all come from Jewish families, and although mostly secular, their cultural and religious identities, along with formative food experiences, continue to influence what shows up on the tables of their popular and critically lauded restaurants. (Most of their establishments are among Jonathan Gold’s recent 101 Best Restaurants list in the Los Angeles Times.) 

And come major holidays, they might even reinterpret traditional Jewish foods in ways their bubbes never imagined.


Eric Greenspan
The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire

Equal parts extroverted, easygoing, precise and book smart, Eric Greenspan is that guy you went to Sunday school with. Come major holidays, he’s one of the local chefs who regularly puts his version of Ashkenazic favorites on the menu at The Foundry on Melrose (which is under renovation, until August). Meanwhile, Greenspan’s latke bites have proven popular enough to always be available at Foundry. His semi-regular fried chicken nights attracted regulars who shattered stereotypes of caloric decadence-fearing Angelenos.

Greenspan graduated from Calabasas High School, has degrees from UC Berkeley and Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, and was named executive chef at Patina before moving to the erstwhile Meson G on Melrose (Hatfield’s now occupies the space). Greenspan said he doesn’t actively practice the Conservative traditions he was raised with, but he said he likes “to raise the flag of Judaism as often as possible.” Last February, for instance, he teamed up with chef Roberto Treviño for El Ñosh, a Jewish-Latin fusion pop-up concept during the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami. And his haimish side really shines in his transcendent grilled cheese sandwiches, which became the inspiration for “The Melt Master: A Grilled Cheese Adventure Show,” on Tasted, a food channel show on YouTube. Now The Foundation Hospitality Group (which he formed with partner Jay Perrin and Jim Hustead, and which also operates the Beverly Hills-adjacent Roof on Wilshire, atop Hotel Wilshire) is turning a small space next to The Foundry into a sandwich emporium, dubbed Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese and slated to open in July. 

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 651-0915  –  thefoundryonmelrose.com

The Roof on Wilshire Hotel
6317 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 852-6002  –  theroofonwilshire.com


Giselle Wellman
Petrossian Café

Preparing Shabbat dinner “was the highlight of the week,” said Giselle Wellman, 28, about her early devotion as a teenager in San Diego to cooking for her extended clan. It didn’t occur to her that it was unusual for someone her age to plan her activities around preparing a large family meal on Friday nights. Nor did she automatically assume she was destined for a career commanding the stoves. 

“There are a lot of chefs in my family, but I was committed to the idea that we go to school, and we become doctors and lawyers,” the now-executive chef at the luxurious Petrossian caviar boutique and restaurant in West Hollywood explained. “Cooking was a hobby until the day my mom came home with an application for a nearby culinary school.” Not satisfied with her choices nearby, Wellman moved to Mexico City, where most of her family has been based since fleeing Eastern Europe during World War II, and she lived there with her grandmother while attending Le Cordon Bleu. Fluent in English and Spanish, Wellman speaks fondly of her family’s cultural hybrid traditions, such as adding a squeeze of lime to chicken matzah ball soup. 

A beautiful, simple salad with butter lettuce, shaved egg, mixed fresh herbs, crème fraîche dressing and a sprinkling of, yes, caviar, showcases Wellman’s deft hand when it comes to restrained indulgence. She satisfies the smoked fish fanatics and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, but Wellman also knows her way around a lamb pita sandwich. And if you’ve ever wondered what caviar tastes like atop a perfectly fried latke, Wellman is the chef to enlighten you. 

Petrossian Café
321 N. Robertson Blvd.  –  West Hollywood
(310) 271-0576  –  petrossian.com/boutique-west-hollywood-boutique-and-restaurant-6.html


Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ilan Hall
The Gorbals 

When Long Island-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained Ilan Hall came to Los Angeles from New York to invest his winnings from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” his location of choice — downtown — reflected the optimism of a new arrival. Opening a restaurant in the lower level of the once lustrous, now scrappy Alexandria Hotel in the Historic Core of the city pinned heavy hopes on the neighborhood’s renaissance. Hall’s bet paid off, and his meat-intensive, cultural mash-up cooking style has drawn customers to the increasingly vibrant intersection of Fifth and Spring streets since opening in 2009. Improvising from his Jerusalem-born mother’s heritage as well as that of his Scottish father, Hall, 31, makes food that is deeply personal. (The restaurant takes its name from Glasgow’s historically Jewish neighborhood where Hall’s father comes from.) “My mom, who doesn’t cook, made really good sandwiches. She made me a hummus and ham sandwich, and it was really marvelous. It was those two ingredients made to be together. That’s where it all began,” Hall told Orit Arfa, writing for jewishjournal.com in 2009. 

His in-your-face iconoclastic bacon-wrapped matzah balls might be what got people talking, but the Gorbals has evolved into one of the area’s staple late-night pubs, where folks can order reasonably priced dishes of welsh rarebit, homemade latkes, tongue confit, and Persian cucumbers tossed with crispy garbanzos and sumac. 

The Gorbals
501 S. Spring St.  –  Los Angeles
(213) 488-3408  –  thegorbalsla.com


Photo by Dylan Ho

Karen Hatfield
Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen

Chef Karen Hatfield and her husband, Quinn Hatfield, are as close as you get to a fabled L.A. storybook romance. Pacific Palisades-raised Karen, 37, met Quinn while working on the line at Spago, where she was a pastry chef and he was rising through the ranks of Wolfgang Puck’s legendary kitchen. Their first eponymous restaurant occupied an elegantly modest space on Beverly Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax, before they ambitiously decamped to Melrose, near Highland, in the building originally occupied by chef Alain Giraud’s nouvelle cuisine institution, Citrus. The Hatfields’ exacting style fits the site’s pedigree and history. The couple also owns The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea, a neighborhood utility player where locals drop in for coffee, sandwiches, salads and rustic pastries, including Karen’s notoriously delicious twist on an Old World treat: the salted-caramel babka roll.

Hatfield’s
6703 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977  –  hatfieldsrestaurant.com

The Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 939-0151  –  thesycamorekitchen.com


Photo by Jessica Ritz

Jessica Koslow
Sqirl 

Good thing Jessica Koslow got her alternative career plans out of the way. The Long Beach-bred master food preserver, 32, earned her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown before getting on the culinary track in Atlanta, where she started cooking at the lauded restaurant Bacchanalia under the mentorship of chef Anne Quatrano. Koslow moved to New York, and then was transferred home to Los Angeles while producing online content for “American Idol,” when she started delving more deeply into food preservation and baking. In the interim, she returned to Atlanta for a bit to help Quatrano open another restaurant. Back in L.A., Koslow began making and selling small batches of delicately flavored jams (Pakistani mulberry, Thai basil), and when her production needs exceeded capacity in the commercial kitchen space she borrowed, she found her own place on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood to create Sqirl, her micro café, which attracts diners willing to consume $5 coffee and brioche toast piled with market greens, preserved lemon and slivered beets topped with an egg while sitting on a stretch of sidewalk that can hardly be described as glamorous.

Koslow still makes the popular jams, and she constantly returns to Jewish pickling; hulking dark brown ceramic fermenting crocks full of caraway-laced sauerkraut and kosher dill pickles can always be spotted somewhere around the kitchen at Sqirl. She maintains a discerning eye for top, peak-season ingredients and zero tolerance for short cuts (current project: mastering beef tongue pastrami). “Jewish food is very comforting. I think of it in terms of the home and family,” Koslow observed. “It’s what I know, and these things resonate.” Because she’s found an ever-expanding audience, the under-construction space next door to Sqirl will contain a provisions shop. 

Sqirl
720 N. Virgil Ave.  No. 4   –  Los Angeles
(213) 394-6526  –  sqirlla.com

Ori Menashe
Bestia

The Italian-themed Bestia, located inside a converted industrial building in the downtown Arts District, has been buzzing since day one, thanks to chef Ori Menashe’s spectacular house-made, intensely flavored pastas, pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven at the right nanosecond and an extensive selection of his aromatic, expertly handled charcuterie. Salads and other vegetable-focused dishes at Bestia reflect the chef’s passion for Southern California produce, which is equal to his faith in his customers’ willingness to order grilled lamb heart with sprouted arugula. 

The Los Angeles-born, then Israel-raised Menashe, 32, comes from a mostly kosher household. He started flouting the rules upon eating his first cheeseburger when he was around 15. “That’s when I thought I could change my own direction,” he said, noting that he felt freer to explore traditions and ingredients outside of his family’s kosher home. He’s cooked in L.A. kitchens ranging from a café in Kosher Corridor, to Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, before the omnipresent restaurateur Bill Chait (also the man behind Sotto; see below) came calling. Menashe’s wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia’s acclaimed pastry chef. His Israeli upbringing, in combination with his parents’ Georgian and Moroccan roots, enriches his professional toolkit. Said Menashe: “A lot of my flavor profile is because of my dad,” who still owns a restaurant in Israel. “He’s really talented.”

Bestia
2121 E. Seventh Place  –  Los Angeles
(213) 514-5724  –  bestiala.com


Photo by Emily Hart Roth

Zoe Nathan
Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery

Westside restaurant power couple Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb met in the kitchen of Rustic Canyon, the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant Loeb founded and had named in honor of his beloved Santa Monica neighborhood. They’ve since married and had a son, Milo, all while continuing to make their mark among a receptive community. Chef Nathan, 31, who spent time at Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York and San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Bakery, keeps expanding her pastry and savory repertoires, from wood-fired pizzas at Milo & Olive to small-batch ice creams at Sweet Rose Creamery, to sandwiches at casual café Huckleberry, which she co-owns with entrepreneur Loeb. Despite this breadth, Nathan primarily identifies as a pastry chef and baker. The couple’s businesses are a natural extension of their values and worldview. “Zoe and I are much more culturally religious than actually practicing religious, but ultimately food is our religion as much as anything,” Loeb, 38, explained. During the holidays, Nathan notes that “brisket is a mainstay on the menu at Huck, and my flavors in a lot of my food are a play of salty and sweet.” Also of note: Now helming the Rustic Canyon kitchen is Executive Chef Jeremy Fox, a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2009 Bon Appetit Best Chef (and Member of the Tribe), who brings the deeply seasonal, highly refined, gorgeously composed style he developed at Manresa in Los Gatos and Ubuntu in Napa. 

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050  –  rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Huckleberry Cafe
1014 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 451-2311  –  huckleberrycafe.com

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 453-6776  –  miloandolive.com

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th St. No. 51  –  Santa Monica
(310) 260-2663  –  sweetrosecreamery.com


Photo by Sean Murphy

Zach Pollack
Sotto

Zach Pollack, 29, who along with Steve Samson, runs Sotto Italian restaurant on West Pico, near Beverly Drive, grew up “quite Reform” in Westwood. His mother was born in Germany to refugees who immigrated to the United States “in the aftermath of the Holocaust,” Pollack said. “We took Jewish cultural traditions seriously,” he noted, and religious practice less so, although he did have a bar mitzvah. 

Pollack’s formative professional conversion can be traced to his junior year abroad in Florence, Italy; after graduating from Brown University, he returned to Italy to fully develop his passion for its cooking. (Samson was raised in an interfaith family that didn’t regularly observe Jewish rituals.) The duo brings a seriousness of purpose and commitment to quality to a block not previously known for culinary accomplishment. That was until Sotto and its upstairs neighbor, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Picca Peruvian cantina, transformed their eclectic colonial townhouse building into a dining destination. At lunch and dinner, the cozy subterranean room is packed with diners sharing hearty plates of grilled meatballs with bitter greens, deliciously funky blistered pizzas, traditional Italian dishes that use quintessentially West Coast ingredients such as Fresno chilies and formidable protein dishes paired with seasonal vegetables. 

Sotto
9575 W. Pico Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(310) 277-0210  –  sottorestaurant.com


Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Microsoft

Jon Shook
Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec

Jon Shook and his business partner, Vinny Dotolo, opened their first restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District among the delis, Judaica shops and skater hangouts. But if you expect Animal to share anything in common with its next-door neighbor and landlord, the kosher icon Schwartz Bakery and Café, let us disabuse you of any such notions immediately. (Their lease agreement actually includes a non-kosher clause.) “It’s kind of random that we ended up on Fairfax,” Shook remarked, “but it’s been interesting.” Both Florida natives, Dotolo and Shook, 32, were among the city’s first ambassadors of the nose-to-tail philosophy and approach. And yet despite Shook’s love of a “Jewish-grandma-style brisket,” they’re far from being a one-trick pony extreme-meat shtick. The Shook/Dotolo brand has thrived with their seafood-focused Son of a Gun on Third Street, near La Cienega, which also happens to serve a crave-inducing fried chicken sandwich, along with the stellar petite lobster roll and raw seafood dishes infused with unexpected flavors. 

They’ve also opened Trois Mec (the name roughly translates as “three dudes”), a partnership with celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who is arguably best known for his series of highly in-demand pop-up dinners called LudoBites. This collaborative project is tucked within a former Raffalo’s strip mall pizza shop catty-corner from Silverton’s Mozza, and immediately attracted accolades for the inventive prix fixe menu that changes almost daily. The restaurant’s system, requiring advance purchase of a meal in lieu of making a traditional reservation, much like a cultural event, also got attention. Any resulting criticism hasn’t impacted the bottom line — Trois Mec’s 24 seats remain  among the hottest tickets in town. The most recent news out of the Shook/Dotolo camp is a vague plan announced via Instagram to take over the Damiano’s space on Fairfax; it helps that they own the building.  

Animal
435 N. Fairfax Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9225  –  animalrestaurant.com

Son of a Gun
8370 W. Third St.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9033  –  sonofagunrestaurant.com

Trois Mec
716 N. Highland Ave.  –  Los Angeles
troismec.com


Photo by Cathy Chaplin/GastronomyBlog.com

MICAH WEXLER
The Residency at Umamicatessen

“I didn’t set out to say I want to be the modern Jewish chef,” Micah Wexler, 30, explained at Reboot’s “Who’s Your Bubbie?” panel at the Skirball last November. “These were the flavors I grew up around, [and they] started to manifest more and more.” So it additionally stung when Wexler, who has staged in some of Europe’s most famous kitchens, was getting into the groove of revisiting the Ashkenazic culinary canon at his pan-Mediterranean Mezze restaurant on La Cienega then had to close down suddenly due to construction next door. 

Losing that venue as a home base for his Old World-meets-New, market-driven dishes, including chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda, farm egg shakshouka, soujouk sausage with muhammara and veal jus, and smoked sablefish with lebne, has by no means kept him out of the L.A. food scene, however. Wexler is currently in the midst of his second stint at Umamicatessen’s Residency project downtown, cooking multicourse dinners in an open kitchen surrounded by customers seated at his counter for a very specific experience. The configuration makes for a social, interactive Saturday night, as does the conceit. For the current “Dead Chefs” theme, continuing through July, Wexler turns to the canon to cook recipes from a different historical culinary giant for each of the 10 weeks, starting with Marie-Antoine Careme and concluding with Julia Child. 

“To Live and Dine in L.A.,” Wexler’s previous, inaugural session of the program, took a specific geographical approach, with nights dedicated to saluting the best of Pico Boulevard and exploring the diverse heritage Boyle Heights, among other communities. Wexler might have made an Israeli cheese-stuffed borek in reference to Eilat Market, but not one you’d typically expect. (Hint: Bacon was involved.)

A graduate of Milken Community High School, Wexler and his business partner (and fellow Cornell University alum) Mike Kassar, are setting their sights on settling down again, in a new locale, in the coming months.  

The Residency at Umamicatessen
852 Broadway  –  Los Angeles
(213) 413-8626 – umami.com/umamicatessen

Junior’s Deli faces abrupt closure Dec. 31.


Junior’s Delicatessen, which served the West Los Angeles Jewish community and the broader residential Westside for 53 years, will shut its doors for the final time on New Year’s Eve.

The venerable delicatessen on Westwood Boulevard, victim to what the owners call a landlord dispute, will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, displacing nearly 100 employees in the process. Customers dropping by on its last day will each receive a free bagel on what is expected to be an emotional day for staffers and customers alike.

Local resident Lenore Kayne, who used to patronize Junior’s even when she lived in Beverly Hills, called the news “horrific.” She added that her 4-year-old granddaughter loved to come to Junior’s with Kayne’s son on a regular basis. “She’s going to be devastated. How do you go down Westwood Boulevard without seeing Junior’s?”

Marvin Saul, a Korean War veteran who had gone bust as a uranium miner in Utah, was the deli’s founder. According to the delicatessen’s website, “With 35 cents in his pocket, Saul arrived in Los Angeles, did odd jobs and by 1957 had cobbled together $300 to open a small sandwich shop. Two years later, he established Junior’s, an eight-table delicatessen.”

The deli’s name came from Marvin Saul’s childhood moniker, “Junior.” Originally set up on Pico Boulevard, he moved it in 1967 to Westwood Boulevard.

His sons, David and Jon, inherited the business after Marvin Saul died last year, and had been helping to manage the restaurant since they were children. They said the impending closure is due to a lack of confidence by the building’s longtime owners, Four Corners Investment Company, in the Saul brothers’ managerial style.

David Saul said that a lease had been extended for the last six months and that he and his brother were confident that they could sway the landlord from closing the delicatessen. They had invested $38,000 into refurbishing the venue, from repainting the walls to adding new light fixtures and three television sets, he said.

The Saul brothers had tried to reach an agreement with the landlord up until the last minute. When that didn’t happen, they met with their staff Dec. 26 and delivered the bad news, only a day after the Christmas holiday.

“Ninety-five employees, 95 families,” said David Saul, morosely, as his younger brother, Jon Saul, dealt with a parade of media outlets descending on the busy deli on the morning of Dec. 27.

“It’s disgusting!” Jon Saul said. “It’s an icon. It’s been here for 53 years!”

David Burgoyne, a Creole native of New Orleans who has been delivering mail in the area for 25 years said the deli has been a neighborhood institution.

“I’ll miss everything about this place,” he said.

The closure of Junior’s will be different than those of chains like Borders or Barnes and Nobles book stores, according to David Saul. He said the restaurant and its catering services have long been a part of many families’ life-cycle events, from births to weddings to funerals, not to mention the site where many deals by executives from nearby 20th Century Fox have been sealed.

As news of Junior’s pending closure spread, a steady flow of longtime regulars swung by the restaurant to share their condolences with the Saul brothers and to pick up one last order … at least for now.

The silver lining is that Jon and David said they are committed to finding a new storefront in the vicinity as soon as possible. While many employees — some of whom have been part of the Junior’s family for multiple decades — will no doubt be forced to look for other work before the restaurant is ready to return, David Saul said that he has updated the information of his staff and he hopes to rehire as many as possible.

Still, David and Jon Saul were very emotional on Dec. 27, their reality compounded by the fact that it comes mere days before New Year’s. Still, David Saul praised the loyalty of the customers and staff.

“We have employees in excess of 40 years here,” he said. “It’s a shanda it’s happening.”

Sunday at Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen


More than Jews have kept delis, the deli has kept the Jews.

Yes, that’s a direct ripoff of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous dictum about the Sabbath.

I didn’t know Heschel, but I bet if I could have gotten him alone over a cup of cold beet borscht at Rattner’s, he would have thought it over, wiped the sour cream from the corner of his mouth, and said, “You know, you may have a point.”

The deli is where we eat, meet, laugh, commiserate, celebrate, feast, deal, cry. Take pulpit and prayer out of a synagogue, add corned beef, and you’d end up with something like a deli.  God is, of course, in both.

Read more at jewishjournal.com/foodaism.

Rack ‘em up


A mural of shadowy black silhouettes covers the wall with just one splash of color: a solitary red man. As the jazz-era-style mural stretches along the length of the restaurant, it follows the red man as he meets a lone red woman, and they end up sharing a table … and a drink. The painted walls illustrate the overall theme of The Rack, an eclectic Woodland Hills eatery designed with the kind of intimate atmosphere that makes it an ideal meeting place.

The Rack opened on Topanga Boulevard in late 2005 as a family-run business. Originally from Ramat Gan, Israel, owner Yossi Kviatkovsky began formulating the idea for a high-end pool hall while making pool tables in Gardena. Admiring the craftsmanship of the hand-made tables, but disliking what he calls the “Sopranos”-type roughness of most pool halls, Kviatkovsky wanted to create a more sophisticated space in which to enjoy the pastime.

“Notice there are no Budweiser signs,” Kviatkovsky said of the low-lit area that houses 14 carved-wood pool tables, which cost $16 per hour to play.

Between the red-felt-topped tables, communal dining table and the bar, guests are given an easy opportunity to meet one another, while the couple on a first date has ample excuses to get close as they assist each other’s game. The Rack’s menu of fun, flavorful cocktails — with sometimes scandalous names (see sidebar) — tasty entrees and satisfying bar snacks also makes it an ideal nightspot for a get-together with friends. And during football season, the place is transformed into a roaring sports bar. Normally hidden from view, 15 projector screens — six of them 112 inches — descend to display the action. The pool tables get covered up and surrounded with chairs as the space’s typically classy atmosphere is put on hold to make room for about 300 cheering fans.

The Chosen Drink

Four bartenders pooled their expertise and their imaginations to create The Rack’s inventive cocktail menu, which features wild drinks such as Sex With an Alligator, The Heretic and Blue Balls. Nick the bartender decided to stray briefly from his go-to recommendation, the Lemon Drop Martini (made from real muddled lemon rather than sweet-and-sour mix), to concoct something special just for TRIBE. Nick adapted a fresh mint — nana in Hebrew — mojito to include a fruit that holds much meaning in Jewish circles, the pomegranate, and a very Tribe-friendly alcohol: vodka.

One warning: Beware how many you knock down — as with all fruity drinks, this one will sneak up on you!

THE TRIBE

2 ounces Mojito Libre mojito mix
1 1/2 ounces pomegranate juice
1 1/4 ounces Grey Goose L’Orange vodka
1/2 ounce Agavero orange liqueur
5 to 6 fresh mint leaves, muddled
1 fresh-squeezed orange wedge
Soda water
Splash of cranberry juice

In a tall glass, combine all ingredients except cranberry juice. Mix well, then add cranberry juice and a few ice cubes.

Order this exclusive drink at The Rack, or make The TRIBE at your next holiday party!

The triple threat of the venue — good entertainment, good drinks and good food — is carried out by the collaboration of CFO Kviatkovsky; his wife, Robin; and sons Rami and Elon, who serve as general manager and executive chef, respectively.

Aside from writing witty drink descriptions for the cocktail menu, Rami, who is in charge of the bar, regularly alternates four craft beers of his choice while maintaining a great selection of 10 more draft beers, including the Sam Adams brew of the season. In addition, there is a full bar stocked with Rami’s own collection of scotches. The wide-ranging drink choices are paired with an extensive menu of freshly prepared items.

“Everything is made in-house,” Kviatkovsky said. “Nothing is canned or bottled,” including salad dressings, pasta sauces and pizza toppings.

Patrons can enjoy all the kitchen has to offer right up until the lounge closes, which is as late as midnight on weekends. The menu features everything from an artful caprese salad to jumbo chicken wings, and it got an extra boost in September — a long list of pizzas was added to the menu when The Rack merged with nearby restaurant/rock museum Rock & Roll Pizza. Now the enclosed front patio houses a treasure trove of rocker memorabilia as well as live shows throughout the week.

In a space plastered with posters of bands like The Beatles and The Clash, accented by electric guitars and lit by snare drums artfully repurposed into lamps, Kviatkovksy works with former Rock & Roll Pizza owner Dave Vieira to create authentic NewYork-style thin-crust pizza. The dough is shipped in twice a week from New York, and the cheese is purchased from Wisconsin.

The Rack expands its repertoire even further during the holidays. Every year, 150 pounds of potatoes are ordered for making in-house latkes from scratch.

“No latke’s good without a couple of knuckles in it,” Yossi joked.

For New Year’s Eve 2012, the stage that is regularly brought out four nights a week will feature live performances from different bands. A dinner special that evening will be followed by a free champagne toast at midnight.

Whether it’s a special event, a special someone or a special love of stripes and solids that brings you out this holiday season in the 818, The Rack is a sure bet to meet those you know, and those you’ll soon get to know.

The Rack, featuring Rock & Roll Pizza, 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., No. 215, Woodland Hills (in the Westfield Promenade Mall, next to the AMC movie theaters). (818) 716-0123. therack.us.

Jerusalem lodging boasts refined eatery, spa


JERUSALEM — It had been years since I’d ventured any farther than the lobby of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, so when I received an invitation to tour its spa and one of its restaurants, it was hard to say no.

Built in the 1980s, the Inbal is one of the city’s top hotels and its facilities reflect this. Its staff is helpful and pleasant, and its health club and spa, which were refurbished two years ago, are top-notch.

One of the nicest things about the Inbal is its location in tony Talbieh. It’s within distance of the Old City and Western Wall, the many shops and restaurants on bustling Emek Refaim Street and the center of town. It adjoins Liberty Bell Park, which boasts a fantastic kids’ playground, outdoor exercise equipment, basketball courts and places to barbecue. In other words, a taste of the real Israel.

We began the tour at Sofia, the Inbal’s dairy restaurant. Adjoining the flower-filled terrace, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide the feel of outdoor dining without having to sacrifice much-needed air-conditioning.

Sofia specializes in pasta and fish dishes that can be tailored to individual tastes. When I inquired whether some of the dishes could be prepared without dairy products — I’m lactose intolerant — the answer was a resounding “yes.” This was a welcome surprise; Jerusalem restaurants are rarely this flexible.

The menu includes champignon mushrooms filled with goat and parmesan cheeses, pine nuts and spinach stir-fried in butter and thyme; and melanzana: smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, pesto, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in a baked phyllo shell in cream and white wine sauce. The fresh herb salad featured finely chopped herbs combined with breadsticks, with smoked mozzarella cheese shells, red onion, sliced olives and smoked salmon.

Fish courses include salmon filet cooked either in olive oil (on special request) or served with creamed peas, polenta, thyme sprouts, Parmesan and sautéed vegetables; and filet of trout marinated in fresh garlic, with diced potatoes, mushrooms, marinated in olive oil, capers, celery and red onions.

The apple pie, which was the only dairy-free choice, was creamy and delicious, but not as decadent as the Magic Meringue, a baked meringue filled with mascarpone cream, passion fruit, coconut sorbet and honey cream.

Satisfied and full, we headed to the health club, which includes a semi-Olympic pool that is covered and heated in the winter, a gym, a dry sauna and a spa.

The health club offers Pilates, aerobics, body sculpting and water exercise classes. The gym, which features all the equipment you would find in a well-equipped American fitness center, is large and modern. There are three personal trainers.

Health club director Dr. Ran Bibi, who holds a doctorate in sports management from the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, said the facility is “very successful because the staff is experienced and highly trained.”

Before receiving a massage, Rachel, the young immigrant from New Jersey who would be kneading the tension out of my body, asked me to fill out a medical disclosure/permission form. The room we entered was sleek, serene and spacious, with an exceptionally comfortable massage table, a bathtub-whirlpool and a separate shower.

Again, the staff responded well to special requests. When I asked Rachel whether she had some unscented oil (as opposed to aromatherapy oils), she searched high and low until she located a bottle of almond oil, whose scent is very subtle. When she learned that I had come straight from a big lunch, she started with reflexology to ease my digestion.

The Inbal’s spa offers a wide range of massages, including Swedish, deep tissue, Oriental, four-hand, hot stone and aromatherapy, as well as facials, body peeling and Dead Sea body wrapping. Prices for a massage range from $90 (Swedish, deep tissue) to $165 (four-hand). A hot-stone facial costs $130, and mud wrapping costs $115. 

Refreshed by the massage, I showered and headed to the pool, located right outside the health club. There I found a poolside café that prepares light meals, a sun-protected wading pool and the beautiful main pool, which is large enough for laps.

The few guests I saw that afternoon were seated on lounge chairs or doing laps. A swimming instructor was coaching a 7-year-old on her breast stroke.

Thoroughly relaxed, I entered the pool, where jets froth the water and massage the muscles. I knew I should go home and help the kids with their homework.

But I didn’t.

Inbal Hotel, 3 Jabotinsky St., Jerusalem, Israel, 92145. (972) 2-675-6666. For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.

Swastikas, death threat found at N.Y. restaurant


Spray-painted swastikas and a death threat written in German were found at an Italian restaurant in Orangeburg, N.Y.

The manager of Cassie’s Restaurant told police that he found the symbols inside and outside the business when he opened Monday afternoon. Between $2,000 and $3,000 was missing.

Police are investigating the graffiti as a “bias incident,” the Rockland Journal News reported.

Orangeburg is located 11 miles from the Skver Chasidic village of New Square, where dissident Aron Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over most of his body in an alleged arson attack on May 22.

Police later arrested Shaul Spitzer, 18, on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. Police say that Spitzer was attempting to set fire to Rottenberg’s house because he does not pray at the main New Square congregation led by the Skverers’ grand rebbe, David Twersky.

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #3 — Jewish Los Angeles


Dining, shopping, living, praying—VideoJew Jay Firestone shows you how it’s done Los Angeles-style.

 

Location, location, location


Your congregation is there for you when you need it, but there are times when you’re tempted to think outside the synagogue such as your wedding.

Destination weddings in spots like Hawaii or the Caribbean are a romantic way to start a new life with someone, but changes in the economy and fuel prices are forcing many couples to rethink the concept of getting “married away.” While money may be no object for some couples and their families, they also have to now consider how far their invitees will be willing to travel to be a part of the big day.

Couples living in Southern California are lucky to have some of America’s best wedding escapes just a few hours’ drive away. And better still, many of them either cater specifically to Jewish clientele (from kosher catering to sourcing a rabbi and chuppah) or else are just so fabulous that they have boasted a Jewish following for years.

The best place to start and finish is a wedding location that speaks to your shared personality as a couple and respects your faith. Whether your wedding planning is a solo effort, includes family or a wedding planner, you should do your homework to determine which Southern California locations are willing to help you with the essentials, especially as Jewish weddings have different requirements than other faiths.

“The great thing about Jewish weddings today is that except in cases of ultra-Orthodox weddings couples can choose elements to the wedding day that truly represent who they are as a couple, especially when approaching how they want to do the ketubah signing, blessings, kosher food, use of challah during the service and other traditions,” said wedding planner Melissa Barrad, who founded event company I Do…Weddings! in 2003. “You should ask prospective venues and caterers about any specific directions they have with kosher food. As there are more opportunities for better kosher food and caterers in Los Angeles, be sure hotels will either allow you to bring in food from your caterer of choice or have the capabilities and certifications to prepare the meals in-house. Also look into such details as rooms with high ceilings for the raised chairs and the horah, and rent a sturdier chair for the bride.”

Barrad also advises couples not to neglect the issue of raising a chuppah at the site, as the structures can be difficult to find and some synagogues won’t rent theirs to non-members. Also, if some hotels do offer a chuppah for rent, look at it to see if it will fit into your wedding aesthetically.

However, she notes that many couples are making their own; craft stores and home improvement emporiums offer a wealth of materials that will enable couples to make their own design for the same cost as or less than a rental. She also suggests asking venues to provide photos from other Jewish weddings it has hosted and access to other Jewish couples who have exchanged their vows there.

Once you have all the right questions at hand, here’s a short list of exceptional California venues to consider, including several that provide a variety of services for Jewish couples:

Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina

The Sheraton San Diego features a stunning new wedding lawn adjacent to a marina that’s perfect for erecting an outdoor chuppah, as well as an extensive selection of indoor and outdoor event space with panoramic views of the San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. The hotel’s on-site wedding planners will cover every detail required for kosher-style weddings, while all four catering managers on staff are proficient in Jewish weddings and the cultural specialties involved with these events, from the ketubah signing to the horah.

Hard Rock Hotel San Diego

Even with its rock ‘n’ roll spirit and location at the entrance of the buzzing Gaslamp Quarter, the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego has the goods and gear Jewish couples want. One of its unique spaces for a wedding is Woodstock, the hotel’s 9,200-square-foot outdoor urban garden, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people as well as a chuppah, dining tables, lounge area and a large dance floor. Before, during and after the wedding, the couple and their guests can party like rock stars, thanks to the 420 suites, 17 “Rock Star” VIP Suites, nightlife destinations created by Rande Gerber and a Nobu restaurant by celebrated chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.

The Prado at Balboa Park

Prado not only offers the splendor of its Balboa Park location, but is owned by a Jewish family (the Cohns). While they don’t offer strictly kosher meals, the management is sensitive to various dietary restrictions and has made a variety of accommodations for the many Jewish couples who have wed there.

The Viceroy

In Palm Springs, the Viceroy is ideal not only for its hip Hollywood Regency ambiance but also its hands-on approach to wedding planning.

Saddle Peak Lodge

Although Saddle Peak Lodge is not specifically kosher, the management notes that about half of the weddings they do are for Jewish couples, and they offer a list of nearby resources and vendors to assist couples with their wedding’s special needs. It is also a fitting place for film-buff couples to start their own personal history. Built in 1880 as a hunting lodge, it became an escape for the elite of Golden Age Hollywood, including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable. Saddle Peak also takes advantage of nature’s bounty on many fronts, from a kitchen that uses sustainable ingredients from local farms and vendors to a backdrop of trees, waterfalls and the majestic Santa Monica Mountains.

Westlake Village Inn

Halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the Westlake Village Inn is well suited for couples seeking the detail-oriented luxury of a boutique country inn. There are several garden settings to choose from, from the Lakeside Gazebo to The Waterfall. Couples yearning for the look and feel of a “wedding away” in Europe will love the Mediterraneo Gazebo where a slightly raised Romanesque gazebo takes a “chuppah-like” effect, or the Tuscan Garden.

Lodge at Sonoma

Those who’ve dreamed of a wine country wedding should look into The Lodge at Sonoma, offering the perfect balance of country inn warmth, boutique hotel glamour, Northern California architecture and wine country trappings.

Table for none?


It was to be the restaurant that would change kosher dining in Los Angeles.

In December 2006, the Prime Grill, a branch of the popular New York kosher steakhouse, opened its doors in Beverly Hills promising a new experience in kosher dining. “There’s never been a kosher restaurant like this in Southern California,” Samuel Franco, the restaurant’s director of operations, told The Journal at the time. “New York has always been ahead of L.A. in certain ways. With the Prime Grill’s opening, L.A. now catches up.”

But little more than a year after it opened, rumors spread that the luxurious restaurant on Rodeo Drive was about to close.

“There is absolutely no truth to this rumor,” general manager Mikael Choukroun said in January, noting that the restaurant was adjusting its menu to more moderate pricing.

But by February, the doors were closed and a message on the voicemail said, “The Prime Grill regrets to inform that due to rainwater damage from the recent storms, we will be temporarily closed.”

Numerous calls to the New York restaurant management (including owner Joey Allaham) have not been returned, and the Beverly Hills locale now appears closed for good, its phone line disconnected.

And the Prime Grill is not the only kosher restaurant that has closed in recent weeks. Mamash, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, also closed in March, after opening only last December. And Pico Boulevard’s 15-year staple, the Yemenite restaurant The Magic Carpet, has closed, as well.

Why are all these kosher restaurants closing? What does it take to make a successful kosher restaurant in Los Angeles?

Prime Grill’s problem, many say, was the prices. The owners seemed to recognize the problem and began offering lunch and happy hour specials toward the end of the restaurant’s short run. Others say it was the location — off the “strip” (Pico-Robertson).

But the Prime Grill’s downfall also might have been the image presented as its selling point: its outsider status.

“The bottom line is that owners have to be there — you can’t manage a kosher restaurant from New York,” said one successful kosher restaurant owner who asked that his name be withheld. “Restauranting is a passion — it’s not just a business.”

New York cannot be duplicated in any market — and that includes the kosher restaurant business, said Errol Fine, owner of Pat’s Restaurant, a high-end kosher venue on Pico that has outlived others for the last 15 years.

“The market is different here,” he said.

“I think it’s more common to go out to dinner in New York than it is in L.A.,” Fine said, because New York has 10 times the kosher population. “There’s a saturation point. Maybe there’s not enough population to support all these kosher restaurants that have sprung up — there’s only so much of a kosher pie that gets divided. People have to make their choices.”

Most agree that the kosher restaurant business in Los Angeles is not easy.

“It’s a really hard game — the community is a really hard community to satisfy,” said Warren Bregman, an architect and contractor who was one of the three partners at Mamash. “Overheads are the killer — that’s what killed Prime Grill, too.”

He said location wasn’t the problem — Mamash was situated on the south side of Pico Boulevard near Doheny Boulevard — but finances were. The restaurant practically closed before it opened, the partners having underestimated costs. And kosher restaurants cannot survive on the kosher clientele alone, Bregman said.

“If you’re going to do high-end you have to do more corporate involvement,” he said. They’d planned to attract the Fox Studios and Century City crowd in their more than 160-square-foot space.

Every restaurateur seems to have a unique economic plan to make it work. Mamash’s owners thought they would draw the corporate clientele; Prime Grill hoped for celebs like Paris Hilton and Larry King. The Magic Carpet’s Nili Goldstein believes it’s all about catering.

“A kosher restaurant has to establish a catering business,” she said, because it has to be closed on Friday evenings and Saturdays — the main profit days for non-kosher restaurants.

“You lose Friday and Saturday, you’re left with Sunday, and you take away Jewish holidays — it doesn’t leave much for the owner to survive,” she said.

When one of her three business partners died three years ago, she cut down on catering — which should ideally be 15 percent of the business.

“There are a lot of non-licensed people operating catering businesses,” she said — non-restaurant owners who provide food at shul and private events — cutting into restaurant profits.

But the poor economy, difficult parking situation and increased competition also made her eager to sell. With the Pico-Olympic parking proposal, which would limit evening parking and hurt businesses like Magic Carpet, Goldstein decided it was time to get out. She sold her business to an Indian restaurant.

Even as she did, Delice Bakery opened its own restaurant across the street. It was perfect timing.

Julian Bohbot had been trying to buy the lot next to his French bakery since he opened Delice in 2001. He finally secured a 40-year lease and opened the Delice Bistro in March. The French steakhouse is centered around a faux Eiffel Tower that disappears into a circular crevice painted to look like the sky, and the dim lighting and close seating — fitting 80-85 people — give the place a bustling but cozy feel. It’s haimish — warm; kind of like the two restaurants Bohbot ran in Paris.

Although it’s too soon to tell whether Delice Bistro will be a success, in the weeks before Passover the restaurant was full. Bohbot said he pays attention to the menu — and prices.

“I am the cheapest kosher restaurant in the U.S.,” he claimed, noting that his steak is priced at less than $30.

Chef Akasha adds fresh twist to holiday traditions


Akasha Richmond is a self-trained chef and artisan-style baker who has been catering events in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years.

A tall woman with dark hair and blue eyes, she bears a striking resemblance to Barbra Streisand, for whom she worked as a private chef.

Richmond said some of her fondest memories were made at Streisand’s home, where she selected fresh vegetables from her garden for a healthy menu.

Richmond’s dream was always to have her own restaurant, and now with the support of her husband/business partner, Alan Schulman, that day has arrived. And Culver City’s buzz-worthy Akasha Restaurant is celebrating its first Passover this year with a special second-night dinner.

Akasha’s regular menu includes vegan dishes, low-fat breads, healthy desserts and organic wines. She is also strong in her beliefs for energy efficiency, green building material, locally grown produce, fair-trade coffee and waiters in hemp aprons and organic cotton jeans.

Richmond is also the author of “Hollywood Dish,” a cookbook that includes tales of Hollywood’s passion for healthy lifestyles and stories of her favorite cooking experiences: holiday dinners for Billy Bob Thornton, catering parties for Pierce Brosnan, producing events at the Sundance Film Festival and working as a private chef for many Hollywood stars.

She also loves to reminisce about watching her grandmother prepare Passover meals for the family and whoever happened to drop in. She said her bubbe made gefilte fish using three kinds of fish: pike, whitefish and carp. She would grind the fish by hand in an old cast-iron grinder attached to the kitchen table, the same type of grinder she used to make her chopped liver.

Richmond went on to explain that her zayde was in charge of the horseradish, which he bought fresh and would grate before adding beet juice for the red color (back before the days of bottled horseradish).

Her other grandmother made the matzah balls for the chicken soup and great potato pletzlach (rolls with poppy seeds, chopped onion and kosher salt), using mashed potatoes, while Richmond’s mother, Judy, made a main course of roasted meat, chicken or duck with potatoes, carrots and onions. She recalled that it was the children’s job to make the charoset.

Richmond’s plans for the Passover meal at Akasha, which will include a seder service, will be a little different than what she grew up with.

“The restaurant is a perfect venue for a family seder,” she said, pointing to the large open space that could easily hold 100 people. She plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the dinner to MAZON — A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Although Richmond grew up with Ashkenazi dishes for Passover, she loves the flavors of the Middle East, and her Passover menu will feature both creative and traditional family dishes: charoset, Moroccan gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzah balls, and Middle Eastern roast chicken made with fruits and spices and served with leek pancakes.

For the Passover dessert, she has developed a chocolate torte, garnished with fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce, which can be made into individual tortes and served with a plate of chewy almond macaroons.

Moroccan Fish Balls With Tomato Sauce

Fish Balls
1 1/2 pounds skinned whitefish fillets or wild salmon fillets
1 small onion, grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup matzah meal
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Lemon wedges for serving
Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water

Chop the fish in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the onion, egg, matzah meal, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and cilantro. Mix well, cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook for one to two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Roll the fish mixture into oval-shaped balls. Place into the sauce one at a time and add additional water if needed to just cover the balls. Bring to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and the fish is cooked, turning each ball over once. Let cool in the sauce. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley.

Makes about 20 balls.

Honey Glazed Chicken With Cherries and Apricots
1 whole chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), rinsed and cut into 8 pieces or 4 large chicken breasts on the bone
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1/4 cup pitted green olives
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the shallots, oregano, thyme, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaves, cherries, apricots and olives. Mix well and place in a storage container or plastic freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken pieces on an oiled baking sheet or in a large oiled casserole dish. I like to tuck some of the fruit under the chicken so it remains soft, and I leave some exposed so it gets crisp. Spoon any remaining marinade around the chicken and drizzle with the honey.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast registers 170 degrees and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with the parsley.

Bring the taste of France to your Passover table


One might expect the chef-owner of a haute cuisine, award-winning French-American restaurant, where l’addition can easily top $300 per couple, to be an egotist. One would be wrong.

Chef Josiah Citrin of Mélisse in Santa Monica, which earned the prestigious four-star rating from Mobil Travel Guide just 18 months after opening and was named Zagat’s No. 1 Restaurant in Los Angeles for French-American food, is a down-to-earth former competitive surfer, a mensch who participates in cooking and charitable events, and a serious chef who still loves his mom’s soy and honey-glazed chicken.

Check out Zagat: “Finest French food in L.A.,” “a classic deserving of its reputation,” “delicate flavors in every bite,” they warble.

But I did not come to discuss the osetra caviar or seasonal truffle menu. With Passover approaching I was looking for ideas. I aim high.

Citrin, who never took a formal cooking class, developed a love of cooking and fine food early in life. His father’s family is from France, and he grew up hearing his grandfather tell stories about the great French chefs.

But grandpa Ivan Citrinovich had other more frightening tales to tell. “He fled Poland during World War I when he was 13 and was injured in a bombing,” Citrin explained. “He escaped to Germany, made millions in steel there and then lost it. Most of his family were killed. He was very paranoid that it could all happen again. But for me, it’s hard to be scared when you grow up in California.”

Citrin’s mom was a caterer who ran a cooking school, and he took to cooking at home from the age of 12 as naturally as he took to surfing the Malibu waves.

In a bold move, he left for Paris after high school, reconnecting with his ancestral roots, to work at Vivarois and La Poste, developing a solid classical French background before returning to Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main and Granita, and Joachim Splichal’s Patina and Pinot Bistro.

“I worked for a kosher caterer in France too,” he recalled. “We did parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs. The rabbi was always drunk and would show up late. We couldn’t turn the stoves on without him!”

“But my worst experience was one time we had to make cow tripe. I cut a hundred kilos of tripe. You simmer it and it makes this beautiful Moroccan tagine. I left it out to cool, and the crew was supposed to come in and put it in the fridge. When I came in the next day it was still outside, bubbling.”

Citrin fondly recalls his childhood seders (“It’s the first time you get drunk, right?”) and will gather with his family this year at home. “I’ve done it with them coming here, and sometimes families reserve a private room for a seder. We use a reform hagaddah. It’s got a rap song in it!”

Brisket is on the menu, but with a twist. The oven-braised beef is compressed flat, then cut into squares and reglazed. “This is the same way we do braised short ribs here all the time,” Citrin said. “You can slice it the usual way if you want, but what’s the point of giving you a recipe if it’s going to be the way you always make it?”

The dish is an homage to his wife’s grandmother. “She made the same brisket for all the holidays: Passover, Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah,” Citrin recalled. “I had never seen it before. When I was growing up we had lamb or lemon chicken, different stuff on Passover. When Goldie passed away I started making it. The meat is so tender, but all the flavors ooze out into the liquid. When you glaze it down the flavors are reabsorbed.”

The stuffed gefilte fish is his mother’s recipe. “Sometimes I make it in a terrine, using the same fish mixture, and then cut slices. We serve it with the same sauce and a julienne vegetable salad.”

Citrin, dubbed “a farmers market junkie” by Los Angeles Magazine, emphasizes fresh ingredients. In fact “mélisse” is French for lemon balm, a Mediterranean herb.

“Because of the freeze, we’re behind right now,” he observed, “so we’re using root vegetables.” The recipe below was another from his mom. “They taste better just a little beyond crunchy — no California crunch,” he advised.

What’s in the future for Citrin and wife/co-owner Diane (“the first Jewish person I ever dated”)? There’s a cookbook in the works, and “I’d like to do Jewish second weddings. We’re closed on Sundays anyway. This is the perfect room for 40 to 50 people,” he said, pointing to the sun-filled atrium, “with the aisle here and the chuppah at the end. And the glass always breaks on cement, not like on the grass.”

Charoset
1 cup pitted chopped dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/3 cup sweet Manischewitz wine
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons chopped almonds
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1 tablespoon chopped Meyer lemon, zest and rind included, or 1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped orange zest
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Pinch of ground fennel

In a large bowl, combine dates, apricots and wine. Add chili pepper, almonds, matzah meal, lemon, orange zest, ginger and fennel. Mix well. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.
Makes about two cups.

Gefilte Fish Wrapped in Napa Cabbage With Tomato-Tarragon-Horseradish Emulsion
For the fish:
1/2 cup matzah meal
5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
2 heads Napa cabbage
1 pound whitefish fillet, cut into cubes
1/2 pound pike fillet, cut into cubes
1/2 pound carp, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, minced
2 tablespoons tarragon, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
Zest of 3 limes, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips
2 leeks, cut into julienne strips

For the sauce:
Yolks of 2 large eggs (use only farm-fresh eggs kept under refrigeration or a pasteurized egg product)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

Place matzah meal in a bowl. Mix with 1 cup of the stock and set aside.
Submerge cabbage in a large pot of boiling water. As the leaves soften, remove and place in ice water. Separate leaves, keeping them whole. You will need 12 unbroken leaves. Dry well. Trim the central rib so the leaf is of uniform thickness all around and will lie flat.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack — Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown and cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance,” she said.

Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.
The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting


Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting

Families of the victims of the 1999 North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC) shooting in Granada Hills are suing the state of Washington for allegedly failing to supervise the man who committed the crime. The $15 million lawsuit filed Aug. 18 says the state’s Department of Corrections failed to adequately monitor Buford Furrow Jr., an ex-convict on probation from a Washington state jail. On Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow burst into the North Valley JCC and opened fire. He wounded two small boys, a teenager and an adult receptionist, and later killed a Filipino-American letter carrier nearby. Furrow is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Young Quits After ‘Hurtful’ Remarks

Andrew Young resigned as a Wal-Mart advocate after disparaging Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, Young resigned as head of “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” and apologized. The Los Angeles Sentinel, a black newspaper, asked Young how he could advocate for an organization that displaces “mom and pop” outfits. Young said he was pleased when those stores were “run out” of his neighborhood. “Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables,” he said. “And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs, very few black people own these stores.”

Olmert Pressed on War Inquiry

Ehud Olmert is under pressure to establish a state commission of inquiry to investigate how officials handled Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The Israeli prime minister told the attorney general to see what alternatives exist for such an investigation, ranging from inquiries that would be made public to those that might remain confidential within the Cabinet. Meanwhile, criticism of how the war was conducted is mounting. Petitions have been circulating by reserve soldiers who have returned from fighting in Lebanon with long lists of complaints.

Diaspora Money Heads North

World Jewry is expected to contribute about $344 million to rehabilitating Israel’s northern towns and cities. The money, according to an Israeli government plan announced Sunday, would contribute to the overall cost of repairing damage and providing assistance to northern residents, estimated at about $1 billion. Money would go to financial aid for residents and businesses, repairs, psychological counseling, rebuilding schools and other projects run by a newly formed Israeli government committee. An emergency campaign in the United States has already raised $220 million for assistance to the North.

Israeli Officials Face Sexual-Harassment Charges

On Monday, police seized computers and documents from President Moshe Katsav’s Residence in Jerusalem, seeking possible evidence related to charges by a former employee who has claimed that Katsav coerced her into sexual relations. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Israel’s justice minister resigned in the wake of sexual-harassment charges. Haim Ramon announced his resignation Sunday. Israel’s attorney general said he plans to indict Ramon on charges that he forcibly kissed an 18-year-old soldier at an office party July 12, the day the war started between Israel and Hezbollah.

“I am sure that I will succeed in court,” Ramon said. “A kiss of two, three seconds, based on the version of the complainant, cannot be turned into a criminal act.”

Israeli Children Anxious After War

About 35 percent of Israeli schoolchildren who stayed in the North during the war with Hezbollah are suffering from anxiety, nightmares and other problems, a survey found. The 16,000 or so children also were found to have difficulty concentrating and are crying more often, the Tel Chai Academic College found in the survey. Problems are especially acute among preschoolers.

Major Israeli Writer Dies

Writer Yizhar Smilansky, an Israel Prize-winner better known by the pen name S. Yizhar, died Monday. One month shy of his 90th birthday, Yizhar died of heart failure. Known as a major innovator of Hebrew literature, he wrote prose, poetry and children’s literature. He also was well-known for his essays, which gained attention at the beginning of the war in Lebanon in 1982. His writing, which often challenged the Zionist narrative and the morality of the army, was the subject of intense controversy.

Israel: Hezbollah Used Russian Weapons

Israel complained to Russia that Russian-made anti-tank missiles reached Hezbollah fighters, who used them with devastating effect against Israeli troops. An Israeli delegation traveled to Moscow earlier this week to deliver the complaint, Ha’aretz reported. The anti-tank missiles proved to be one of Hezbollah’s most effective weapons in the monthlong war in Lebanon, responsible for the deaths of at least 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting. Israel protested in recent years when Russia sold advanced weapons to Syria, warning that they would be forwarded them to Hezbollah, but Russia dismissed the concerns. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was “impossible” that Russian weapons could have reached Hezbollah.

Jewish-Owned Market in Moscow Bombed

An explosion at a Jewish-owned market in Moscow killed at least 10 people and left 16 to 40 wounded. According to preliminary reports, no Jews were hurt in the blast at the Cherkizovsky market. The market is believed to be owned and operated by members of the “Mountain Jewish” community, which has its roots in Azerbaijan. At least two children died in the Monday morning blast in Moscow. Investigators say the explosion, which caused a two-story building to collapse, could have been a settling of scores among gangs, but officials are not ruling out that the blast was a terrorist attack.

Restaurant in India Named After Hitler

A new restaurant in India is named after Hitler and has swastikas on its walls. The owner of the Hitler’s Cross restaurant in Bombay told Reuters that he just wanted to stand out from the crowd. India’s Jewish community is protesting the name.

Annan Chides Iran on Holocaust Cartoons

Commenting on an exhibit of cartoons questioning the Holocaust, Kofi Annan’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that the U.N. secretary-general has made clear in past conversations with Iranian officials that while he supports free speech, “people need to exercise that right responsibly and not use it as a pretext for incitement, hatred or for insulting beliefs of any community.”

A museum in Tehran opened the exhibit last week, in response to the publication in Denmark last year of cartoons that targeted Mohammed, the Muslim prophet.Exhibit organizers say they took their cue from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a “myth.” Annan is to visit Iran in coming weeks as part of a tour to follow up on the Lebanon-Israel cease-fire.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Cozy Kosher Surf Shack: An Observant Oasis in the ‘Bu


Joyce Brooks Bogartz’s look isn’t quite what you’d expect from the owner of a kosher restaurant. Adorned with brown-and-cream dreadlocks, the nearly 50-year-old proprietor of Malibu Beach Grill would at first glance seem to fit in better with customers sporting board shorts than black hats. But this post-punk Gidget is the kind of ‘Bu Jew who is as comfortable around Chabadniks as she is with surfers.

“Having a kosher place, you can only be so risque in your appearance,” she said.
Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness.

And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).

But the road to winning over the locals wasn’t easy.

Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.

“I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea,” said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator.
“For a year we were the walking dead,” she said. “I was sleeping four hours a night.”

Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.

To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn’t hurt, either.

The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta’am (flavor).

“It’s a small place, but it’s better than what we have in Philadelphia,” said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.

“They put an interesting twist on everything,” said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. “It’s different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It’s not just a plain burger.”

The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: “How does your grandmother do it?”

Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno.
Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994 she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, which has featured a sign with a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.

Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette’s local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.

“My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it’s warm,” she said.
Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant’s catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.

“I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody,” she said.

Jewish Federation Raises $10 Million for Israel

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently announced that the organization has raised $10 million in pledges just three weeks after launching its Israel in Crisis Fund.

All of the monies raised will go toward supporting direct services to Israelis who have suffered during the recent crisis, including providing counseling for terror victims, aiding the elderly, disabled and other at-risk populations with intervention programs, and helping to underwrite the cost of sending thousands of young Israelis from the north to summer camps in safer parts of the country.
“This is a time to do two things,” Federation President John Fishel said. “If you feel like you want to or can, you should get on an airplane and stand in solidarity with Israel. Even if you can’t, it’s a time to respond by making a generous donation to the state of Israel.”

Fishel recently went on a mission to Israel. During a visit to the northern Israeli city of Naharya, he spent several hours huddled in a hospital basement while Hezbollah missiles exploded nearby.

The local Federation hopes to contribute a total of $15 million to United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group of the nation’s federations that is coordinating the fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has raised more than $100,000 for the AJC’s Israel Emergency Assistance Fund, also a national campaign. Like the Federation, 100 percent of the AJC’s proceeds go to Israel, said Saundra Mandel, the local chapter’s acting director. Local money has helped purchase two mobile
intensive-cardiac-care ambulances for Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, and 500 first-aid kits to bomb shelters, Mandel added.

Another organization, the American Friends of Magen David Adom, has raised $700,000 locally since kicking off a war-time campaign on July 12, according to Ellen Rofman, the group’s Western regional director. That money has gone toward purchasing ambulances and medical supplies, as well as toward testing donated Israeli blood for viruses and other requested items, she said.

To attract funding, Rofman said she has sent out e-mails to rabbis throughout Southern California, advertised in the Jewish press and contacted Jewish country clubs and private foundations. Given the needs of the Israeli people, she said the fundraising drive, named Code Red Alert, will continue until mid-October.

To make a donation to the Federation’s Israel in Crisis Fund, call 866-968-7333 or, visit www.jewishla.org.

To make a contribution to the American Jewish Committee, visit www.ajc.org.

To make a donation to American Friends of Magen David Adom/ARMDI, call (818) 905-5099, or visit www.afmda.org.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Spielberg Adds $1 Million to Relief Funds

Steven Spielberg is giving $1 million for relief efforts in Israel during the current conflict, with the initial $250,000 going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Additional future gifts are earmarked for the liberal-oriented New Israel Fund and other relief organizations in Israel, Marvin Levy, the filmmaker’s chief spokesman, announced this week.

Spielberg’s is among the major gifts to the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s special crisis fund and is being donated through his Righteous Persons Foundation, capitalized entirely through his personal profits, estimated at around $40 million, from his Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List.”

Fishel said that the crisis fund concentrates on alleviating the devastating effect of Hezbollah rocket barrages on northern Israel, particularly on children, the elderly and disabled.

In addition, Spielberg’s grant will be used to retrofit Haifa’s three hospitals with shatterproof glass and for emergency assistance to the main hospital in the hard-hit town of Nahariya.

The unspecified donation to the New Israel Fund will go for emergency assistance to communities in northern Israel through support of crisis hotlines, economic help and improved food distribution.

At the same time, another Jewish high-profile Hollywood personality is disbursing $1 million.

Barbra Streisand is giving that sum to former president Bill Clinton’s Climate Change Initiative, which seeks to create a consortium of major cities around the world to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Steisand recently announced plans for a concert tour in October and November, whose proceeds will go to organizations concerned with environmental, women’s health and educational issues.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

New Program Welcomes Learning Disabled Students to Day Schools

A year-old program for children with learning disabilities at Los Angeles Orthodox day schools has room for a few more kids for this September.

Kol Hanearim — Hebrew for all the children — started last year to meet the challenge of keeping children with learning disabilities in Jewish day schools. The children, who have all left or been asked to leave Jewish day schools, have their own class embedded in a host school. A special education teacher and trained aides teach classes in academic subjects as well as social and study skills.

“The unique thing about what we’re doing is the kids will develop a sense of belonging within the host school, and that will lead toward the class being integrated as much as possible within the host school,” said headmaster Rabbi Levy Cash.

The Kol Hanearim curriculum and schedule is designed to flow with the host schools, so that kids join their grade for classes like art, computer and physical education, and for prayers, lunch and recess.

Last year, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy hosted the first class of six fourth-graders, who are generally two to three years behind grade level academically and might also have behavioral issues. This year, in addition to the fourth- and fifth-grade class at Hillel, the program will offer a second- and third-grade class at Maimonides Academy, and a sixth- through eighth-grade class at Perutz Etz Jacob Academy. Each cohort will stay within the host school from year to year, so they can benefit from stable friendships and consistency of educational approach.

“There is a lot our kids can gain from their peers, and there is a lot their peers can gain from us being in the school,” Cash said, noting that the host schools have been welcoming and cooperative.

For information, contact (818) 536-9741 or e-mail Kolhanearim@gmail.com.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

A Man for All Seasonings


The Rabbi of Chelm was teaching a class,

“Rabbi,” a student asked. “Why is the sea so salty?”

“Idiot,” the Rabbi intoned. “Because it’s full of herring.”

Like many baby-boomers today, I sometimes feel older than Keith Richards up a palm tree. So when Irv and Eddie, my better elders, invite me to go out with them, I tag along, if only to combat creepy self-pity.

“I know you wanna start out with creamed herring,” says Eddie as we roll into Nate’n Al, a famous Beverly Hills delicatessen where Larry King has breakfast every morning and Eddie and Irv like to kibitz on Saturday night.

Irv’s walker goes up against a wall, joining the half-dozen others already parked there.

“Like umbrellas in Seattle,” Eddie says. Once seated, the two friends observe an ancient Jewish ritual of the booths: talking about meals they’ve had in other restaurants. Every place from IHOP to Hop Li is on their carte du jour.

“It’s terrible,” Irv says about the latter Hop.

“I know,” Eddie replies. “You said they threw the food at you.”

“It was frightening.”

“I wouldn’t want to get you frightened.”

“The food is excellent,” Irv admits.

“They never threw it at me,” Eddie says. “So it must have been you!”

I enjoy hanging out with these gentlemen because they’re never less than enlightening. Tonight I learn two tablespoons of flaxseed a day can save your heart, and a martini before dinner gets the appetite up. That the Yiddish derision of “MGM” — where Irv worked for 10 years — was Louis “Mayer’s Gansa Mishpachah.”

Eddie knew Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist, and the doctor who discovered cholesterol. Irv claims the guy claimed credit for discovering cholesterol before anybody else.

“So we’ll order one herring,” Eddie says.

“And we’ll stab at it?” Irv says.

“We’ll stab at the herring.”

Because of glaucoma, Irv can barely read the menu, so Eddie gives him the entrees.

“Here come the combinations,” he says like the track announcer at Hollywood Park. “Turkey mushroom chow mein, fresh chicken livers, turkey blintzes with kasha, stuffed kishka plate, pot roast of beef, sweet and sour boiled beef … are you interested in chicken?”

“No,” Irv replies. “Not tonight.” He touches over the table. “Any napkins here?”

“Not yet. Here, want some sauerkraut or pickle?”

“How do you get it?”

“Well you have to know someone.”

A short discourse follows on new dill and the pickles Irv made in his basement in Bel Air that Billy Wilder and Gene Kelly enjoyed. I love the loving ease with which they kid each other’s explanations of kasha and kippers. The white meat vs. dark. And in the case of baked beans, Heinz vs. Bush, they also are not in agreement. After bandying about how tough some braised short ribs can be, Irv asks: “Did you order the herring?”

“Nobody was here yet, Irving.”

“Oh really, Ed? Why don’t you order a waiter?”

We laugh.

Eddie has a joke: “I like the table. You got one closer to a waitress?”

“They don’t have waiters,” Irv comes back. “They got tables.”

“I was saying hello to them,” Sophia explains when she arrives. She means another couple in another booth. “I known them like 20 years. How you doing?”

“See if you got a table closer to a waitress,” Eddie says.

More laughter.

“I think I’m gonna have the chicken,” he tells her.

Irv orders the chicken, too: “I used to get the half-a-chicken a lot at Canter’s, remember?”

“Each time,” Eddie replies, “it’s a different adventure.”

“Did you order herring?”

“Yes I ordered the herring!”

“Can we have some of the double-baked rye bread?” Irv asks Sophia, calling her “dear.”

“And if you get the herring over first,” Eddie tells her, “this man will make it through the rest of the meal.”

For some reason I order pastrami and a celery soda.

“What did you order?” Irv asks me. “Steak?”

“Pastrami.”

“Pastrami? I don’t recommend it here.”

“No?”

“OK,” he allows. (Whew.)

Delicatessens from here to Delancey Street come up. The Reuben at the Carnegie on Broadway that Irv says gave his wife an orgasm. The Ratner’s toothpick joke Irv insists he first heard from “Broadway Sam” at Leo Lindy’s.

“I was born above a delicatessen,” Irv says. “My horoscope sign was ‘Hebrew National.'”

That’s a joke he told for Jan Murray’s birthday at the New York Deli in Century City. Irv used to love Langer’s on Alvarado Street for their double-baked rye. Froman’s on Wilshire Boulevard for the chicken-in-the-pot. Label’s on Pico Boulevard for their platters. But Irv doesn’t enjoy L.A. delis anymore.

“The real potent garlic you used to be able to detect from 40 feet away?” he says. “Now if you walk in you don’t smell anything.”

He says it’s because all the garlic comes from China and takes weeks to get here by boat. “Consequently the taste of Italian cooking and delicatessen — anything that uses garlic, a key spice in the pickling of meats — is lacking in a certain bite.”

Irv says a food writer at the L.A. Times confirmed the China potency theory. “The only place you can find old-fashioned garlic,” Irv insists, “is at a farmer’s market if the guy with the stall grew it himself up in Oxnard. Somebody who would eat real garlic in the old days knew who his friends were, because most people would avoid him.”

Eddie doesn’t agree.

“Eddie likes every place,” Irv says. “But no delicatessen is really good unless an hour after you’ve eaten, it repeats on you.”

Hanging out with nonagenarians, I realize I am not old. I’m middle-aged and have just missed a lot.

The mushroom barley arrives, ahead of the herring plate.

“She’s bringing the herring for dessert!” Irv laughs.

“I went through this whole routine,” Eddie moans. “‘Give him the herring’ I said. Get the herring here first before we start.” He shakes his head. “I told her all that, and she still didn’t bring it.”

“Well,” Irv says. “This is the best restaurant in the world! Can’t you tell?”

 

The Meatiest Offer in Town


The tables were filled and the clock turned back at Canter’s on Monday, as the landmark Fairfax deli lowered the price of a corned beef sandwich to 75 cents in honor of the restaurant’s 75th anniversary.

Cashier Tom Gordon, who answered questions between fielding phone calls and ringing up tabs, said his crew expected to serve 10,000 corned beef sandwiches during the one-day, 24-hour promotion. That’s about 5,000 pounds of corned beef, by his reckoning. But that’s nothing compared to the restaurant’s estimates of their cumulative servings of 2 million pounds of smoked salmon, 20 million bagels and 24 million bowls of chicken soup.

It’s been 75 years since the Canter brothers moved west from Jersey City and opened a restaurant in Boyle Heights, east of downtown, in the center of what was then a bustling immigrant Jewish neighborhood. As the tribe migrated westward, Ben and Jenny Canter opened a second location at its current spot in 1953, eventually closing the original Eastside spot. The family also owns a restaurant in Las Vegas, which opened in 2003.

Some things at Canter’s never seem to change. The pickles are still made onsite according to Ben’s original recipe. And the few sugar-free baked goods are overwhelmed by the markedly sinful display of sweets that you must pass as you enter. But the updated and ever-gargantuan menu also includes Mexican-style offerings and healthier plates like the Orange Almond Salad, which is what Wade Twitchell would have ordered if corned beef wasn’t selling for 75 cents. Twitchell had brought along Brian Ewell, 13, who would have ordered coldcuts, but couldn’t resist the 75-cents logic either. But Dawn Sharpe, originally a deli-goer in Dorchester, Mass., has been a pastrami/corned beef gal from the word go. She conceded, however, she might not have made the drive from Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley if the price hadn’t been so right.

The line outside varied in length throughout the day, but it was never short. Still, it seemed to move fast — a good thing since the appetite-maddening smell of corned beef wafted at least two blocks away.

The topsy-turvy prices had consequences up and down the street. For one thing, a street person in black boots and a knit cap was asking passersby for 75 cents, as though that were the going price. And it looked as though some familiar street denizens were actually in line for sandwiches. But things were not going well at the nearby Schwartz Bakery, where the line of Canter’s customers effectively blocked the storefront.

“No one is breaking through the line to get to my store,” complained the woman behind the counter. “It’s been like this all day.”

Reporter’s Postscript: The situation was no better for me, a regular Canter’s customer, after all, who was able to get close enough to photograph and takes notes on the corned beef, but lacked time to stand in line. Luckily, the poppyseed danish from Schwartz’s was first-rate.

 

Letters


Muslim Majority

Salam Al-Marayati’s apologetics miss the mark entirely (“Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims,” Feb. 17). In the wake of the mass violence throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is impossible to argue that a small, extremist element, “a handful of reckless Muslims” in Al-Marayati’s words, is responsible for weeks of mayhem. Tens of thousands of rioters have rampaged, killed, and looted with governments either abetting or unable to control the violence. They are not a tiny fringe. And they are not reacting to alleged anti-Muslim bias in Europe, as Al-Marayati tries to argue.

Whether the rioters and their silent supporters represent the majority of Muslims or a sizable minority is debatable, but one conclusion is certain: They and the intolerant strain of Islam they adhere to threaten all who disagree with them.

Linda Abraham
Los Angeles

The op-ed of Salam Al-Marayati is a well-articulated presentation that falls short of explaining the “civilized response” of U.S. Muslims to the caricatures of Mohammad. It is difficult to accept the representation that “free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law” when the essence of Islam is submission to Allah and violations of fundamental Sharia law are dealt with by dismemberment, stoning and decapitation.

Most troubling is the accusation that racism and bigotry in Europe are disguised as freedom of expression or democracy. Yet, many instances of quite the opposite is being reported — Muslims who choose to live in their own communities, following Sharia law in their dealings with each other, even if it contravenes the law of their adopted countries.

Quiet Muslims will be ignored until they speak up loudly against the violent actions of their fellow Muslims.

Aggie R. Hoffman
Los Angeles

School Pesticides

Thank you for your wonderful and important article about Robina Suwol and AB 405 (“Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle,” Feb. 10). Suwol is a tireless worker for our children’s health. Unfortunately, you did not mention that she and others helped to establish the Integrated Pest Management Team in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This team, which has been operating for about five years, is one of the leaders in the country in minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in our schools. LAUSD should be recognized for their pioneering spirit.

Dr. Cathie Lippman
The Lippman Center for Optimal Health
Beverly Hills

Cartoon Controversy

Hurray for The Journal! Although lacking the courage to print the riot-provoking cartoons, the honesty of the stated reasons for not doing so was refreshing (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). That’s more than can be said for most of the country’s major news outlets.

Kenny Laitin
Via e-mail

Jack Abramoff

Over three decades ago, Equity Funding Corp., a Century City-based financial conglomerate, was forced into bankruptcy due to massive fraud and embezzlement. The trustee surmised that approximately 60 employees (about 10 percent of the workforce) were involved in some level, in the illegal activities (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jan. 27).

Twenty-two of them, mostly Jewish, pleaded guilty to participation in the conspiracy.

Although both my wife and I were employees, we were neither involved nor knowledgeable, primarily because we joined the corporation long after the fraudulent activities began. Nonetheless, I’ve often wondered what I would have done, had I been asked to assist in the illegal activities.

The point is that given the opportunity, many otherwise honest people are easily seduced into immoral activities that they sincerely regret after the fact. Most of Equity Funding’s conspirators are truly repentant.

Because of that experience, I truly believe that men like Jack Abramoff are sincerely remorseful. So while it is important that they pay for their crimes, it is also important we accept their apologies at face value and practice forgiveness.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Kosher Gourmet

I was impressed with the excellent article in The Journal titled, “Oxnard Kosher Dining is a Sur Thing”(Feb. 3).

I did however take issue with one of the authors’ comments: “Kosher gourmet sounds like an oxymoron.”

Apparently the authors of this article have never sampled the food at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard, or sampled the cuisine of Pat’s catering or Brenda’s catering, among others. Far from being an oxymoron, kosher gourmet has been alive and well in Los Angeles for many, many years!

Martin Shandling
Los Angeles

Military Hitch

I was stimulated by the recent article on Rabbi David Lapp (“Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military,” Feb. 17), which focused on his ability to bring all major branches of Judaism to work together to support the needs of Jewish soldiers.

I am wondering whether there might be other important areas in which such cooperation can occur, and whether Rabbi Lapp’s experience might suggest how that cooperation can be brought about to the benefit of the entire Jewish community.

Barry H. Steiner
Department of Political Science,
Cal State Long Beach

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

There’s the Rub — in Tel Aviv


Tierra couldn’t be more Los Angeles. But for this nouveau combination of mostly organic restaurant, massage parlor and oxygen bar, you’ll have to go to Tel Aviv, where this combo venue clearly out-Hollywoods Hollywood.

The only thing missing — so far — is a Hollywood-style patron, such as Madonna or Oprah. In the meantime, you can settle happily for Yaniv Ben Rachamin, the handsome young waiter. On a recent visit, he needed some crib notes to describe the eclectic menu offerings, but he’s surefooted and helpfully well muscled for any visitors who order the seven-minute, 22-sheckel (about $4) massage with their entree.

Like the others of the wait staff, Ben Rachamin is a certified masseuse. His specialty happens to be a Chinese-style regimen whose name he had trouble translating into English. But as he willingly demonstrated, the good fight against carpal tunnel syndrome knows no language barriers. You just remain at your table in your chair and let him go to work.

Tierra’s setting in its bustling, mostly residential neighborhood is stylish coffeehouse; the food is inventive. One typical appetizer consisted of figs stuffed with mushrooms, macadamia nuts and chicken — flavored with cardamom, cinnamon and a Hindu date dressing (34 sheckels). Not all the entrees strain to be eccentric; there’s “grilled pullet and polenta” for 58 sheckels and “calamari paperdello” for 54 sheckels. Some menu offerings are mouth watering; others more creative than tasty. But there’s a full bar to wash everything down.

Co-owner Yonatan Galili says he keeps the menu as organic as possible — except when going exclusively organic would raise prices. He’s gone through several career iterations, including successful industrial engineer, to reach this entrepreneurial exploration of the mind/body/stomach connection.

He sees the massages as a way for a person/diner to “be with himself for seven minutes.” He adds: “We are very aware of the Western way of life. We serve food that is friendly to the stomach so you can eat here and then later keep on working.”

Of course, another option is to get high at the oxygen bar and forget all about working. Galili has two flavors of oxygen — “secret” concoctions created specially by an expert in designing flavors for oxygen bars. One is to relax you; the other to energize you.

The giddy feeling that ensues doesn’t seem quite legal, but apparently, it’s OK to inhale. Just be glad that you’re not the one flying the airplane home.

Tierra is located at Yirmiyahu 54, Tel Aviv, 03-604-7222. Hours: 9 a.m. to last customer.

 

Oxnard Kosher Dining Is a Sur Thing


“Kosher gourmet” sounds like an oxymoron. And “Oxnard kosher” sounds like the nocturnal ravings of some deluded diner.

Well, get used to it. Gourmet kosher dining has arrived in the Southern California farming community of Oxnard. Paris, London, New York maybe. But Oxnard? Home of big-box grocery chains, Mexican cantinas and strawberry fields forever.

Oxnard’s population is more than 70 percent Latino, which could explain why Tierra Sur, the finest new kosher restaurant on this coast (or almost any other), has decided to open with a decidedly Mediterranean-Spanish flavor, with a large dose of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.

So what’s a nice kosher restaurant doing in a place like this?

Tierra Sur is found deep in the heart of Oxnard’s industrial section, 60 miles north of Los Angeles and a mile and a half off Highway 101, nestled in the confines of the Herzog Winery.

Herzog itself has come a long way. It began making kosher wine back in 1848 in the small Slovakian village of Vrobove, where Philip Herzog crushed grapes for Austro-Hungarian royalty. The winery moved to upstate New York in the early 20th century, and then switched to California, where it is now headquartered and makes surprisingly good wines.

The front of its $13 million state-of-the-art winery houses an elegant tasting room and gift shop, which features high-end table wear, glasses and gifts appropriate to the sophistication of the entire operation.

But the pièce de résistance is Tierra Sur, with its high-ceilinged dining room, flanked by tall windows draped in heavy silks, soft leather dining room chairs pulled up to intimate-sized tables adorned with white table clothes and Reidel crystal stemware. The lighting is subdued, and the color scheme — earth tones of soft olive, gold and browns — highlights the elegant Mediterranean menu.

All this décor is very nice of course, but what about the food?

It more than measures up to the ambience.

Chef Todd Aarons, who grills some of his best creations in an outdoor wood-burning fireplace on the patio, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from the California Culinary Academy and cut his kitchen teeth at San Francisco’s Zuni Café. Two years later he moved to Savoy in New York’s Soho district. However, his cooking chops and tastes were really formed during a sabbatical in Tuscany, working at four restaurants and imbibing the culture of the Mediterranean table through his pores.

Following his return to California, Aarons went to a post-graduate program at Beringer Vineyard’s School for American Chefs in Sonoma, developing his skills in matching wine with food.

But it was while working for an Italian coffee company in Israel, and developing menus for Italian-Mediterranean restaurants in Netanya and Tel Aviv, that Aarons rediscovered his Jewish roots, fell in love with an Orthodox young woman and eventually became a ba’al teshuvah. Now the dietary laws of kashrut have became the most important element of his cooking.

Aarons commutes to the new restaurant from his home in North Hollywood, where he lives with his wife and three young daughters within the eruv.

Before his Oxnard venture, Aarons ran Mosaica, an upscale glatt kosher French Mediterranean restaurant in New Jersey. But the opportunity to create a restaurant from scratch with the financial support of the Herzog brand was impossible to resist.

So with sous chef Chaim Davids, Tierra Sur opened in late 2005 with kosher supervision by the Orthodox Union. But if you expect pickles, corned beef on rye, or matzah ball soup — fuhgeddaboudit.

Dinner with five-star service — on a par with a dining room in a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton — changes not just with the seasons but every evening according to the chef’s whim and the availability of the finest and freshest ingredients.

The Mediterranean influence is most visible in the appetizers, many of which come directly from the Spanish tapas or Greek mezes so beloved of the countries bordering that sea.

Platillos were small plates of delicate salt cod beignets; mushrooms a la Greque, cooked in truffle oil (one of the many instances where the absence of butter in the kitchen does nothing but improve the flavors); and a baba ghanoush that is fire roasted in the patio oven. The boudin blanc was a house-made veal-and-chicken sausage with roasted pink lady apples and turnips, and a corn and salt cod chowder was a warm starter on a foggy Oxnard eve.

The dinner entrees, which range in price from $25 to $44, include a farm-raised venison imported from the Mashgichim farm in Goshen, N.Y.; a delicate pan-seared wild Pacific king salmon with braised leeks, root vegetable Spanish tortillas and tarragon salsa; a marjoram and honey roasted chicken leg stuffed with porcini mushroom and chick pea ragout; and a pomegranate-marinated roasted lamb with sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh fava beans. Hannibal Lector eat your heart out. (A more modestly priced menu of soups, salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.)

Desserts like orange almond flan, a warm Mexican chocolate cake with caramel frozen custard and churros y chocolate are simple, inexpensive and delicious.

And, of course, the food can be accompanied by a dazzling selection of kosher wines — by the glass or by the bottle — from winemaker Joe Hurliman.

Already Tierra Sur, which also offers a wine-tasting menu, has been discovered by the Ventura dining cognoscenti and its private dining room has become a popular spot for everything from award dinners held by the Ventura’s Jewish Federation and its various offshoots to dinner celebrations for local corporate heavyweights such as Camarillo’s Amgen.

And the Orthodox are coming from miles around. There is always a fair sprinkling of men in kippot and women in wigs lining up to wash their hands at the small stainless steel sink hidden discreetly in a corner of the dining room.

On the night we went, customers included a couple who had driven up from Hancock Park, a family from the San Fernando Valley headed by a lady who doubles as the Jewish chaplain for the Los Angeles womens prison and a grandmother from Leisure Village in Camarillo who was treating her grandson and his wife from Philadelphia to a wedding anniversary dinner.

And in all cases, their food reviews were a unanimous thumbs up.

Tierra Sur Restaurant is located at 3201 Camino Del Sol in Oxnard. The restaurant is open everyday but Saturday for lunch, and Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday for dinner. For more information, call (805) 983-1560 or visit http://www.jewishjournal.com/local/KosherEats.php for links.

Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based freelance writer. Ivor Davis writes a column for The New York Times Syndicate.

 

Getting Out Before Katrina Still Painful


It’s hard for Gideon Daneshrad to imagine himself on the receiving end of tzedakah (charitable giving). In the 30 years since he arrived from Iran to study computer science at North Louisiana University in Monroe, Daneshrad, 56, has built himself a full life — with four children, a lakefront home and New Orleans’ only kosher restaurant.

“Just close your eyes and imagine that you wake up in the morning and you are stripped of your identity,” Daneshrad says. “You are nobody. You are nothing. You have no money coming in. You don’t have clothes. You don’t have food. And all the people you knew are scattered around the world.”

Daneshrad and his family have been in Los Angeles for more than a week, and he still finds himself imagining this is all a nightmare.

“Every night I go to bed and think I’ll wake up and everything will be fine,” he says. “It just hurts so much.”

The Daneshrads left New Orleans early Sunday morning on Aug. 28, just before Hurricane Katrina came whipping through. They threw a few things in an overnight bag, expecting to be home in a day or two. Daneshrad didn’t take more cash than he happened to have on hand, put his three cockatoos up on a table to keep them dry, filled up his tank and loaded his family in the car.

Their lakefront house — recently remodeled with mahogany floors throughout and six blocks from the Lake Pontchartrain levee break — disappeared under 18 feet of water. Their restaurant, Creole Kosher Kitchen — the only kosher establishment in the French Quarter — is most likely a murky mess of rotting meat and shorted appliances.

The shul where Gideon was gabbai, Beth Israel, is under water, along with eight Torah scrolls. Their small, close-knit Orthodox community is dispersed.

It may be months before the family will be allowed to go back to survey the damage and collect anything salvageable — jewelry, photos that may have survived on the second floor, maybe the teddy bear their daughter keeps asking for.

“I am the dad,” Daneshrad says. “All of a sudden, the person who makes everything OK is powerless. I can’t do anything.”

He sleeps on the floor of his sister’s three-bedroom home in Reseda, when he can sleep at all. His wife, Rut, doesn’t talk much about what happened during an interview; she just sits quietly wiping away tears.

Their girls, ages 5 and 8, wake up with nightmares. They want to go home, and they don’t understand why their mother didn’t pack their stuff.

The Daneshrads opened the Creole Kosher Kitchen on Chartres Street near the convention center in November 2000. This year was the first the restaurant, which Zagat rated as “excellent,” turned a profit.

The restaurant was “a place for Jews who are suffering in New Orleans with all the nonkosher pork and shrimp and crawfish and lobster and crab — so they could get a little Creole taste,” Daneshrad says.

Daneshrad was obviously not among the thousand of subsistence poor in New Orleans; he had operated successful gift shops in the French Quarter before starting his restaurant. He knew he had money in the bank when he left town. But he also had business loans with the same bank — for a restaurant that no longer exists. And he had no flood insurance.

What he has left financially, if anything, will be worked out over the next months. And he hasn’t a clue what happened to the cockatoos.

When the family arrived in Los Angeles, Daneshrad’s youngest sister, who has three children and runs a day care out of her home, took in Daneshrad, his wife and his two daughters. The Daneshrads’ oldest son is at Brooklyn College, and their 15-year-old boy had already been attending the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Dallas.

The girls go to classes at Emek Hebrew Academy/Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks. Aside from covering tuition, the parent body, lay leadership and administration of the school has provided uniforms and shoes for the girls, cash and transportation, while coordinating with Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Center for help with long-term needs, such as jobs and a place to live.

“We may have lost all our belongings, but we didn’t lose what belongs to us, which is Judaism,” says a grateful Daneshrad.

His watch is still set on New Orleans time, but it would be hard to go back. He thinks that maybe the time is right to bring hand-rolled Andouille sausage, jambalaya and gumbo to Southern California, if he can find investors willing to stand behind a Creole Kosher Kitchen in Los Angeles.

His optimism is somehow still intact: “What keeps us going here, right now, is that God has given human beings the best gift of all — the ability to forget pain and sorrow.”

 

Bachelorettes Just Wanna Have Fun


Your best friend is soon to wed. You’re in charge of the prenuptial ladies fete but your buddy is an iconoclast and so are you. If you’re looking for bachelorette parties that score points for originality, you might consider these unusual substitutes.

Surf’s Up

For an unforgettable bridal shower, head south to the world’s first all-women surf school. Surf Diva has been teaching wahines (Hawaiian for “women”) to become awesome “shredders” since 1996. Competitive surfer and local legend Isabelle “Izzy” and her twin sister Caroline “Coco” Tihanyi founded the company in picturesque La Jolla. They offer an unusual alternative to bar hopping or a Shabbos kallah, when friends of the betrothed visit the traditional bride on her last Shabbat afternoon as a single. Surf Diva’s all-women instructors include firefighters, paramedics, nurses, teachers, lawyers and snowboarders who suit up women with a wetsuit and board and teach them how to ride a wave with confidence. The school is such a success it now offers classes for guys, so ask the bride whether she wants the Y-chromosomes in her life to jump in.

Make sure your squad is comfortable swimming about 200 yards at sea. After an on-shore lesson, you’ll head out with your instructors into the water. When you finally get up on the wave, fellow surfers cheer you on as if you scored a touchdown. You’ll get a workout, too. All that paddling means an hour of surfing equals 200 pushups. Even if you can’t manage to stand up, you can still take home some fabulous souvenirs, complete with the company’s can’t-miss “empowerment” logo.

Surf Diva is located at 2160 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla. Packages start at $65 an hour per person and typical bachelorette parties run two hours. You can opt to have a catered lunch and take-home T-shirts or hats. Weekend clinics are also available, $135 for four hours of lessons for groups of 10-25. For more information, call (858) 454-8273; or visit ” target=”_blank”>www.fashiondistrict.org for more info and SederOlam.com for an extensive directory of kosher restaurants.

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Kosher Stylin’


If we are what we eat, then at this moment I’m a big fat Gordo’s burrito with extra cheese. But I’m a veggie burrito because for the past several years, I’ve been cultivating my own brand of kosher. I like to call myself “kosher style.”

It’s a phrase that’s apt to confuse, so let me explain. No pork. No shellfish. No conscious mixing of meat and dairy. I’ll eat meat out, and though I pass on cheeseburgers at Barney’s, I wouldn’t ask Alice Waters to hold the butter in preparing my filet of beef ? la ficelle (assuming ficelle isn’t bacon). My theory: Unless I see dairy, it’s kosher enough.

I have plenty of friends who keep more strictly kosher than I do, but even some of them make exceptions — like bouillabaisse in France or lobster in Maine. I deviate when I’m the guest in someone’s home, and the options are slim — my rationale being that it’s better to not shame a host than to stick to my half-baked rules.

There are those who may cringe at my interpretation of Jewish dietary laws, but it’s not like I eat this way because the Bible tells me to. Nor do I see it as a mitzvah commanded by the God I’m not always sure I believe in. And it certainly isn’t because I grew up this way.

It began with a request from a Holocaust survivor who once advised, “Order kosher meals on airplanes, because the day you stop ordering them is the day they’ll stop making them.”

Forgoing regular airplane food was a sacrifice I could make.

I remember the first time a flight attendant called out, “Ravitz, kosher meal?” Heads of passengers whipped around to look at “the Jew,” and there I sat, donning my jeans, fleece and baseball cap, looking like any other 20-something American.

I didn’t want the attention, but when it came, I kind of liked it. That nasty little packet of excessively wrapped, overcooked — and yet simultaneously frozen — meat sparked conversation. People would ask me about my kosher meals: “I’ve always wondered what this is all about.”

I even got confessions: “You know, I recently found out my grandfather was Jewish.”

I felt like an ambassador for my people, called forth to enlighten flight passengers over stale rolls.

Soon I was changing the way I ate on the ground, pork products being the first to go. Then I struggled to relinquish shrimp, New England clam chowder, steamed mussels. California rolls were missed, until I found salvation in “imitation crab.” Then came the meat-and-dairy conundrum, which wasn’t that bad, barring the loss of chicken Caesar salads and my mom’s grilled bleu cheese steak. The mere thought of it still makes me drool.

At a crawfish boil I attended in Alabama this summer, people around me snapped off heads, slurping the prawns’ insides, while taking turns asking me questions.

“What, you don’t like this stuff?” “You allergic?” “What’s wrong with you?”

I stammered, embarrassed by the repeated calls of attention. “Well, you see, I sort of keep kosher.”

“What’s that?”

I blathered about split hooves and chewed cuds before someone interrupted, “But why do you keep kosher?”

I gave the best answer I could come up with: “Because it reminds me of who I am.”

In September, Sophia Café, a new kosher restaurant, opened on Solano Avenue in Albany, walking distance from my home. When I first spotted it, I was floored. How could a glatt kosher restaurant survive in a place like this? It’s not like the Bay Area is a bastion of religious observance.

I walked inside and got my answer.

There was the visitor from Los Angeles who said her son passed up going to Cal because kosher food was so hard to come by. There was the woman planning for observant houseguests from the East who will need places to eat. There was the father in an Orthodox family who kept thanking the owner for his restaurant’s presence.

The mashgiach, who oversees kosher practices in the kitchen, said it’s the only glatt kosher restaurant in the East Bay. He also said it wouldn’t survive on kosher eaters alone.

I have a feeling that a certain Holocaust survivor would have something to say about that. Lucky for me, the restaurant’s meat was served hot and without wrapping.

Jessica Ravitz completed her masters in journalism at UC Berkeley and currently is a staff writer at The Salt Lake Tribune. She can be reached at jessica_ravitz@yahoo.com.

East of Western — a Kosher Cornucopia


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President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”

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Briefs


Iran Admits Supplying Spy Drones

The London-based newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat quoted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer as saying the Lebanese militia received eight drones in August. On Monday, Hezbollah sent one drone on a 10-minute sortie over northern Israel, worrying the top brass in Tel Aviv.

Israel Halts Ivory Coast Arms Sales

Israel said it would suspend arms sales to the Ivory Coast after a French request. France, which formerly ruled Ivory Coast as a colony, destroyed the African nation’s air force in retaliation for the deaths of nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker in a government airstrike on rebels. The French request was the second regarding the turmoil-plagued country in recent months, Ha’aretz reported.

Ads to Show Israeli Teachers

A pro-Israel advocacy group is launching a series of television advertisements focusing on efforts by Israeli teachers to teach peace in the classroom. The Israel Project’s ads, which are slated to begin Wednesday on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, feature three Israeli teachers talking about their efforts.

University Offers Jewish Certificate

The University of Denver’s School of Social Work is offering a certificate in Jewish communal service. The program will allow social work students to supplement their master’s degree social work curriculum with six Judaic courses, including a class in Jewish literacy and one in Jewish advocacy and public policy.

Filmmaker’s Killing Prompts Anti-Muslim Outbreak

The killing of a Dutch filmmaker, allegedly by an Islamic extremist, sparked anti-Muslim incidents in the Netherlands. Since the Nov. 2 murder of Theo van Gogh, who earlier this year released a film critical of how women are treated under Islam, there have been numerous anti-Muslim incidents, including two attempts to burn down mosques, Dutch media reported Sunday. Eight alleged Islamic extremists have been arrested in connection with the murder. Among those arrested was the alleged 26-year-old killer, identified only as Mohammed B. Mainstream Muslim groups have condemned the killing.

AMIA Case Appeal

An Argentine Jewish group is appealing the acquittal of five defendants in the bombing of an Argentine Jewish center. Five locals were acquitted in September of involvement in the July 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed and some 300 wounded in the still-unsolved bombing.

U.S. Wants Alleged Crime Boss Extradited

An alleged Israeli underworld boss faces extradition to the United States on drugs charges. Israeli police arrested Zev Rosenstein on Monday following a joint investigation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Rosenstein is suspected of involvement in a Miami drug ring, and could face trial in the United States. Under Israeli extradition laws, he would have to be returned to the Jewish state to serve his sentence. Rosenstein, considered one of Israel’s major crime bosses, denied any wrongdoing.

Reconstructionist Founder Dies

Benjamin Mehlman, a founder and former president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, died Oct. 31 in New York at the age of 94. Mehlman was a former president of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, in Manhattan, which was the first Reconstructionist synagogue.

Prague Jews Boot Leader

Members of Prague’s Jewish community voted out the community’s leader. The vote against Tomas Jelinek came Sunday, after several controversies that have divided the community, including Jelinek’s recent dismissal of the community’s head rabbi, Karol Sidon. Also at issue were a long-running dispute over the administration of the Lauder Jewish school and Jelinek’s plans to build a nursing home that some members thought was too costly. But Jelinek told JTA he rejects the vote because he believes it violates the community’s constitution.

Israeli Slain in New York

The Israeli manager of a kosher restaurant in New York was stabbed to death. The victim was knifed in the chest, stomach and arm Nov. 4 by a disgruntled employee he had recently fired, according to the New York Sun. Patrons of Cafe K in New York City were horrified when the victim emerged from the eatery’s basement bleeding profusely.

“His eyes were rolling up in to back of his head and he was shaking a little bit,” one anonymous witness told the Sun. “He was covered with blood.”

The victim was taken from the restaurant by stretcher and rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead about two hours later.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Seattle — Kosher Mecca of Northwest


In the past, the dynamic and innovative Pacific Northwestern city of Seattle has been associated with Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, The Pike Street Market, The Space Needle and grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Today, the city can boast of having a stunning new downtown library, a cutting-edge science fiction museum, state-of-the-art football and baseball stadiums and the Experience Music Project, a hands-on rock museum. And, a well-kept secret is that Seattle is the “kosher mecca” of the Pacific Northwest.

Previously, the thriving Seattle Jewish community of 40,000 was best known for having the third-largest Sephardic community in North America (after Los Angeles and New York). Many of Seattle’s 3,000-4,000 Sephardim (who came to the city in the early 1900s from Turkey and the Greek island of Rhodes) and many of the city’s Orthodox population, reside in Seward Park, which has two large Sephardic synagogues, the city’s main Ashkenazic Orthodox synagogue and an eruv. (Many Jews also reside in areas like Mercer Island, Bellevue and the North End of Seattle.) The existence of such a large Sephardic population may be one of the main reasons that there are so many kosher restaurants scattered throughout the city.

In fact, Seattle, which has a population of 2.5 million, has more kosher restaurants than the nearby cities of Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., combined. Seattle’s kosher establishments receive their kosher certification from the Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle, which among other things, takes care of kashrut issues and gives supervision on various kosher products and kosher establishments. (They also get a lot of calls from tourists wanting to know where they can find kosher restaurants and kosher food in the city.)

For a city of its size, Seattle has an incredible array of kosher restaurants to satisfy almost every palate. There is mouth-watering kosher pizza, pasta, soups and sandwiches at the Panini Grill Cafe near the Green Lake area; traditional Jewish fare and kosher baked goods at Leah’s in the North End; traditional fare can be found at Nosh Away and tasty North Indian Punjabi vegetarian kosher at Pabla Indian Cuisine — both in Renton; pareve Thai and Chinese Vegan cuisine at The Teapot Vegetarian House in Capitol Hill, a funky neighborhood near downtown Seattle; vegetarian Chinese food at the renowned Bamboo Garden in Queen Anne near Seattle Center; and kosher vegetarian Indian cuisine at Namasthe in Redmond.

Joy Somanna, the manager of Pabla Indian Cuisine, points out that business has increased since the restaurant (which is owned by Harnil Pabla) decided to become kosher at the request of the Jewish community of nearby Seward Park. Pabla’s also has a downtown location that the owner, J.S. Pabla, attempted unsuccessfully to convert into a kosher restaurant. But Pabla — who helped to establish the Renton location with his brother, Harnil — is hoping to open a kosher vegetarian Pabla’s outlet on Mercer Island in December. Seattle could have its eighth kosher restaurant before the end of 2004.

In addition to the many great kosher restaurants in the city, there are several bagel shops and coffeehouses under Va’ad supervision that offer kosher fare in Seattle. And, not only does Seattle have a wide variety of kosher establishments, but it also has a distinctive hechsher, or kosher symbol: a K-shaped Space Needle.

According to Rabbi Aharon Brun-Kestler, the executive director of the Seattle Va’ad who came from the Orthodox Union in New York, “Our standards are in line with other mainstream organizations and our supervision is generally accepted by outside agencies such as The Orthodox Union in New York.”

Ellen Kolman of the Seattle Va’ad noted, “You know that you’re getting a good hechsher, when you buy a Va’ad-approved kosher product from Seattle.”

Kolman, who is from Philadelphia (but came to Seattle with her husband from Northern California) is impressed with the number of kosher restaurants in Seattle.

“But even though there is a big Orthodox population in Seattle, kosher restaurants can’t survive with only Jewish customers because Seattle is not New York,” she said.

Daniel Cohanim, the owner of the Panini Grill Cafe, which opened in North Seattle in 1997, is also impressed by the number of kosher restaurants in the city. According to Cohanim, who is a native of Seattle, “There is a lot of co-operation between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the Seattle Jewish community.”

This cohesiveness, he believes, may partially explain why there are so many kosher restaurants in the city. He also agrees with Kollman’s assertion that it would be difficult to survive solely with a Jewish clientele and attributes the success of his restaurant to the fact that he has been able to attract both a Jewish and non-Jewish clientele from the nearby trendy Green Lake area.

“Some of my non-Jewish customers don’t even know that they’re eating kosher food at a kosher restaurant,” he said, “but I’ve worked hard to make Paninis feel like a regular restaurant in order to attract a broad customer base.”

Cohanim also gets a great response from kosher travelers from New York and other eastern cities who are amazed by the quality of the food available at The Panini Grill and by the selection and quality of kosher restaurants in the Seattle area.

“We have some great kosher restaurants in the city, so food should not be an excuse not to travel to Seattle,” he said.

For more information about kosher Seattle, visit www.seattlevaad.org. For more information about visiting Seattle, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.seattleattractions.com.