January 21, 2019

Why Ditmas Kitchen and Cocktails on Pico Will Succeed

High-end kosher restaurants in LA last about as long as an American Idol’s singing career.

Every few months, one arrives in a blaze of publicity and expectation—Prime Grill, La Seine, etc.— and a captive audience of people who keep kosher and are wealthy enough to drop a couple hundred bucks on a bottle of Castel rushes out to try it. And  then faster than you can say “overpriced” the restaurant vanishes, leaving behind a contrail of kvetching.

There’s a lot of reasons to think that Ditmas Kitchen and Cocktails may be different.  There’s even a good chance—you heard it here first—Ditmas may succeed.

Ditmas occupies the old Bocca space on Pico Blvd. near Robertson.  Bocca, an import from the Old Country (meaning, Encino) was one of the high-end kosher places that didn’t take.  Ditmas moved into the large space—which began life as a Coco’s family restaurant—and has transformed it into a vibey, gastro-hang with zero attitude, a sense of fun—and solid, soulful food.

Chef Alex Reznik created Ditmas.  The former “Top Chef” also headed the kitchen at La Seine– but there I got the feeling he was a show pony trotted out by the owners, then made to cook what they thought kosher LA wanted to eat.

At Ditmas,  the menu is all Reznik.  It combines a sentimental homage to his East Coast roots—Ditmas is the name of the Brooklyn avenue that splits Boro Park from Flatbush–  with a firm sense of what everybody wants to eat these days—high-quality ingredients, simple preparations,  more farmhouse than fusion. 

That may explain why the clientele doesn’t look particularly Jewish– and I mean that in a good way.  There’s no way to know for sure, but Ditmas seems to draw people in because of its food,  atmosphere,  service and—get this—absolutely fair prices. The fact that Ditmas is kosher doesn’t limit its audience, but  expands it to include kosher-observant Jews.  The first night I ate there, a large crowd of 20-somethings occupied a nearby table, and none of them or the other guests in our section looked like your typical kosher restaurant clientele.

The large space has been suitably hipstered to incorporate earth tone upholstery, large expanses of dark wood, and an eat-in bar area with a high, common table.

Of course, then, there’s a cocktail list, and of course it features house-made liquors, tonics and craft-brewed beers. I had an old-fashioned with a dose of thyme, and we ordered a dish of house-pickled vegetables off the bar menu.  The bright pickled vegetables  had something a lot of kosher restaurants fear—serious red chili heat.  I wanted another bowl.

The starters include a much-Yelped-about steak tartare with house-made mustard and  quail egg.  We ordered the Jerusalem artichoke soup, which a waiter pours over a garnish of pea shoots and yam chips.  The texture was, to be charitable, rustic–  more of a vegetable puree than a soup. But the flavor was pure and simple.

The main course choices revolve largely around cows.  Braised short ribs with polenta.  Fresh pasta with short ribs.  Lots of steaks, all simply grilled and served with fries and a house made A-1 sauce.   Other choices include sablefish, salmon, and a grilled chicken.

We ordered a 6-ounce “Eye of Rib Eye”—sounds like a clue in a pirate movie—and the chicken.  Both were easy to like—simply prepared, ample, and, in the case of the chicken, surrounded by carefully crafted cilantro coulis, chanterelles and rosemary-scented gnocchi.  

Dinner prices are about $50 per person with wine.  That’s what you’d pay for similar meal at a similar restaurant like Waterloo and City or Cooks County—meaning there’s no “kosher surcharge,” even though kosher restaurants do have built-in economic disadvantages (not open Friday night, higher meat costs, etc).

I’d go back to Ditmas—and that’s something I never said about the long list of high-end kosher places  that have opened and closed in the past.  Reznik gets it:  if there’s no sense of joy, there’s no sense in eating out, kosher or not.

In that  Reznik takes his place among new generation of chefs creating kosher in the image of Alice Waters and Richard Olney, not your bar mitzvah caterer.  West of Ditmas on Pico, Katsuji Tanabe is serving porkless but authentic Mexican street food at Mexikosher.  And east of Ditmas,  Chef Todd Aarons has taken over the “26” space.  I haven’t been there yet, but at Tierra Sur in Oxnard, Aarons demonstrated his knack for superb farm-to-table wood-fired kosher cooking.  In short, I can hardly wait to eat more kosher on Pico.

And that’s something I haven’t said for a while.

Ditmas Kitchen + Cocktails

8731 W Pico Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90035 

(310) 271-9300