July 27, 2006
Not That You Asked, But....
Everyone has a favorite Jewish spot, the place you tell all your friends about but secretly hope it stays unknown so it won't get so cool or so crowded as to lose it's truly great flavor. We asked our writers to reveal some of their favorite Jewish destinations -- to share with all of you highlights they've come across in their travels around town. Some of these were chosen because they're so unusual, some because they're so fun, and some because they're just so idiosyncratically Los Angeles.
So here's The Journal's first Our Favorite Jewish L.A., from restaurants to shopping, Judaica to museums.
Haven't I Seen You Here Before?
There is no "Best Of" when it comes to a place for meeting your soul mate: Either s/he's there, or s/he's not. Still, for sheer numbers, Friday Night Live is still the best bet, drawing about 1,000 people for their monthly service. Although the service these days doesn't bring in the same hip, young crowd as it did at its inception eight years ago, it still provides a jaunty singalong service, an inspiring speech, and some great Chinese Chicken Salad -- and the promise of finding eternal love.
Friday Night Live Sinai Temple 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 481-3244
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
The Shabbat Singles Scene -- Cozy-Style
Still, if you want a more intimate Friday night social scene and an authentic Orthodox Shabbat experience, nothing beats Dinner for 60 Strangers at Schwartzies. His official name is Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, and he and his wife Olivia open their West L.A. home to singles and couples, broken down by age groups (21-39, 40-55, general). The E-shaped tables fit more people than one might imagine, and allow for interactions between people from all walks of life, including couples who met at Schwartzies, or were married by him. Besides, there's no beating Olivia's homemade whole-wheat challah.
Naturally Kosher: A Rare Breed
It was a no-brainer for Real Food Daily to make their West Hollywood branch kosher. The organic, vegan restaurant falls into a rare category of "naturally kosher," serving no meat, no dairy and no foods with natural by-products. The kitchen had to make only a few minor changes and outsource a few kosher specialty foods to get Rabbi Yehudah Bukspan's seal of kosher approval about three years ago. So kosher keepers can now join the yogis, celebrities, trendsetters and hipsters for a Salisbury seitan steak or tempeh-based Reuben club sandwich -- dairy-free, sugar-free -- and totally guilt-free.
Real Food Daily 414 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood (310) 289-9910
-- Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer
Ventura Boulevard's Piece of Israel
Tempo is like the classic, all-in-one Israeli hangout. Part restaurant, part grill, part bar, part cafe, part music lounge, Tempo gives Angeleno Israelis a little bit of everything -- whether they're craving homemade humus and falafel; looking for Israeli covers performed by weekly bands and artists; planning a family birthday dinner or even out looking for an Israeli spouse. Since the Sharoni family opened this non-kosher cafe in 1977, more than a few couples and several marriages have come out of Tempo, and they all return to celebrate their anniversaries there. In its heyday, Tempo was the premiere social hangout for Israelis in the Valley, but these days it lacks the more trendy appeal of the European-style Tel Aviv cafes now popular in Israel. But that's okay, because that's not what Tempo is about. It's the place for more authentic, good-time, old-school Israeli fun. Thursday nights: guest artists; Tuesday night (twice a month): Israeli singalong; Friday night: traditional Shabbat dinner.
Tempo 16610 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 905-5855.
Very Middle Eastern, Very Valley
Israelis and Arabs mingle happily a t Carnival, located in a nondescript strip mall off Moorpark Street in Sherman Oaks, where every dish is huge. Look for the platters of some of the best kabob, babaghanoush, tabuleh, grape leaves and baklavah this side of Beirut. Even the service is Middle Eastern -- very slow.
Carnival 4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks (818) 784-3469
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Kosher Spot for the Man's Man
The aphorism "you don't want to see how sausage is made" doesn't hold true at Jeff's Gourmet Sausage. Watching owner Jeff Rohatiner in the midst of stuffing casing with his unique blend of meats, fruits and spices would be like getting to sit in the dugout during a Dodger game.
Choosing between Jeff's 10 sausages styles -- including Smoked Chicken Apple, Mergez, Cajun Chicken, Boerewors and Bratwurst -- becomes an order-line-stalling quandary, which I resolve by narrowing my selection to two different sandwiches, preferably on a hard roll with grilled onions. At $4.50 each it's some of the cheapest fare in Pico-Robertson, and the service is amazingly quick when compared with other joints in the oxymoronically named category of kosher fast food. But to get the full Jeff's experience, it's important to enjoy your order hot off the grill. I've cooked his pre-packed sausages in my own kitchen, and while they taste just as delicious at home the experience isn't the same. What's truly great about Jeff's is the unapologetically male vibe. It's one of the only L.A. kosher restaurants where guys can hang out and be themselves. The only thing Jeff could do to improve upon this slice of sausage heaven is serve up some pretlzes and draft beer and put on the game.
Jeff's Gourmet Sausage 8930 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 858-8590
-- Adam Wills, Associate Editor
A Brisket in John Birch's Turf
Glendale, once home to the John Birch Society and a town that until the late 1970s maintained curfews for African Americans, has since 1947 also been the home of Billy's Deli. Nestled incongruously next to a Christian bookstore, Billy's is an institution in these parts, not least because of its waitresses, zaftig Old World types, who will call you "doll face" and "sweetie" and crack jokes while taking your order. Like this one from J.D., who has the beatific countenance and cherubic cheeks of a pie baker: "If a millionaire sits on gold, who sits on silver? The Lone Ranger." Or this one from Evie, who hails from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and lives with her two dogs and 24 cats, and whose jokes tend to have a bit more of an edge: "What has an IQ of 80 and seven teeth? The front row of a Willie Nelson concert."
Yes, at Billy's, you can order your brisket and corned beef, including dips, in a nod to Phillipe's, and you can take in the black-and-white photos of 1940s Glendale, including one shot of Bob Hope, surrounded by a bevy of showgirls while holding the front page of the Glendale News-Press with the banner headline, "Bob Hope in Glendale." No doubt, Bob was making an appearance at the Alex Theater, an old movie palace just a block away. Which reminds us that Glendale may never be Pasadena with its museums and eminent university but it has an historic connection to show biz and to wisecracking dames.
Billy's Deli 216 N. Orange St., Glendale (818) 246-1689
-- Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer
The People-Watching Workout
In the shopping center at the southwest corner of La Cienega Boulevard and 18th Street, in the diverse South Robertson neighborhood, my local L.A. Fitness has the usual amenities a good gym provides -- everything from machines to weights to Kickbox Cardio -- plus perks like an indoor swimming pool, indoor basketball court and day care.
But the real delight for me is the people watching. The gym serves a community that includes Orthodox Jews, Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, Sikhs and the elderly. Mixed in with the usual muscle-head eye candy you get with your workout just about anywhere, are the sights of a Sikh gentleman working the punching bag in his turban and sweats, or an Orthodox Jewish girl wearing leggings under her long skirt and pedaling diligently on the stationary bike.
Over the sounds of hair driers and showers in the locker room comes the chatter of old ladies discussing hip replacements as they change after a water aerobics class.
These are the peop ple in my neighborhood, and I love seeing them all at my gym.
L.A. Fitness 1833 South La Cienega Blvd., Suite C, Los Angeles (310) 202-6823
-- Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer
Where Hollywood Meets Lit-Rah-Chuh
Here are some scenes from Writers Bloc, the interview series that welcomes literati and pop culture authors: Erica Jong describes sleeping with Martha Stewart's husband, prompting interviewer Jerry Stahl ("Perv -- A Love Story") to quip that he did, too. An ailing Norman Mailer struggles to stand on spindly legs, passionately shouting about his legacy. Intellectuals fight for signed copies of speaker Robert F. Kennedy's book like shoppers at a Loehmann's sale. Satiric songwriter Randy Newman disses myriad celebrities -- spurring Bloc founder Andrea Grossman to wonder if she needs an attorney.
Actually Grossman has spawned kudos, rather than lawsuits, since she started the series in her Beverly Hills kitchen nine years ago. The now 50-year-old impresario says she wanted to hear intimate conversations between authors she'd fight Los Angeles traffic to see. Early on, she snagged spy novelist John Le Carre by informing him she was such a fan she'd named her dogs after his protagonists.
Now considered one of Los Angeles' top literary venues, along with institutions such as Beyond Baroque, Bloc's spotlighted literati includes the likes of John Updike and and celebrities like Steve Martin.
Tickets are $20 -- but, hey, where else can you hear highbrow British novelist Martin Amis interview detective writer Elmore Leonard?
For information, call (310) 335-0917 or visit writersblocpresents.com.
-- Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor
What a Stitch
Stitch 'n' kvet ch. Stitch 'n' kvel. Stitch and survive four bar mitzvahs, coming away with four heirloom-quality needlepoint tallit bags and four matching atarot -- or tallit collars. It's creative, it's therapeutic and it's happening at Lani's Needlepoint in Studio City, founded and run by artist Lani Silver. The repetitive stitching motion, Lani swears, produces serotonin. And the class members tend to stick together for years, bonding and sharing resources (Who knows a good DJ?) and as well as rants (Can you believe this mother!). It's not cheap; the blank hand-painted canvasses, many of which are designed by Lani, can cost $90 to $110. Plus, there's yarn (forget perle cotton; these are beautiful metallics, silks and variegated cottons), class fees and, of course, finishing. But it's a small price to pay for a bar mitzvah gift that's Mom-made and meaningful. Talent is optional.
Lana's Needlepoint 12416 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (818) 769-2431
-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Writer
For Night Owl Shoppers
Believe it or not, one of the best places to pick up a card for a simcha is the Agoura Hills 76/Agoura Hills Car Wash on the corner of Canwood Street and Reyes Adobe Road in Agoura Hills. Located right off the 101 next to Chabad of the Conejo, the gas station (which has plenty of pumps) not only features large selection of Judaica, but boasts a coffee bar, hand car wash and large checkerboard to play with in the sitting area. And the friendly staff member behind the counter always has a smile when you check out (and sometimes spots you a penny if you are short). Warning: steer clear of Sundays if you can, when the car wash is at its busiest.
Agoura Hills 76 30245 Canwood St., Agoura Hills (818) 889-3334
-- Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer
Judaica Shop 'Til You Drop
What is it about shopping? Who hasn't shlepped through an entire museum and thought they couldn't look at one more thing only to find that extra bounce of energy upon entering the museum's gift shop. What is it about knowing that you could actually own stuff, even if you don't need it, that makes life so interesting? For beautifully designed Judaica, a sure bet is Audrey's Museum Store at the Skirball Cultural Center. My family's treasured Shabbat candlesticks came from there, but you can also find fun small gifts, great music, cards and books, including museum catalogues, of course.
Audrey's Museum Store 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 440-4505
-- Susan Freudenheim, Managing Editor
The Struggling Holocaust Museum That Could
When Rachel Jagoda arrived at The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in 2002, she says it was practically broke and she was to help shut its doors within six months. Instead, the feisty museum director, now 33, began using her considerable media savvy (and the help of her survivor-founders) to, well, survive.
The museum -- the oldest of its kind in the United States -- soon drew kudos (and news reports) for provocative events and exhibitions. It premiered a controversial show on homosexuals during the Holocaust and Tim Blake Nelson's gritty Birkenau film, "The Grey Zone."
"Zone" star David Arquette and his wife, Courtney Cox, attended the screening; showbiz bigwigs now sit on the museum's board and almost $3 million is in the coffer toward what is hoped will be a permanent home for the facility, now housed in temporary quarters at the ORT Building. Whatever the location, Jagoda says, the museum will continue to be the only Los Angeles institution that exclusively focuses on the Holocaust in an intimate setting, where admission is always free. Its shows should continue to tickle that curiosity factor: On Aug. 20, check out the premiere of a prickly new exhibition, "Neighbors Who Disappeared," about Czech students who asked mommy and daddy just where they thought their Jewish neighbors had vanished during the war.
For information, call (323) 651-3704 or visit www.lamuseumoftheholocaust.org.