Kosher consumerism just went up a notch in Los Angeles, with a handful of new shops whose contemporary decor and top-quality products prove that the kosher eye and palate is as discriminating as any other. From imported chocolates to hot dogs that go pop, from Hawaiian fish to scones and tea, Los Angeles can now begin to take its proper place among the kosher capitals of the world. What follows is Part One, a rundown of what's new in L.A. kosher food. Part Two will appear in next week's Business section.
Like a Kid in a Candy Shop
Munchies Sweet Emporium, a candy shop and soda fountain, opened its doors last month on Pico, a couple blocks west of Robertson. The smell of fresh waffle cones and rich chocolate hangs lightly in the air, and the peaches-and-cream tile and walls are a subtle backdrop to the real decor: wall-to-wall candy. One side of the immaculate and spacious store is lined with 240 glossy bins dispensing nuts, dried fruit, gourmet coffees, and candies of all shapes and sizes - 3-inch jaw breakers, chocolate-covered everything, bubblegum baseballs, Sweet Tart miniature pacifiers and candy Legos, marzipan fruit shapes, and a full rainbow of jelly beans and gum drops.
Chaya and Gagy Shagalow, along with their partners, Dena and Steve Vojdany, have scoured the world for these candies, bringing them in from all over the country, as well as Italy, Mexico and Belgium.
"The community didn't have anything like this, and we felt it could use it," says Chaya, a registered nurse who spent much of her childhood in her parents' pharmacy and soda fountain. Plus, she says, "we are social people, and we wanted a place where people could be creative, where we could treat our customers like guests."
Dena lends her creative talent to custom-pack baskets, ceramic or crystal dishes, and novelty containers - pianos, baby shoes, oversize champagne flutes. The custom packages, as well as some prepacked trays, come in almost any size or price range, from a house gift for a Shabbos host to an elaborate gift basket. Munchies hopes also to supply weddings and Bar Mitzvahs with novelty party favors.
Behind the counter, Steve and Gagy - who brings with him eight years of restaurant experience - preside over the ice cream, made fresh on the premises in dairy and pareve varieties. On a frozen slab of granite, toppings are cut into the creamy gelato, adding an element of entertainment to a family outing. There are floats and shakes, hand-dipped caramel and English toffee apples, cappuccinos and a handful of tables and chairs outside at which to enjoy them.
Chaya hopes the place will become a hangout, which is why Munchies will be open till 11 p.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. Saturday nights.
"We wanted to create a store that was welcoming for kids and adults, at a price they could afford," Gagy says. "We want to be a neighborhood hangout, a community spot."
Judging from the row of minivans parked outside last Sunday, Munchies is already a sweet and savory destination.
Munchies Sweet Emporium at 8859 W. Pico Blvd. is under the rabbinic supervision of Kehilla Kosher, (310) 777-0221.
Live From New Yawk
It may be opening later this month smack in the middle of Pico, but there won't be a bit of California to mar the truly New York experience of eating at this glatt kosher Nathan's, the hot dog shrine of Coney Island. Tofu and sprouts, after all, don't mix well with Philly steak sandwiches, fried chicken, grilled burgers, and of course, Nathan's world-famous hot dogs - the official hot dog of Yankee Stadium, by the way.
"These hot dogs have to be grilled on a special grill that cooks them at three different temperatures, so it has the proper pop when you bite into it," says Barry Sytner, who owns the fast food restaurant with Eugene Brennan.
Oh, and don't get him started on the french fries. A specially bred potato will be shipped in directly from Maine, and they will be peeled, cut and fried on the premises - none of this frozen stuff for the Nathan's franchise, which sends out surprise inspectors to ensure compliance with its many specifications.Sytner says New York transplants - whether recent like himself, or those who have been here for decades - have already been pounding on the still-locked door.
Nathan's in L.A., under Kehilla Kosher supervision, will be the fourth kosher restaurant in the worldwide franchise, along with two in Israel and one in Brooklyn.
And Brooklyn won't feel far from L.A. in this '50s-style restaurant on Pico (the original home of Nagila Pizza); the famous Coney Island amusement park where the first Nathan's opened in 1916 is painted and lit up on hand-carved wood that lines the walls.
Hot dog carts will be available for catering, and there will be Shabbos take out, too. And, says Sytner, New York hours for a New York restaurant - 11 to 11 weekdays, till 1 a.m. Saturday nights.Nathan's is located at 9216 W. Pico Blvd. near Glenville, 310-273-0303.
Fishing For Compliments
If you thought the kosher seafood experience was limited to trout, halibut, salmon and the occasional ahi steak, visit Fishland on Olympic and Palm in Beverly Hills, where fresh New Zealand John Dory and loup de mer from France await the daring chef.
Simy and Philippe Levy, along with Simy's brother, Felix Fhima, opened the gourmet store in July, expanding their downtown wholesale business to meet the retail needs of the Westside community. The French family supplies fish to restaurants, including some kosher establishments, throughout the area."We had a lot of customers who came downtown and wanted their fish cut with our kosher knives," says Simy, who runs the store. "We had so many requests to open a place on the Westside, so we did."
Fishland sells non-kosher seafood as well, but don't let the shrimp and mollusks turn you away. The kosher selection is kept on a separate counter, cleaned and cut with separate knives, and refrigerated separately, all under the supervision of Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen.
And Fishland, stocked to be a one-stop dinner shop, also carries a variety of other kosher gourmet items, such as pastas, French cheese, caviar and desserts.
Fishland is located at 9150 Olympic Blvd., 310-271-2553.