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Cool, Hot and Jewish

July 2, 2009 | 3:49 am

It’s tough to resist the temptation of calling this list “The Best of Jewish L.A.” Plenty of publications and Web sites anoint restaurants, products and people with the hallowed “best of” label. We don’t go in for such hype.

Instead, our writers and editors weigh in about what they like in the community, from kosher-friendly fro-yo to a venue that draws numerous Israeli musicians. The choices reflect not only the varied tastes of our staff, but also the great diversity of L.A. Jewish life. What are some of your favorite things about Jewish L.A.? E-mail us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and let us know.


New Twists on Challah
For most of us, challah is a weekly staple, predictable and not particularly interesting. There are the familiar additions of raisins or chocolate chips, but the game tends to stay the same, week to week: soft, sweet egg bread in the familiar golden braid. Got Kosher? a cafe, catering company and kosher wholesaler, offers some new twists on the old favorite with a variety of gourmet challahs, spicing up their loaves with everything from turmeric and macadamia nuts to fennel and salt. Perhaps the best version is the simplest: pretzel challah (above), which comes with a dark, delicious pretzel crust that gives way to the same beloved eggy goodness inside. The exterior is firm but not crunchy and the interior is deliciously moist — which is good, because change is always exciting but the classics are the classics for a reason. Got Kosher? 8914 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 858-1920. gotkosherinc.com.
— Alexandra Romanoff, Contributing Writer


Jerusalem Cafe Life in L.A.
If Aroma is like a taste of Tel Aviv, then Nana Restaurant and Café is a taste of Jerusalem, straight off Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony — Jerusalem’s equivalent of Melrose Avenue — lined with European and American-style kosher cafes vying for the patronage of American yeshiva students and Orthodox tourists.

Nana opened last January in Pico-Robertson and has all the trappings of a typical nouveau-trendy Israeli cafe: Israeli servers, a fresh Israeli-Mediterranean menu (hummus, burekas, bagel toasts — it’s all there), a wide-open patio, a fancy espresso machine and Israeli music playing in the background — but unlike Aroma, all dishes are certified kosher dairy. Nana Restaurant and Café, 1509 S. Robertson Blvd., (310) 407-0404.
— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer


Where to Eat KosherThat Tastes Like Treif
Katsuji Tanabe, executive chef of Shilo’s Steakhouse, may not make the best matzah ball soup (judges of the Passover episode of “The Chosen Dish,” The Journal’s online kosher cooking contest, didn’t pick his Tuna Thai Tempura Matzah Ball Soup), but if you want glatt kosher beef ribs that closely resemble pork baby back ribs, he’s your man.

Asking Tanabe to create traditional and predictable kosher food is like asking an Orthodox rabbi to taste shrimp. It’s simply not in his mixed Jewish-Mexican-Japanese blood. The watchful eye of Shilo’s mashgiach (kosher supervisor), coupled with doctor’s orders to reduce cholesterol intake, have forced the former chef at Maestro’s Steakhouse and Houston’s to create kosher substitutes for his favorite decadent treif foods. Adhering to the talmudic adage that for every non-kosher food there exists a kosher food with the same taste, he concocted “scallops” made of Chilean sea bass and bacon burgers using “bacon” made of sliced beef belly cured in brown sugar and hickory smoke. But his attempt at “kosher” escargot didn’t tempt his kosher-keeping colleagues, so it didn’t make the menu.

Now he’s working on a pareve form of caviar so it can be served with meat — using horseradish. Shilo’s Steakhouse, 8939 Pico Blvd., (310) 858-1652. shilosrestaurant.com.
— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer


Drink Up Israel’s Cool ‘Nana’
The name sounds more like a child’s taunt than a delicious and refreshing beverage, but don’t let that stop you from ordering a limonana at some point this summer. The drink is basically standard lemonade blended with crushed ice and tons of fresh mint (nana is Hebrew for mint, hence the name). Sweet and cool and very, very green, limonana is the Middle East’s answer to the American tradition of summer lemonade. It’s available at Aroma Bakery and Café, which has locations in Encino and Hollywood, and at Nana Restaurant and Café on Robertson Boulevard.
— Alexandra Romanoff, Contributing Writer


Where Jews Change Money on Shabbat
The poker tables at Hollywood Park Casino only seat nine players, but on plenty of Friday nights any given table is only a few short of a minyan.

With so much money-changing and passing poker chips back and forth, the scene at Hollywood Park is not generally a place for the pious — though the occasional Chasid can be found playing no-limit during the week. And Inglewood hasn’t been a place that large numbers of Jews have called home in half a century.

But every Friday night, the casino that now accompanies the old Hollywood Turf Club, founded by Jack Warner and a handful of other Jewish Hollywood heavy hitters, bustles with Jews more comfortable with playing poker than lighting Shabbat candles.

Most are amateurs. All are following a proud tradition of Jewish poker legends like Stu Ungar, Barry Greenstein, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.

“Like Talmudists,” Bradford R. Pilcher wrote in a 2006 article about Jewish poker pros for American Jewish Life, “these players parse out the best hands and the surest odds to a profitable turn of the cards and speak as if they were advanced rabbinic sages in language mere mortals can’t fathom.” Hollywood Park Casino, 3883 W. Century Blvd., (310) 330-2800. playhpc.com.
— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer


A Hip, Half-Jewish-Owned Supper Club
Foxtail on Santa Monica Boulevard offers a throwback to 1930s glamour, where dinner and dancing occur in the same swanky place. It invites the kind of evening where long gowns and deep pockets are the fix, and nobody cares what time it is. The producers of this party are six men, half of them Jewish, all of them Hollywood: Nightlife impresarios Sam Nazarian and Brent Bolthouse came up with the idea of teaming up with a hard-partying coterie of entertainment forces — director Brett Ratner, NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, producer Scott Stuber and William Morris Entertainment agent Patrick Whitesell — to create their ideal playpen. It’s an art deco, multi-level non-kosher supper club, where lithe starlets can snack on both quail eggs and cocktails. The stargazing is best downstairs in the marble dining room, but the star grinding happens upstairs in the thumping dance club. Oh, and, as far as we know, all the Jewish owners are bachelors. Foxtail, 9077 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 859-8369. sbeent.com/foxtail.
— Danielle Berrin, Staff Writer


Where Hollywood Jews Get Ahead
Let’s face it: The Jews who run Hollywood don’t generally hang out at synagogue. But that doesn’t mean they’re averse to community membership. One trip to the Writers Guild of America West and you’ll quickly realize it’s full of bar mitzvah boys. Over the past decade alone, four Oscar-winning screenwriters have been Jews: Akiva Goldsman, who worked with fellow heeb Brian Grazer on “A Beautiful Mind”; Charlie Kaufman, the quirky brain behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; Ronald Harwood, born Ronald Horwitz, who gave the world reason to discover Adrien Brody in “The Pianist”; and Joel and Ethan Coen — a.k.a. The Coen Brothers — who adapted a Cormac McCarthy novel devoid of any Jewish content for “No Country for Old Men.” If the WGA just ain’t how you daven, there’s always the Directors Guild of America, where some guy named Spielberg belongs.
— Danielle Berrin, Staff Writer


Kosher Fro-Yo With The Works
Toppings, a serve-yourself yogurt bar in Beverly Hills, brings sweet solace to the chronically indecisive who want a little of everything, as well as the resolutely decisive who know exactly what they want. With 13 flavors of frozen yogurt and around 40 toppings sold by the ounce, the 7-month-old establishment has become a magnet for kosher consumers looking to perfect idiosyncratic dessert creations.

The always-pleasant owners, Jay and Nanette Navas, are not Jewish, but research led them to the kosher audience. A few months after opening their whimsically decorated store on Robertson Boulevard, right on the border between hip Paris Hilton territory and the Pico kosher corridor, Toppings got kosher certification from Kosher Los Angeles, covering all its yogurts, toppings, Belgian waffles and specialty drinks. Other yogurt bars, such as the Yogurtland franchise (yogurt-land.com/) and Menchies (menchies.com), with 10 locations in Southern California, also carry many products that are kosher, giving kosher consumers a chance to enjoy a moderately nutritious treat and a creative outlet. Toppings Yogurt, 349 S. Robertson Blvd., (310) 652-6455. toppingsyogurt.com.
— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Senior Writer


Good Place to Find Ari Emanuel at Lunch
Having orchestrated the thorny merger between William Morris Agency and Endeavor, Ari Emanuel’s new job as CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment comes with an address change, which also means — a new lunch spot. In the past, Morris agents had only to walk down William Morris Way for a reserved table at The Beverly Wilshire’s The Blvd, where salmon salad was the dish du jour. But that was then. With the new company relocating a few blocks away, Emanuel might prefer Spago, where gold Osetra caviar is followed by sautéed thick-cut calf’s liver. Of course, nothing beats The Grill on the Alley, a Hollywood power-lunch hotspot where deals are made almost as frequently as the braised short ribs.
— Danielle Berrin, Staff Writer


Decorate ‘Mad Men’ Style
Want to redecorate your home or office with Don Draper-like executive panache? That 1960s cocktail-style the Boomers thought was behind them (and that Gen X found kitschy at Bubbe and Zayde’s place — think “Swingers”) is available again at Bar Keeper in Silver Lake. The shop, which owner Joe Keeper calls a “head shop for drinkers,” is a vintage barware and glassware supplier for the critically acclaimed TV show “Mad Men.” While he carries a dizzying array of bar tools, the only thing bottled you’ll find there is aromatic bitters. Keeper, whose family surname was Kriepe before Ellis Island, is a former reality TV producer who gave it all up three years ago to become a shopkeeper. The son of an architect-turned-Yiddish teacher, he’s also the only one of eight siblings to become a bar mitzvah. Bar Keeper, 3910 W. Sunset Blvd., (323) 669-1675. barkeepersilverlake.com.
— Adam Wills, Senior Editor


Hot Stage forIsraeli Rock Stars
Mashina pounded its floors, Shalom Hanoch rasped from its heights, Hadag Nachash had its walls bumpin’, and just several weeks ago Ivri Lider crooned atop the stage of the legendary nightclub and concert venue in the heart of Hollywood. Avalon’s 1,200-person-capacity main room, with its historic Palace theater opulence and top-of-the-line lighting and sound systems, regularly hosts the crème de la crème of Israeli musicians — those who can draw crowds willing to contend with Hollywood traffic and pay $20 to park to see them perform. Israeli concertgoers are not of the sit-and-sway variety, and Avalon’s spacious standing-room-only dance floor is ideal for dancing, flinging your arms, jumping and diving for made-in-Israel swag. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 467-4571. avalonhollywood.com.
— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer


Yoga in Hebrew for the Whole Family
Your kid doesn’t have to walk or even talk yet to join you in the Happy Yoga Mommy & Me classes offered at MATI Israeli Cultural Center in West Hills. Newborns, toddlers and children 5 and up can start learning how to stretch, pose and meditate in a class that takes traditional Yoga teachings and adapts them to the less-than-Zen-like demographic by incorporating gymnastics, storytelling, games, music and acting. The benefits to baby and adult alike: flexibility, strength, coordination, relaxation and calm. And unique, perhaps, to this yoga class: Hebrew lessons. You may only learn how to say “downward facing dog,” but it’s a start. MATI, JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3322. maticenter.com.
— Dikla Kadosh, Contributing Writer


The Mellifluous Voice of American Jewish University
When University of Judaism became American Jewish University in 2007, its genteel voice answering phones — receptionist Tova Bidney — was replaced by a pre-recorded greeting that sounded like Mr. Moviefone on Quaaludes.

“A lot of people complained about the message,” Bidney said. So within weeks she was back greeting callers in her West London accent: “Thank you for calling American Jewish University…. ”

Bidney has been on the phone frontline at the university since December 1984. Hailing from Bayswater, near Hyde Park, she studied dressmaking and traveled to New York in the 1960s to work in the garment industry. After she married a fellow Brit and moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s to be near family, she got a job with the switchboard crew at Sears, but then landed on the sales floor.

“I was so upset. I loved being on the phone talking with people,” Bidney said.

Around that time, one of her cousins, who worked at Camp Ramah, told her the University of Judaism had an opening for an operator. She was hired on the spot.

Bidney said she’s watched the Familian campus in Bel Air grow, and she delights in meeting the students and watching them blossom. Celebrating 25 years with the university this year, Bidney now has her own office on the third floor. She’s met her share of celebrities through the university’s lecture series (her favorites: Kirk Douglas and Elie Wiesel). “I enjoy working here,” Bidney said. “It’s not that big of a job, but it has been a joy meeting people and interacting with the students.” AJU, (310) 476-9777.
— Adam Wills, Senior Editor


Antiquarian Science Fiction
Got a childhood sci-fi or fantasy book you’d like to see on your shelf again? Chances are Barry R. Levin has it in its first edition and, possibly, autographed. Prepare to be overwhelmed when you walk into his eponymous antiquarian bookshop in Santa Monica — 36 years worth of collecting has brought in not only sci-fi/fantasy books, but also art, photos and even a few film props. Levin caters to those who can afford to indulge their nostalgia — prices start at $65 and average in the thousands. And while he says the economy has cut traffic at his shop, whose Web site includes b’siyata dishamaya (with God’s help) at the top, Levin has been doing well enough to launch his own feature-film production company recently — Science Fiction Fantasy Film Inc. (sfffilms.com). Barry R. Levin Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature. 720 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 458-6111. raresf.com.
— Adam Wills, Senior Editor


Film Screenings — For All
To avoid the monsters and mayhem onscreen at the multiplex this summer, check out some of L.A.’s preview series — like Reel Talk With Stephen Farber, or the KCET Westside Cinema Series — where you can see indies, foreign films and the occasional classy studio flick (and, in the case of KCET, support public television at the same time). Upcoming fare will include the hit Sundance satire “In the Loop,” with James Gandolfini, and the highly anticipated romance “(500) Days of Summer,” starring the nice Jewish L.A.-based actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems poised for stardom with “(500) Days” and “G.I. Joe,” both arriving this summer. Gordon-Levitt will attend the KCET screening of “(500) Days” on July 7. For KCET series information, call (323) 953-5800; for Reel Talk, visit landmarktheatres.com.
— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts and Entertainment Editor


Great Jewish Historical Archive
Besides cowboys and Indians, the Wild West had its share of really colorful and enterprising members of the tribe, whose exploits are recorded in the special collections department of UCLA’s Young Research Library. Recently added is the Western States Jewish History Archive, compiled by the late Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, a treasure trove for dedicated history buffs. (310) 825-2422. library.ucla.edu/specialcollections/researchlibrary.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Learning With the Great Minds — For Free
Los Angeles is blessed with two of the finest Jewish study centers in the nation, which offer free lectures, symposia and exhibits throughout the school year by some of the best academic brains in the United States, Israel and Europe.

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies (310-825-5387, cjs.ucla.edu) roams the entire Jewish world. USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life (213-740-3405, casdeninstitute.usc.edu) focuses mainly on the United States.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

 

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