Posted by Rob Eshman
Yesterday I had lunch with Chef Kastuji Tanabe, the Japanese-Mexican-Catholic chef at Shilo’s Steak House, a fine dining kosher restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Shilo’s for years—the last time I went was Christmas, 2007—and it was expensive, bland, derivative—you know, kosher.
But the new chef is a half-Japanese, half-Mexican Catholic wunderkind who is innovating his way into kosher greatness. Consider our lunch.
(Pause for full disclosure: my lunch was fully comped. Chef Tanabe is going to start blogging for us at jewishjournal.com, and wI showed up at his restaurant to discuss the blog with the chef and our Web Director Jay Firestone. I didn’t intend to write about the food—but someone has to.)
The chef makes a Blue Cheese Bacon Burger using fresh ground beef, home-cured kosher beef “bacon” (using the same navel cut as is used for pastrami), homemade sesame buns, carmelized onions and a “blue cheese” made without any faux-soy. I pressed him for how he makes it, and he told me, off the record. It was surperb—better than the same gastropub burder at Father’s Office, which uses an overpowering amount of Cabrales.
Tanabe is a compact, intense young man. Absolutely dedicated to his craft, and enjoying the challenge of cooing within kosher’s strict requirement after training at Codon Bleu and cooking at Bastide and other high end treyf-aterias. He is a native of Mexico City, and he knows from big flavors. While he understands his conservative clientele stick to the restaurant’s signature steaks, he innovates in the hors d’oeuvres and dessert portions of the menu, veering toward the flavors of South and Central America.
For tacos “Cochinito”—it’s Spanish for young pig—he marinates kosher flank steak and braises it for hours, until the citrus and spice permeate the shreds of meat. He serves it with a homemade pickled onion relish and a homemade citrus habenero sauce. No pigs were harmed in the making of this taco. It was juicy and alive. I wanted three more.
He makes a spaghetti with botarga—dried mullet roe— that is positively heroic in challenging kosher palates—and almost as good as the one at Drago’s.
Tanabe reminds me in all the right ways of Chef Todd Aarons at Tierra Sur—young innovative kosher chefs, trained outside of kosher kitchens, who are determined to bring the best quality seasonal, local and handmade foods into their menus. Interesting that the prime contributors to the improvement of kosher food are people who know from treyf.
Shilo’s Kosher Steak House
8939 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Chef Tanabe made a Tuna Thai Tempura Matzo Ball Sup for our Chosen Dish video contest. You can watch it here.
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August 5, 2010 | 2:38 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
It took 19 years, but I finally got my wife into a sleeping bag.
For our entire marriage, we both accepted the fact that, “Naomi doesn’t camp.” It was just one of those fundamental truths, like, “Rob doesn’t fold laundry,” and “Israel doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Naomi is Brooklyn born and raised, 15th Avenue, to be exact. If a tree ever grew in that part of Boro Park, surely no one ever thought to pitch a tent under it.
But things change. Last Shabbat, eager to escape the city but lacking an entire free weekend, I suggested to Naomi that we head up to Angeles National Forest with our daughter Noa and pitch a tent. One night at 6500 feet, I reasoned, is like two nights at sea level. Naomi said yes.
Buckhorn Campground is 115 minutes away from Venice, California—and a world apart. There are 38 drive-up sites, piped water and vault toilets. It’s not the Four Seasons, but it isn’t the stuff of Jon Krakauer books, either.
Angeles Forest has had a rough decade. It suffers from smog, fire, invasive beetles, drought and having the misfortune of being next to the second largest city in North America. The 2009 Station Fire left many acres charred and lunar-like—some will take years to grow back, some, TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis told me, never will on their own. (You can learn more and lend a hand at by clicking here).
But Buckhorn remains spectacular. Towering cedars and firs line the Burkhardt Trail down to Cooper Canyon, where a perennial stream creates tranquil pools and crashing falls. Naomi was impressed. The OFF worked magic.
I made Friday night dinner over a campfire, using dry oak logs I carted from home. Teva-brand steaks from Trader Joes, Yukon Gold potatoes wrapped in foil and plunked in the flames, and some sliced shitake mushrooms and garlic sautéed on our camp stove. Naomi has Shabbat paraphernalia for every occasion. She produced a dual tea-candle holder, a travel-sized silver kiddush cup, and a challah. We recited the blessingss. Whatever apprehensions Naomi had about bugs, bears, dust and—especially—vault toilets, dissipated into the clean mountain air like the sounds of the Shabbat songs we sang.
Dinner tasted great—I had long ago learned that as long as you bring good olive oil, salt and red wine, you’re going to eat well anywhere. Naomi has her spiritual necessities, I have mine.
Afterwards, the stars appeared, wiping away all trace of the work week. Around the campfire, our daughter Noa invented a game called, “Stop/Start.” The idea was to announce what you want to stop doing in your life, and what you want to start doing. We played a few rounds, and I realized that Noa, in her wise-beyond-her-years way, had brought us to the brink of the High Holy Days, when prayer and introspection are meant to do just that: Get us to make changes in our lives. It is difficult work, never as simple as just stopping and starting, but each new year is a new chance to do just that—to be the person we want to be, to do what we need to do, to do what we have never done. Like, say, go camping.
A video I shot of some falls in Cooper Canyon:
Below is video of the drive in to Buckhorn Campground:
A Photo Slideshow: