Posted by Rob Eshman
I walked into Barnyard with a chip on my shoulder.
Barnyard is the new Venice restaurant from Chef Jesse Barber. It's very New Venice: farm-to-table food, hot chef with even hotter resume (Tasting Kitchen, French Laundry), local beers, wines that appear on no wine Apps, and of course a dedicated spouse carrying some part of the load (in this case, Celia Barber is the GM).
It's decorated in an Urban Farmer aesthetic-- a lot of wood and metal, but very clean, with plenty of air and space. If you're nostalgic for the old Smith and Hawken store on Beverly Drive, you'll feel right at home. We have come a long way as a culture, from when "barnyard" implied flies, manure and horsesweat, to "Barnyard" evoking an upscale, conscientious eating experience. Can Calvin Klein's "Barnyard Pour Homme" be far behind?
I liked Barnyard. The look, the food, that local beer, the tattooed waiter who seems to read more food blogs than I do. My only problem with the place was this: Memory.
I was 20 when I met Helen. I was sub-renting a studio apartment in Jim Morrison's old building on Horizon (every building nearby claimed to be Jim Morrison's old building) when I walked into a storefront just across Pacific Ave, The sign above the window said "House of Teriyaki Donuts." Inside a young Korean woman was working furiously, trying to communicate with her Latino cooks and her rock star wannabe waiter. The menu had a section for teriyaki, a section for breakfast, and, as a side order, donuts. It turns out Helen did not invent the teriyaki donut, she just ran out of room on her sign.
H.O.T. as it was called offered a breakfast special: 2 eggs, hash browns, veggie bacon, toast and coffee for $2.99. At those prices, I saw a lot of Helen.
But the money wasn't even the most amazing thing about H.O.T. The food was. The cook was an older Latino named Francisco who had worked loyally, for years, at a previous Venice institution, the Layfayette Coffee Shop at 1219 Ocean Front Walk. Lafayette thrived in the '50's and 60's, serving old Jews and Beatniks sardine sandwiches for 75 cents and its exotic "Hawaiian Club House"-- ham, pineapple ring, cheese-- for three bits as well. I would put Francisco's poached eggs right up against a French Laundry sous vide egg any day. And his hash browns were crisp-dry on the outside, moist on the inside, with edges so crunchy you could use the loose shards as toothpicks.
I liked that the same guy who cooked for Ginsberg and Morrison was cooking for me. I liked the groggy, post-high, post-sex, post poetry-jam, post-parent's money crowd that sleepwalked into the place, dining long and groggily as Helen bustled about, refilling coffee cups, whsipering good morning, taking orders. H.O.T. sustained a lot of souls.
Eventually Helen expanded to a new location, just a bit south, and H.O.T. became H.O.T II, then Benice. The name fit: it seemed to be Helen's entire philosophy. She was always just...nice.
The new place was like the old place, just bigger. Helen added avocado to the menu, and more soy meats, and I think at one point she dropped the donuts. I had married by then, and then had kids, and our family became regulars. My wife and I could chart our age by our orders there: first it was eggs and hashbrowns and coffee and donuts. Later it was one egg, a side of tomato, avocado and dry toast and decaf. Our kids started with chocolate milk and syrupy French toast, and eventually were ordering coffee and veggie burgers. While we waiting for our food, we played table football, with the jelly packets.
One day my son went out and bought one of his first meals with his own money. When he told me he ate at H.O.T. II, I thought I could hear the angels' chorus singing "Sunrise, Sunset." I almost cried.
Then, about a year ago, I heard Benice was closing. That weekend we ate a final breakfast there. Helen wasn't tearful-- she told me she was just tired. All those refills. All those orders. Enough.
She said she couldn't believe how tall our kids were-- she always said that-- and then we just said goodbye. Instantly, I missed the place.
A while later, Barnyard appeared.
What can I say? Barnyard is everything we want our restaurants to be-- thoughtful about food, careful with ingredients, casual but serious.
We ate Yellowtail Crudo, spiced with mustard seed, sparkling fresh and local. The grilled bread is also local, a tall stack served with a strawberry compote and fresh butter. The fish of the day was sea bass, perfectly poached and served with avocado and a light cilantro and chili-inflected sauce. Barber also serves what he calls Pilota. The only pilota I've seen is a kind of risotto with pork and butter and cheese, but Barber makes his with fresh tomato, peas, and pecorino, with a balsamic-rich stock. It's high-end vegetarian comfort food.
All this food, for four, with a couple glasses of wine, cost $189. It's not expensive for what it is-- you'll pay the same for that quality anywhere in L.A.-- but, newsflash, in the New Venice, a meal for $2.99 is as easy to find as a home for $299,000.
Now here's where I mourn the memory of things past: the way Helen greeted every guest as they walk in (Barber? He's that quiet dude in the kitchen). I miss a place I can pop into without thinking twice, knowing it will just hit the spot, nothing fancy but good and cheap. I miss seeing the parade of locals, because everyone, from the homeless panhandler to the surfer chicks to the walk-street producer, could afford Benice. I miss Francisco's poached eggs. I miss being able to think back all the way to Lafayette Cafe. I miss the endless refills.
Mostly, I guess, I miss watching my kids grow up.
1715 Pacific Ave, Venice, CA 90291
NOTE: Barnyard is not kosher. But it is Foodaism-recommended.
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July 17, 2013 | 3:22 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Every two years, the Culinary Institute of America hosts its World of Flavors conference in its castle-like Napa Valley compound.
Some of the planet’s best chefs show up, along with food purveyors from across the globe, and the endless meals, spread out in a massive hall lined with wine casks the size of Spanish galleons, each revolve around a single educational theme, so that the attendees — institutional food vendors, manufacturers, restaurant chains, journalists — can deepen their understanding about one aspect of food, and in turn use that knowledge to impress, entice and engorge you, the ever-hungry consumer.
Last year’s subject: spices.
I went — first, because I knew I would get to eat some of the world’s best food and wine in the company of great chefs over two crisp fall days in Napa, and second, because the World of Flavors is a stealth United Nations. It quietly, consistently, draws chefs from countries and cultures that otherwise are in conflict, if not active warfare. I scanned the roster and found chefs straight from, or originally from, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and, yes, Israel.
World of Flavors is a kind of chefs sans frontiers, where cooks come to cook and learn from other cooks—and they bat away questions about politics from people like me. It’s a cliché—but one that I never get tired of-- that food can break barriers. But in Napa, I actually began to see how, and it had exactly to do with the subject of this particular conference.
Chefs from Italy, Sri Lanka, Iran and Israel, divided by culture, religion, distance, and even by cuisine, nevertheless all share a common language -- spices.
It turns out those fragrant ingredients haven’t just inspired cooks, they have shaped history and culture. We are the beneficiaries of an ancient spice trade that started millennia ago, with no concern for modern borders. The arc of flavor began in the far-off, exotic spice-producing countries and spread to Europe, China and the New World.
Not that the process was always pretty. The Dutch decided to take over the West Indies clove and nutmeg trade, and in doing so massacred entire islands full of people. The Spaniards plundered tropical America and returned to Europe with chilis and chocolate.
But the upshot was the beginnings of Tom Friedman’s flat world. Most of the world’s basil, which is indigenous to India, now comes from Egypt’s Nile River valley. Most herbs come from the Mediterranean, home to 17 species of oregano. Dutch food is inflected with Indonesian spices.
“The ramifications of the spice trade are that the world came together through food,” according to Michael Krondl, author of “The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice,” who was a featured speaker at the conference.
On the second floor of the CIA’s Greystone headquarters, a historic castle-like property in St. Helena, chefs from around world took over the stations of a gleaming, cavernous kitchen and proved Krondl’s point, dish by dish.
I was most curious, for obvious reasons, about the Middle Eastern chefs. I wandered over to demonstrations by cookbook author Joan Nathan and the Israeli chef Erez Komarovsky.
"From Thailand to Israel every dish begins with onion, garlic, and chili,”Komarovsky said.
For a dish of baby cauliflower stuffed with lamb, he added spoonfuls of cumin, cinnamon and clove, all of which he ground by hand. The room filled with fragrance.
Fragrance, rare and familiar, was everywhere. Singaporean Indian chef/author Devagi Sanmugam brought kapok blossoms and stone flower, a lichen that grows inside wells, from Singapore. Musa Dagdeviren—the Turkish Emeril Lagasse-- made a lamb and eggplant dish flavored with cumin, lamb fat—loads of it -- a slab of butter and a sun-dried Turkish chili called marash. Marash, mark my words, will be the chipotle of 2014.
In another room, Khulood Atiq, one of the first professional female chefs in the United Arab Emirates, was preparing a typical Emirati spice blend: dried lemon, cumin, coriander, and fennel. Outside, Moroccan chef Mourad Lahlou prepared a rub for lamb shoulder: saffron and cumin blended with soft butter.
“In Morocco,” he said, “food and cooking is about memories, looking back more than looking forward.”
Back inside, Yotam Ottolenghi, chef and author of the best-selling “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” made a kind of shakshouka with ground lamb and harissa — yes, there was a lot of lamb everywhere — while chef Greg Malouf, whose family is Lebanese, looked on, and traded notes.
As the dishes piled up, the conflicts that bedevil cultures seemed to whither under the relentless sensual assault of fragrance and flavor. The chefs ran from their own classes to taste dishes prepared by their fellow chefs.
I stood beside a Thai chef as we sampled Djerba chef Abderrazak Haouari’s chickpea sous vide egg, harissa, olives, capers and croutons. It was the best breakfast dish you’ve never heard of. “I want to hug him,” the Thai chef said.
Spices, so often acquired in conflict, now serve as a bridge among cultures. If only we all understood what chefs do: It would be a dull world, indeed, without the strange, the new, the different.
“You almost think,” Ottolenghi said, “a little lemon juice would solve all the world’s problems.”
Read my last column on the 2009 conference here.
There is a ridiculously small fee ($7.99) to watch the videos from the conference. They are 1000 times more educational than the Food Network. The link is here.
Chef Abderrazak Haouari uses this Djerban version of harissa on sous vide eggs, served with chickpeas, capers, croutons and olives. It is brick red and warmly hot: great with fish, eggplant, chicken.
Makes 1/2 cup.
1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
Pinch of turmeric
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cinnamon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
In a shallow bowl, toss the onion slices with the turmeric and salt. Cover the onion with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet until hot to the touch. Add the anchos and chipotles and toast over moderate heat, pressing lightly with a spatula until the chiles are very pliable and fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the chiles to a work surface and let cool completely, then tear them into 1-inch pieces. In a spice grinder, coarsely grind the chiles.
Drain the onion slices in a strainer, pressing hard to extract as much liquid as possible. Transfer the onions to a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the ground chiles, coriander, caraway, pepper and cinnamon and process to a paste. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil and puree until fairly smooth.
The harous can be refrigerated for up to 6 months.
July 12, 2013 | 11:35 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Last night after seeing a movie at what seems to be the cultural center of West Los Angeles Jewish life — the Landmark Theatres at the Westside Pavilion — we walked over to the new Lenny's Deli.
Lenny's filled the void left by Juniors — and I'm talking about a literal void. Juniors was 11,000 square feet of real estate at the corner of Westwood and Pico Blvd. For 53 years it served as bakery, deli counter, restaurant, meeting place and all-around noshery for LA Jews. As Michael Aushenker reported in the Jewish Journal, when Juniors abruptly announced it would shut it doors on Dec. 31, 2012, one regular summed up the feeling of generations of custimers by calling the news, "horrific."
Then Lenny Rosenberg rode into town.
Actually, Lenny is a pretty familiar face: he owned the Bagel Nosh in Beverly Hills, and tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the cursed Morts space in the Pacific Palisades. The latter effort foundered for reasons that have more to do with that stretch of property, and the internecine battles over retail in the Palisades. As restauraneurs from Danny Myers to Joe Bastianich will tell you, a successful restaurant's fate depends as much on the location and the lease as it does on the chef. Maybe more.
Lenny took over the Juniors space. He hired back almost all of the deli's 100 laid-off workers. He updated the menu with more organic foods, vegetarian and healthy options and even put in the now standard line about using local ingredients whenever possible. That means, I think, the kishke comes from Sherman Oaks.
We ate at the late Juniors about a month before it closed, and frankly, you could tell it was a deli in the fourth stage of a terminal illness. The deli counter looked like it had been lifted from Communist Poland, the wait staff moped, the food tasted of salt and apathy.
Lenny Rosenberg has revived the place. It's not called Juniors any more. It's called Lenny's.
At 10 pm, many tables in the cavernous space were full. The place itself was remodeled — new upholstery, new floors — not retro Lower East Side like the delicious, hipster Wise and Sons in San Francisco, just functional, pre-modern San Fernando Valley circa-1990.
The menu is vast and traditional. My wife's lox and bagels was very good, my kids ate their meaty meat things — pastrami, corned beef, etc — and liked it. The sandwiches are of the piled high variety, and come with cole slaw. I ordered my usual late night deli treat: grilled swiss on rye with Dijon mustard, sauerkraut and tomato. I told Lenny it's a vegetarian Reuben. My son wondered why, with five pages of food on offer, I had to order off the menu.
I had wine from a good selection. The kids had egg creams, which were delicious. We almost ordered the kishke, but this is 2013, and there's only so much Lipitor I can take.
The food was absolutely good. Much better than good in the case of the lox, my sandwich and the egg creams and the homemade rugalach. While Juniors had become a regular let down, Lenny's, I think, will now be a pleasant surprise.
Lenny came over to say hi — he knows me from the Journal. The man is working hard, hard to make Lenny's succeed. He's back to running a bakery, a deli counter, a restaurant and a catering outfit. He instituted actual Shabbat services in a meeting room at the rear of the place. He looks exhausted, but driven. He's also thin as a rail, which ordinarily I would think disqualifies you as a deli owner, but in his case is probably just the delightful side effects of stress and overwork.
But Lenny's does work. The booths are back to being filled with the mishmash tureen of film-goers, hipsters, Persian Jews, seniors and soccer families that used to fill Juniors. Not every foot of the 11,000 suare feet is teaming, but if Lenny can hold out, maybe he'll get there. I hope so.
Because it's good to have a deli on the corner of Westwood and Pico.