There are about 70 kosher restaurants in Los Angeles.
The New York Times article on kosher dining in Los Angeles mentions four of them. Why? Who knows? Maybe the writer, Jennifer Medina, had a limited expense account. Maybe she doesn’t drive, so she could only go to the places within a few blocks (let’s say she has uncomfortable shoes, too). Maybe the New York Times figures, Hey, it’s LA, who cares?
The article, which appears in the Oct. 10, 2012, Dining & Wine section, is entitled, “Los Angeles Kosher: Beyond Corned Beef and a Knish.” You might assume what follows is a definitive, Times-esque journey through, well, kosher Los Angeles.
We learn about Mexikosher—we spend a lot of time at Mexikosher. Katsuji Tanabe’s fusion of Mexican, kosher and a bit of Asian cuisine really does stand out. I long ago wrote that in a just world Tanabe's habanero orange salsa would replace ketchup. The Mexico City born non-Jewish Tanabe, who first learned kosher cooking at Shilo's, is a genuine kosher star.
Medina smartly, rightly singles him out. She also enjoys Kabab Mahaleh, an authentic if standard Persian kebab house, Haifa, a stalwart Israeli joint, and a newish place called Beverly Hills Thai.
The way she justifies such a short list is by making the claim that LA’s kosher restaurant mirrors its exceptional ethnic dining scene.
Hmm. Are there Mexican kosher restaurants in New York? Four. Are there Thai kosher restaurants in New York? Two. Persian kosher in New York? At least six, including the renowned Colbeh. How do I know Colbeh is renowned? Because I read about it in the New York Times.
I won’t even bother asking how an Israeli place like Haifa, which does have good food, qualifies as ethnic in the context of kosher.
So, if a handful of ethnic kosher restaurants does not set LA’s kosher dining scene apart from New York’s, or any other city’s, what does?
Places come and go faster than a low-rated sitcom. A place like La Seine, headed by a tattooed Top Chef, featuring pitch-perfect cocktails, sushi, sous vide short ribs and Saturday night jazz—flared up and flamed out in a year.
Prime Grill, which defines high-end kosher in Manhattan, crashed and burned here. LA’s equivalent of Prime Grill, where the kosher mover and shakers meet, is Pat’s—dependable, haimish, not New York, not really even LA.
In what other Jewish city in the world will Steven Spielberg’s mother seat you at your table, as Leah Adler does at her kosher dairy restaurant Milky Way? How's the food? Did I mention Leah Adler is Steven Spielberg’s mother?
Then there’s Thursday nights at Bocca in Encino, where the Israelis cut loose with dancing and wine and abandon—it’s like a scene from Tony and Tina’s Chuppah.
Go to GotKosher on Pico for an authentic Tunsian tuna sandwich—along with the (non-kosher) Tuna Conserva Sandwich at GTA on Abbot Kinney, it's among the best tuna sandwiches in town. And ask owner Alain Cohen to shave some of his stash of kosher bottarga on your pasta.
Come on NYT. "Kosher in LA?" You didn't even get past the appetizers. There’s Afshan downtown, whose Persian food meets the discriminating palates of the near-100 percent Iranian clientele at the shamata and jewelry markets. The kosher Subway came and went, along with its $9 meatball sub, but Nagila Pizza has now fed generations of loud, rambunctious families. There’s the outdoor, impromptu kosher hot dog grillers on Pico Blvd. after Shabbat, with their whiff of beef and danger, and there’s Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage, where you can get home-cured sausages from duck to goose. Jeff’s is across from Doheny Meats—and at both you can buy air-dried beef strips—biltong—as good as in Jo’berg, or so my South African friends tell me.
The vegan rabbis I know—a larger number than you’d think, even for LA-- take their meetings at one of two Real Food Daily restaurants, both kosher. Sit long enough at the outdoor tables at Delice Cafe, where Julien turns out Parisian-level pastries and sandwiches, and you'll soon see half the people you meant to call that day. And for sheer culture clash, seeing the Chabadniks serve the bikini-clad surfer babes at the Fish Grill in Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway—now that’s a New York Times story and a sitcom.
And of course—of course—Tierra Sur. It's in Oxnard, but a creature of the LA kosher consumer market. It’s former chef (and current advisor) Todd Aarons left behind a legacy of locally-sourced, seasonal, simple California Mediterranean food, much of it made in an outdoor wood-fired oven.
The main criticism I have of kosher restaurants in LA is that more don’t aspire to—or the city’s kosher diners won’t support—more places that care as much about ingredients, and cooking, and service, as Tierra Sur. Inshallah.
The point is kosher dining in LA is quirky and dynamic—much like the city’s Jews.