Posted by Rob Eshman
I think the love of seltzer is passed down from father to son.
Seltzer, just the word "seltzer" puts a smile on my dad's face. He will never refuse a spritz. And neither will I. I have a bottle on my desk as I write this. I don't care how fancy-shmancy the dinner party, I always have bottles on the table. And not Pelligrino, not Perrier, not Crystal Geyser, not even Soda Club-- I mean, seltzer.
Seltzer is carbonated water under pressure, delivered through a siphon. It tastes fresher and keeps longer than the bottled stuff. Open a bottle of Pelligrino, and if you don't finish it all at once, after a day or two it starts to fade and flatten. But a seltzer bottle holds in the spritz for weeks if not months. It's always ready to go, a gun that's always cocked and loaded. Manly, yes.
When Naomi and I married, one of our first gifts to ourselves was seltzer home delivery. I found a man named Julian Diamond who ran a family business, A-1 Seltzer and Beverage, out of a a warehouse in North Holywood. He was 74 years-old, and delivered the stuff in the original glass bottles.
"If you drop them," Julian told me, "They'll go off like a bomb."
When we had kids, we switched to the plastic version. It was one of the hardest things about having kids.
Julian was brusque-- he still humped these heavy wood crates all over LA. I thought I was doing him a favor when I assigned a reporter at the Jewish Journal, Leilah Bernstein, to do a story on him.
"In the first half of the 20th century, Diamond remembers, there were at least 500 bottling companies in the area," Leilah wrote. "The 1920s and 1930s were the industry's heyday. By mid-century, however, just a handful of seltzer bottling companies remained here, including Arrowhead, Sparkletts and Shasta."
Julian was the last of the seltzer men. After it ran I called him expecting to collect some gratitude.
"It's awful," Julian told me. "I'm getting all these calls. Too much work. I'm tired."
When Julian died, an employee took over the business. His name is Joe.
Joe brings cases of fresh seltzer to our door whenever we need it. It’s old school. I’ll be in a meeting, my cell phone will ring, and I’ll look down and see the ID: Joe Seltzer. I call back, and Joe greets me like a grand prize winner.
“Mr Robert! How many cases you need?!”
I always feel like Joe is disappointed with my rate of consumption, as if real men drink more seltzer.
“Two," I say.
When I was growing up, we had a milk man deliver milk bottles, a fruit man who came by and honked his truck horn, and my favorite, the Helms Bakery man, who stopped, opened the panels of his truck, and reveal rows of fresh bear claws and donuts and warm bread—and always gave the kids a sparkle cookie.
These were holdovers from a different era, and their presence in the sterile surburban streets of Encino, with Gelsons and Ralphs just a few blocks away, always felt out of place, like they drove in not just from a different neighborhood, but from a different dimension. Sometimes the way food comes to us is as important as the food itself. Those old-fashioned delievery men didn't just bring food, they connected communities.
Today all we have is Joe the Seltzer Man.
Of course, a few months after Joe started delivering to us, my father called. He had been to the house the night before for dinner.
"I need the name of your Seltzer Man," my father said.
As much as I love the seltzer, which is still a hit at every dinner party, I also like the connection it represents, through my father, back to my grandfathers, and their fathers-- generation after generation of Jewish men who sought comfort in the bottle.
This Sunday I'll spritz a bit in a glass and raise a toast: "Happy Father's Day."
Limonana is the Israeli mint-lemon slush. I use lemon verbena instead of mint (you can use either), and finish it with a spritz of selzter.
Lemon Verbena Limonana
This is more delicate than the usual limonana made with mint.
½ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ c. packed fresh lemon verbena leaves
½ c. superfine baking sugar or regular sugar
1 c. water
Place all ingerdients except seltzer in a blender and whir until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with a seltzer blast. Stir and serve.
6.13.13 at 12:11 pm | The beauty of seltzer home delivery
5.31.13 at 5:58 am | 13 year-old Arvind Mahankali wins the 2013. . .
5.30.13 at 1:12 am | Parsley, sage, and California bay laurel
5.24.13 at 12:54 am | At Boulettes, food so good you can overlook aloof
5.16.13 at 12:18 pm | The Internet is a dangerous place, full of bad. . .
5.8.13 at 5:11 pm | The best Israeli breakfast in LA is at
6.13.13 at 12:11 pm | The beauty of seltzer home delivery (456)
5.16.13 at 12:18 pm | The Internet is a dangerous place, full of bad. . . (58)
5.31.13 at 5:58 am | 13 year-old Arvind Mahankali wins the 2013. . . (45)
May 31, 2013 | 5:58 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
How do you spell knaidel? M-a-t-z-o-h B-a-l-l.
The word that 13 year-old Arvind Mahankali from Queens, NY spelled to clinch the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship last night is German for a small mass of dough. But its most common meaning in America is matzo ball.
Normally the word, which is German and Yiddish, is used in its plural form, knaidlach—because who can eat just one matzo ball?
From Los Angeles to Queens, the only place you’ll see the word is on deli menus. And not just in America: the menu at the venerable Harry Morgans deli – branches in London and Latvia—features Chicken Knaidlach Soup for £5.95.
I feel for the kids who lost out to Mahankali. They’re home Googling knaidel, finding that it’s spelled in English many different ways: knaidel, kneidel, kneydl.
There’s just as many ways to make knaidlach as there are spellings. You use matzo meal, of course, and eggs, liquid, along with a fat and salt. The liquid can be water or chicken broth or even seltzer. The fat can be schmaltz—solidified chicken fat—or oil. If you use lard you’re in the wrong cookbook.
You can eat turkey outside of Thanksgiving, and you can eat matzo balls when it’s not Passover. But the spring holiday that marks the deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt is the time when most matzo balls get made and eaten. Jews had to flee Egypt before their bread had time to rise, so they are commanded to observe Passover by eating matzo, which is made only with flour and water. Those matzos, ground fine, become a meal that can be used to make dumplings—which is all knaidlach are.
You might wonder why we eat matzo to remind us how we had to hurry out of Egypt, then make matzo balls, which take a almost two hours to mix, rest and simmer. You could knock off a few loaves of quick bread, or even some pita, in that time. The deep theological answer is this: matzo balls taste really good.
You mix the ingredients, simmer them in soup or water, and the dry, unforgiving shirt cardboard that is matzo transforms into a small, warm bosom, tender and soft. A knaidel is our small miracle of transubstantiation—maybe that’s why we eat them in Spring.
Great matzo balls should be as soft to eat as knaidel is hard to spell. There are certain Jews who claim to prefer the kind their mothers made, the ones with a dense core of unfluffed dough. These sinkers can require a steak knife to cut and a load of seltzer to digest. I suppose you can get used to them, even come to think they’re delicious, in the same way the Romneys convinced themselves Karl Rove was telling the truth about the Ohio results. People we trust can feed us crap and we’ll think it tastes like truffles.
As with most simple foods, the important variations are in technique, not ingredients. If you’ve been blessed to learn how to make matzo balls by watching your grandmother, mother or mother-in-law, and she knew what she was doing, you’re fortunate: it’s all in the details: Mix the batter lightly, don’t beat it. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator until it is well-chilled. Give those matzo particles time to absorb liquid and fat deep into their stiff-necked cells. Form the dough again with a very light, but confident touch. Roll pieces the size of a large walnut between your palms, quickly, but don’t rush it. The rounder the ball, the more attractive—a misshapen ball floating in soup looks disturbingly like brain. But don’t obsess: you don’t want to press the air out. You’ll get the hang of it.
Finally, once your balls are simmering, DO NOT lift the lid to peak. There are many commandments in the Jewish religion. This is the one I’m most scrupulous about following.
The knaidel maker at the Passover seder is the central object of scorn or praise. At our seders, where my wife, the rabbi, leads the service, beautifully, I notice that few people will judge her either way. But that moment when the chicken soup with matzo balls finally arrives, and people pick up their spoons and cleave a knaidel in two, and lift a portion to their mouths, and swallow— that moment is an eternity. If the soup is hot and the balls are light, and well-salted, the entire table erupts in a semi-orgasmic chorus of ahhs, like the Children of Israel have been delivered all over again. It is a moment of sheer joy, and relief, and for the cook, a feeling of utter victory and vindication.
Arvind Mahankali would understand.
[RECIPE] Rob Eshman's Matzo Balls
1/4 cup schmaltz (chicken fat) or vegetable oil
1/4 cup chicken stock or water or seltzer
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients. Do not overbeat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled-- two hours or more.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Wet your hands. Take a lump the size of a large walnut and using your palms, form into a round shape. Drop into the water, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 40 minutes.
Remove the balls with a slotted spoon. Taste one to make sure they're cooked through-- they probably will be. Serve in hot soup, sprinkled with fresh parsley and dill.
May 30, 2013 | 1:12 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
For two years, from 1984-1986, I lived in Jerusalem. I went to learn Hebrew, to work as a writer, to break up a relationship without facing the breakup.
I had been living in San Francisco after college, typing out plays and freelance articles. I was trying my best to be a starving artist, except for the fact that I landed a job as a baker at a new place near Union Square called Il Fornaio. It was the first American branch of the Milan-based bakery, and everything they taught me to make was novel, and delicious.
My day began by creaming 20 pounds of sweet butter in a stand up Hobart mixer the size of a Datsun. When it was fluffy and white I poured in quart pitchers full of white sugar, then egg yolks, cornmeal, flour, lemon zest and vanilla. I extruded the thick batter onto sheet pans from conical pastry bags to form crumiri, a polenta butter cookie. You can’t be a real starving artist when breakfast is a quarter pound of raw cookie dough, followed by warm, fresh crumiri.
I liked the job, and I was good at it. This was in the days before every dishwasher had a culinary degree, so the crew was as aimless and hungry as me. The dark, handsome main chef, also an Italian import, had a reputation, and when he wasn’t showing us how to stir risotto for 100, he was kneading the narrow, muscled shoulders of the head baker, the most attractive woman on the staff, who also happened to be his American protégé. Every once in a while his very pretty, dark-haired Italian wife would stage snap visits, and they’d lock themselves in the small office and scream Italian at each other.
I strongly believed that the entire staff was going out after work without me to drink and get high and sleep together—boys, girls, Italians. They showed up for work tired and smiling and ravenous. Their breakfast of choice was espresso along with handfuls of nuts from the bulk bins. To this day it’s a miracle to me Il Fornaio survived long enough to expand across America, when the company must have lost thousands of dollars in pine nuts alone.
After work, I rode my bike over the hills back to my apartment on Duboce Triangle, where I read classics that for some reason I chose not to read in college, and wrote those plays, and nursed my sourdough starter. I also got involved with a woman, a food-lover, and fell in love, and it all happened like most things did to me in my twenties, as if in a dream, and when I awoke I thought: Jesus, get a grip, she’s married….
My first roommate in Jerusalem was a South African woman, also in her twenties. She rented me a room in her flat, and was pleasant when she had to be, but otherwise greeted me with a constant look of disapproval. She was more observant than me, which is to say, she was observant. And she was in graduate school, and busy, and I seemed to her to be wasting my time.
I started freelancing, and it paid just enough. And just as in San Francisco, I spent a lot of time finding new food to try, and eat, and cook. I fell in with a group of young Israelis who were in love with the actual land of Israel. On weekends and holidays we traveled and hiked the tiny country, so long before the first feta and watermelon salad or za’atar flatbread immigrated to America as “Small Plates,” I tried them at the farms of their relatives, or in homes of friends in neighboring Arab villages, or at ramshackle cafes overlooking the sea in Jaffo.
I shopped for the ingredients to these things in the open market in Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda, and brought them back to the small, shared kitchen. My roommate ate toast, marmite and, on Shabbat, sweet kugel from a local takeout.
Meanwhile I bought a cutting board and made Israeli salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and chopped fresh mint. A friend in the village of Ibelin showed me that proper tabouli is-- mostly parsley, mint and romaine, with just a handful of bulghar wheat-- so I went through bushels of those greens. I made tea from lemon verbena which, like manna, grew in Jerusalem parkways, while in winter I steeped long, blue-silver sage. I ground cilantro—kusbara— with chilis and fenugreek leaves into a green hot sauce, schug, which I ate with everything. And I dumped handfuls of fresh bay leaves, basil and oregano into chopped tomatoes for sauce.
“Robert!” my roommate said one day. I was in the kitchen, at the cutting board, and she had burst out of her room, not able to hold her disgust, or her tongue any longer. “What is it with you and…and……and LEAVES?”
She pointed to the counter, which was covered in bunches of cilantro, parsley, sprigs of verbena and spears of bay.
“They’re herbs,” I said. “I cook with them.”
“They’re just… leaves,” she said. "This kitchen is always full of leaves."
With a South African accent, it sounded particularly disgusting, as if I had spread garden refuse all over our home.
I moved out a few weeks later, and fell in love again not long after that with an Israeli who, for one thing, shared my love of leaves.
Two years later, I came back to America . I had learned Hebrew. I was writing about the kinds of things I cared about. But I hadn’t learned enough about breaking up to be able to stay on the same continent when I did it.
In my garden, in Venice, I grow every leaf I ever ate in Jerusalem. Verbena, parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, sage. My favorite is the bay laurel I planted outside our family room window 15 years ago. The foot-long shoot is now a 40-foot tree, thick with fragrant California bay laurel. I use them in sauces, I tuck a dozen in a pan of roasting potatoes, I braise them with my artichokes, I grill them under fish filets, I crush them into my gin and tonics.
California bay is a coastal native. The ones in Israel are the smaller Turkish variety, which cookbooks will tell you are less pungent and more refined. Don’t believe it. These beauties carry the essence of the Santa Monica Mountains right into your food. Before I start cooking a big dinner, I go outside and cut a branch, stripping them off as I need them, happy to see my countertop adorned in a crown of leaves, leaves, leaves.
[RECIPE] Cucumber and Bay Leaf Gin and Tonic
Muddle 6 fresh California bay leaves and a 3-inch section of cucmber in a cocktail shaker with a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar or agave syrup. Add two jiggers of of gin and ice. Shake vigorously. Pour into highball glasses filled with more ice, and top with tonic. Garnish with a fresh bay leaf and a slice of cucucmber.
May 24, 2013 | 12:54 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
We didn’t know anything about Boulettes Larder when we stumbled upon it in a corner of San Francisco's Ferry Building last February. That in and of itself seems to be a faux pas in food-obsessed San Francisco, if not an actual Class B Felony.
The counter was filled with jars of exotic salts and spices with handwritten labels. Behind that was a large kitchen, full of working cooks. There was just one large farmhouse style table by the kitchen—either, I assumed, for setting out more products for sale, or for some kind of scheduled Williams and Sonoma-esque cooking demonstration.
“Do you serve food here?” I asked a young, pretty woman behind a counter.
“Yes, we do,” said the woman. And as she said it, two customers just ahead of us, a pair of middle aged women in Bay Area chic, audibly snickered. Oh—nothing makes a person feel more welcome, more embraced, in a restaurant than being immediately mocked.
The hostess covered quickly. “We just finished our breakfast service,” she said. “Our lunch service begins at 11:30.”
“Can we see a menu?” my wife asked. I checked over to Mrs and Mrs Snicker—they had already taken their seats at the farmhouse table.
“Chef doesn’t release the menu until 11:30,” she said.
It was 11:26. The hostess had to see our confusion-- what was this menu, FedExed from Langley?
“But I think I have yesterday’s I can show you," the hostess added.
There were seven dishes on the small printed menu from the previous Thursday. Example: Greens Soup with harissa. Vadouvan braised chicken legs. Lamb shank ragu braised with red wine and herbs (and creamy rice). Vegetarian Farmhouse (“Caramelized cauliflower, warm lentil hummus, our cows milk yogurt, toasted cumin crispy rusks, olive oil fried eggs, shallots). I turned to my wife. They could laugh at me all they wanted, but I was staying put. Attitude or not, somewhere here knew how to cook—or at least how to make food sound really good.
The place was mostly kitchen—seating seemed to be an afterthought. Gleaming copper and stainless steel pots and skillets surrounded a large central stove. Men and women in chef’s aprons tended to their chores with librarian-like quiet and surgical focus. A woman shaped macaroon dough into mounds. The pastry chef, I figured.
Our waiter was a man in his thirties with a well-trimmed beard and a friendly manner. He sat us at the head of the table, closest to the chef. I caught the eye of Mrs. Snarky, who now was smiling at me.
“You must be VIPs,” she said.
At 11:34 the hostess handed us the menu. It was a single 8 ½ X 11 inch piece of cream-colored paper, hot off the laser printer, folded in half. We looked: Parsnip soup. Persian Salad (sweet lettuces, butter lettuce, mache, feta, citrus, herbs, dried persimmon, cucmber, radish, za’atar, pomegranate molasses) Seafood rice congee with braised shrimp, black cod, kampachi coriander and kaffir lime, warm roasted chicken breast salad (little gem lettuce, chicken broth vinaigrette, sibley squash puree, roasted baby carrots and marinated mushrooms). The Vegetarian Farmhouse was steamed barley and chickpeas with poached eggs nettle pesto and radicchio.
At the center of the battery of cooks a stern woman, her black hair pulled back tight, worked at the stove. She never looked up to acknowledge us. Occasionally she broke from her cooking to direct or consult with the others. So she’s the chef, I thought. There were twelve diners around our table. There were thirteen staff and cooks, including the chef.
The chef set to work on our meal. With one hand she cracked the eggs into a skillet of simmering water. With the other she centered a stainless steel bowl that she soon began filling with the tips of chervil, lettuces, madeleine-thin slices of radish and cucumber. She never once looked at us, her guests. She never smiled in welcome, or at anyone.
“Fire a parsnip” I heard her say.
Moments later the parsnip soup arrived, hot, drizzled with sharp olive oil. If she had asked I would have said it was one of the finest soups I’d ever tasted. But she didn’t ask.
She laid some raw wild white shrimp in a saute pan, let them seize up, then braised them in a broth. We were three feet from her hands as she fileted, in deft economical movements, a loin of sea bass and a side of hamachi, for the bowl of congee.
“Nice job,” I said, loud enough to warrant, at least, a grunt. Nothing. What’s the point of an open kitchen if you have a closed personality? I got the feeling she enjoyed every aspect of the restaurant, except for the part about feeding people. It made me begin to resent the whole place, except for two things:
The first is that the food she made was just superb. Her focus rewarded us first with that soup and the Persian salad— this ideal blending of za’atar and feta and dried persimmon. Then came the congee of deeply flavored seafood broth, bright with kaffir lime, along with its perfectly poached seafood and sterling fresh fish. Then for the kosher among us there was a dish of two eggs she poached in a pan so close to us its steam swirled past my daughter’s curls. The chef placed these eggs on a stew of grains and garbanzo beans and ladled a bright pesto sauce over it. At last came a persimmon pudding, dense and light and autumnal. All, perfect.
The second reason I couldn’t resent her aloofness was because, well, I understand it. I love spending time cooking. When it’s over, when the guests arrive, I can feel loss, imposition. A couple glasses of wine later I bounce back. But for me, the really fun part is over. I learned, Googling, later, that we had lucked into one of the Bay Area’s best dining experiences. For all my food reading, I’d never heard of Boulettes Larder, or the Hungarian born chef, Amaryll Schwertner. I read, too, that Mark Bittman declared her breakfast the single best breakfast he ever had-- and that man has had a few good breakfasts. Boulettes has since outgrown its space and is moving, in July, to a larger one, where Chef Schwertner, I assume, won't be so close to the mouths she must feed.
Sure, it’s nice for the chef—for someone—to make you feel at home., to welcome you into their restaurant like you’d welcome them into your home. But that wasn’t going to happen with Amaryll Schwertner. Instead, she just put her feeling, her passion, her knowledge, onto the plate. As they say in sports, she left it all on the field. Which, in the end, was more than good enough for me.
1 Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
Note: Boulettes Larder is not kosher, but it is a Foodaism favorite.
May 16, 2013 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
When was the last time you opened a tub of hummus and swooned? When was the last time a restaurant put a plate of hummus in front of you, and you said, “Oh my God.”
Most of the hummus recipes you come across on web sites, in print, on YouTube—they’re just wrong. Most of the hummus you buy in stores, or get served at restaurants—it’s just okay.
As hummus gets more and more popular, its manufacturers are aiming more and more for the middle. They are substituting variety for quality. You can get mediocre hummus in ten flavors (Avocado! Chipotle!), but try finding just one batch of perfect.
I eat hummus every day. I make it about once a week. I’ve used recipes, I’ve created my own, I’ve tweaked like Steve Jobs (z”l) on a bender. Below you’ll find my basic recipe, which I’ve adapted from Erez Komaravsky’s, the Israeli chef and cooking teacher. (A story on Erez appears in this month’s Saveur, along with the recipe).
Whether you use it or find your own let these rules be your guide.
1. Do not used canned garbanzo beans. Ever. Take the canned beans in your cupboard and give them to a food bank.
2. Fresh ingredients are always better. Always. Fresh ground cumin seeds, fresh squeezed lemon juice, fresh garlic. Never used bottled lemon juice, though a touch of citric acid can help. Erez uses a mortar and pestle to grind his cumin. You’ll taste the difference.
3. Use good quality olive oil. Lots of it. In the hummus, as well as on top.
4. Don’t forget the pepper. I use Aleppo pepper, but hot paprika or ground chili works too.
5. Use water. This is key. Reserve the water you boiled the beans in. As you blend your hummus, add the water to achieve a creamy consistency. Use a bit more than you think is correct, because after it sits you’ll see the water is absorbed. If you’ve refrigerated your hummus, you can refresh it by whisking in some warm water.
6. Serve warm. Freshly made warm hummus topped with a bit of mushed-up garbanzos, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with chopped parsley and paprika is the ideal. And the pita should be warm too.
7. Use a blender, not a food processor. You get a creamier consistency.
[Adapted from Erez Komaravsky. See original here.]
1½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight; drained
½ cup tahini
¾ cup EV olive oil, plus more
¼ cup fresh lemon juice or more
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 t Aleppo pepper or 1 small fresh hot red chile pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 1/2 t Kosher salt, to taste
Bring chickpeas and 4 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until chickpeas are very tender, 1-1½ hours. Drain, reserving ½-1 cup cooking liquid; let cool until warm, not boiling. Transfer all but ¾ cup chickpeas to a food processor with the tahini, oil, juice, cumin, garlic, chile, and salt; purée until smooth. Add reserved cooking liquid and continue to purée until airy in consistency, about 5 minutes. Transfer hummus to a serving dish. Top with remaining whole chickpeas, drizzle with more oil, and sprinkle with salt.
After a a few minutes, taste and adjust seasoning. You may need more water for a creamy texture.
May 8, 2013 | 5:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Restaurants have souls.
It comes across as much in the food as in the feeling you get from being there. You don’t find it out from the advertising. Otherwise every time you ate in an Applebee’s you’d feel comfy and at home, instead of bored and dissatisfied. You don’t discover it in the marketing. Otherwise every time you ate in a Burger King you’d feel edgy and cool, not gross and sad.
And it doesn’t even come across just from the food. Plenty of places with great food leave you cold. Meanwhile, a place with a warm soul like my late, lamented Benice in Venice, may never get a Michelin star, but leave their diners feeling warm and satisfied.
And that explains why a visit to the small and very French Tarte Tatin Bakery & Café on Olympic Boulevard near Doheny Drive makes you feel like you’re at home ... in Tel Aviv. The pastries at Tarte Tatin — pains au chocolat, croissants and, of course, tartes tatin — look and taste like something in the window of a Paris patisserie. They are stacked up behind the counter of the tiny all-white space, and they are deceiving. Because as good as they are, as French as they are, as close to the Patricia Wells-ian ideal as they are — the soul of Tarte Tatin is Israeli.
Chef and owner Kobi Tobiano is an Israeli of Algerian heritage. His little gem of a cafe is the kind of place you’ll find tucked into a side street off Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. It has no pretensions. The service can be spotty, sometimes rushed, always familiar. The food aspires, and reaches, an international standard. It is small, it hits way above its weight, and it is full of surprises — just like Israel.
The biggest surprise of all: You’ll find the best Israeli breakfast in Los Angeles at Tarte Tatin.
In that imaginary café off Rothschild, breakfast would mean a selection of craft breads, thick leben cheese doused in olive oil, some feta, olives, chopped tomato and cucumber salad with za’atar, maybe a bite of homemade hummus and a couple of eggs. Order the Israeli breakfast at Tarte Tatin ($16) and that’s what you get, along with dark, hot coffee. It’s all laid out in neat white ceramic dishes, and every bite recalls Tel Aviv. Ask for Tobiano’s smoky hot harissa, as well as for a glass of limonana — lemonade with mint.
The other surprise is the Tunisian Tuna Sandwich ($11.95), which has become my favorite tuna sandwich in the city. Tucked into a soft, homemade French roll you get olive-oil-packed tuna, slices of potato, a shmear of that harissa, olives, hard-boiled egg, pickles and slices of preserved lemon.
Where do the excellent olives and leben in this Israeli-French café come from? Tobiano’s Lebanese supplier, of course. An Israeli chef of Algerian heritage running a French cafe in Beverly Hills using ingredients from Lebanon to make the best Israeli breakfast in all of Los Angeles — of course.
Tobiano trained professionally as a pastry chef and served as one at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco. He arrived in Los Angeles and worked as a private chef. Tarte Tatin is his dream-come-true place of his own, and as hard as he works — constantly, ceaselessly — and as much as he bemoans his lack of rest, you can tell he has created a place that exactly reflects the food of his heritage, the foods of his home, the foods he loves. That’s what makes Tarte Tatin special. That’s what gives it its soul.
Tarte Tatin Bakery & Café, 9123 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 550-0011. NOTE: Tarte Tatin is not certified kosher. But it is certified a Foodaism favorite.
Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal.
May 1, 2013 | 3:31 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Is Galilee the next Tuscany?
This month Saveur magazine has a beautiful (and beautifully written) feature on the food and cooking of the Galilee region of Israel, by Gabriella Gershenson.
Galilee is indeed one of the world's great undiscovered food regions-- rich in culture, produce, cuisine, even wine.
In writing about the food, she of course must write about the people and their connection to that very special land, and, of course, their recipes.
Gabriella wisely spends time with Erez Komarovsky in Mattat-- Erez, whom I've written about before here-- is the Richard Olney of Israel, and Gabriella paints a picture of her visit to his secluded farm/cooking school that will make any sane person want to get on a plane, fork in hand, and head there now. Here's a sample:
When everything is ready, Erez and I dig in. The cherry and herb salad is zesty and sweet. The recipe is from the Turks, Erez says, who occupied this land for centuries. The roasted eggplant, meanwhile, tastes smoky and fresh, the combination of nutty tahini, hot chiles, and garlic one you'd find all over the Middle East. "In the Galilee, the influences are not from abroad but from the Druze and Arabs living here," Erez explains. "The richness of the culinary knowledge that I get here is unparalleled to what you get in the big city." Here, Erez picks mushrooms with Jewish Moroccans and Kurds, makes goat cheese out of milk from a Druze neighbor, and buys the foods they forage. Because of the divisions inherent in modern Israeli life, and the tensions between Arabs and Jews, his culinary curiosity feels like a political act, one that emphasizes the way the land connects the people. Before I leave, Erez tells me, "Borders are politics. Borders do not cut the food."
April 25, 2013 | 2:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Downtown Nissan is having a big celebration this Saturday April 27 to mark the installation of their Fast Charger. There will be test drives, discounts, demonstrations and a free "delicious lunch, brunch or dinner made from 100-percent organic plant-based ingredients." If you're an EV owner or EV-curious, by all means go.
As for me, I couldn't be more thrilled. Here's why:
Part of Foodaism is putting your mouth where your morals are. Hence Mark Bittman's thoughtful new Flexitarian column, which challenges eaters to eat as close to their ethical understanding of food allows-- but no closer.
And hence too my Nissan Leaf, the all electric car I leased two years ago next month. The Leaf was my attempt to live according to my strong belief that our reliance on fossil fuels is killing our planet and saving foreign despots-- when those two verbs should be reversed.
What I found-- and documented here, and here-- is that putting one's morals where one's mouth is can get messy. Because of a bureaucratic snafu, I was not able to install a home charger, so keeping my Leaf fully charged is a challenge (at our offices in Koreatown the landlord likes to turn off the electricity whenever I've tried to charge here). And the funny thing is, as the Leaf has gotten more popular, the challenge has only gotten greater.
That is because of something I'll call, because I can't think of a better term, the Leaf Paradox. Here is what happened. In the beginning, we Leaf owners were few and far between. So while there are few public charging stations, the ones that existed were generally open. I'd drive up, charge, be on my way. Meanwhile, us EV enthusiasts promoted the use of electric cars, and championed our righteousness. The result: more people bought Leafs, and Teslas, and hyprib plug ins. But the number of charging stations hasn't kept up with the number of cars. And because it takes hours to charge a Leaf, and there is zero incentive for a driver to return to his or her car and unplug, finding a charging station is becoming more of a hassle. The number of charging stations and the time people stay pluigged into them can't keep up with the number of EVs. The more successful EV sales are, the bigger the inconvenience. Somewhere there's a TED talk in this-- just not sure where.
One solution is fo there to be more Fast Chargers, like the one now at Nissan Downtown, which is at Washington Blvd near the Grand Street exit. It takes 16 hours to charge an EV from 0-100 percent when plugged into a regular wall socket. The 220v charger can do it in 8 hours. The Fast Charger does it in 30 minutes. And it will give you enough to get on your ay in much less than that.
This morning I drove to Downtown Nissan with my range estimator telling me I had no miles to go-- Zero charge. I met Paul Scott there, the nicest and least-salesman-like car salesman you will ever meet, a true EV believer. He hooked me up to the Fast Charger, and in 25 minutes I was at 80 percent-- enough to drive 70 miles.
I asked Paul if the Fast Charger is generally available, and he said that even when it's being used, "It's not being used for long."
They aren't cheap: $15,000 for the unit, and up to thousands more to install. But iof builders can incoprrate them into new coinstruction, the cost is not consequential, and it will go a long way to creating an EV highway, and resolving the Leaf Paradox.
Here's the info on Saturday's event:
What: Free public test drives of the all-electric, zero-emission Nissan LEAF & unveiling of new EV fast charger
When: Saturday, April 27, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Nissan of Downtown L.A., 635 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015
Information: Nissan of Downtown L.A. (310) 403-1303