They say it’s not good to go anywhere with expectations because you will undoubtedly be let down. I came Los Angeles this week with specific expectations. I expected to come away with a firm belief that I could mark LA off as one of those cities I could never live in, similar to the state of New Jersey and Florida and be done with it – but, my expectations were shattered on all accounts.
When people would say LA, things like pollution, earthquakes, rush hour, endless sprawl and seething materialism come to mind. And while these things may be true, the city of LA was shockingly different from what I imagined, especially when it came to the Jewish community.
I spent my first shabbos in Venice which is a 15 minute drive from the central Jewish area of LA, but were figuratively miles apart. I felt like I was in some small struggling Jewish community in the middle of nowhere and everything was so different from the big cities I have been to. Then I went out exploring the Pico Robertson and North Hollywood areas of LA mainly trying to get a handle on the Jews by judging the character, friendliness and of course the food.
Los Angeles is the opposite of New York. The extreme opposite, in fact. Unlike most of the west where people are polite and friendly, LA people, like NYers, are also blunt and real with you. One of the things I always seem to miss about NY is the real people, the people that tell it like it is – while in the west everyone is too nice to be up front. But I guess LA is just different in that respect. Even the rush hour is friendly, I got stuck in my fair share of traffic, but it’s nothing like rush hour back east, the traffic is moving along and suddenly you stop and then out of nowhere you move along again, it’s very strange. People don’t change lanes every 3 seconds, people stay in their exit lane rather than jumping ahead a few cars and only once did I hear a horn on the highway.
But people’s niceties go beyond that of the car. It is evident in the way they smile at you when you pass them walking their dogs and the way they help you decide what to get in a restaurant. There is no rushed “what do you want” with scowl. Even the Israelis are nice, but don’t let that fool you because their service is still quick.
One of the let downs of LA is it’s anti cycling mentality. Cars own the road and everyone else better get the hell out of the way. With that said, people actually stop for you if you want to cross the street within a crosswalk and no one tried to kill me like they do in other cities.
The smog is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes you can see throught it for miles, the San Gabriel Mountains with their snow can be seen in the distance and sometimes you cannot see the Hollywood Hills at all. It kind of reminds me of the fog in San Francisco, but in LA I know it’s just toxic fumes from the millions of cars. Once you get into the mountains the air clears up. I love the fact that you can drive up the coast a few miles past Malibu and venture into the wilds of the Santa Monica Mountains. A fan of mine took me mountain biking in Topanga Canyon Park which is literally 3 miles from kosher food in North Hollywood. I was shocked at the beauty and wilderness so close to a large frum community.
My hosts for the week took me to the tourist sites one day. We went to the walk of stars and that other entire touristy BS, just so I could see it and know I never needed to go back. Can you tell what I think of famous LA attractions? I rode my bike from Venice all around Beverly Hills, which is beautiful and the houses look like those fake Monsey creations but instead of having paskez candy wrappers as decorations they have a Bentley shaded by some palm trees. Then I ended up by the La Brea Tar Pits, which were very unexciting until I learned that they had found million year old intact skeletons on the bottom of the pits. I hung out with some dude named Charlie Cox playing banjo and we spoke of bluegrass, county music and the life of a starving artist.
Other than driving and wandering around, I got to sample a bunch of the restaurants in Los Angeles and I got to hear a bunch of different opinions about the food. LA is much more mature then NY in a lot of ways. Everything is not about Heimishe or how frum something is or looks. For instance there are kosher restaurants in the area that have valentines day events and I know that in New York that shit would definitely not fly, and hashgachos would be removed and all that jazz. Fact is LA is hardly a frummy town. I didn’t notice any greasy yeshiva bochrim walking around and most of the folks I saw were modern orthodox, Israeli, Persian or Chabad – sure I saw some hats and sheitles here and there – but it doesn’t seem to be dominated by any one sect and unlike NY the main Jewish area has such diversity which I have never seen.
Los Angeles Restaurant Review – I wrote about most of these on Yelp so check out my account on Yelp and become my friend.
Nagila Pizza: I have been told by multiple people in LA that Nagila is an icon, but I have no idea why, Sure the pizza tasted fine, nothing great, but is kosher pizza ever really great? The service was very good, some guy tried to cut ahead and the guy behind the counter said that I was first. They charge tax which sucks, because LA has an almost 10% sales tax. Like I said, nothing special, run of the mill pizza with run of the mill surroundings.
Fish Grill: When I came to LA I was told that there weren’t too many unique eating experiences, but that Fish Grill was one of them and I have to say that they were right. I went to the fish grill in Malibu, and it sure as hell didn’t look like any kosher place I had ever been to. In fact it looked distinctly non-kosher. A big surfboard had the name of the place on it and it was located right on the Pacific Coast Highway across from the Pacific Ocean. It had outdoor seating and inside it looked like the classic beach style restaurant. I purposely didn’t order the fish n’ chips because whenever I order this in a kosher place I tend to realize that the fries are crap and the fish had been frozen.
I ordered the Salmon Steak which came with fries and slaw for $11, not a bad price and it was very good. Luckily my friend ordered the fish n’ chips and I was blown away by the quality of the fish. Fresh flaky fish with fresh batter really shocked my senses. I thought about checking the hechsher, there was no way this place could be kosher – fish from kosher places is notoriously cruddy. They tend to use fish like Talapia and Chilean Sea Bass which sound fancy but according to my chef friends, very poor quality and unhealthy fish. My friend told me I need to try their ahi tuna sandwich next time. I passed by Fish Grill in Malibu the next day on the way to a ride and when I saw two surfer dudes in shorts without shoes or shorts sitting outside enjoying their lunch, I was hooked.
Unique Café: After this fan took me mountain biking in Topanga Canyon he took me to Unique Café which is on Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood. I was totally shocked in a good way that they didn’t have sushi. In fact, I haven’t seen one restaurant in LA that has sushi, I guess it’s an east coast fad that never caught on here. Unique Café is milchig and has a bakery, my tuna sandwich was good – but nothing to write home about. What I should write home about is the mandel bread that the guy behind the counter let me sample right out of the oven – it was very good. I wanted some of their homemade mini hamentashen, but they were 80 cents a piece.
Jeff’s Sausage Factory: I was told by multiple people to check out Jeff’s and luckily I was taken there by Rabbi Fink for lunch the other day. I think you have to go with someone that knows how to order, because they have a bunch of stuff that isn’t on the menu, like the western burger which is piled high with loads of stuff, some sort of very good special sauce and some of the best onion rings I have ever had. No trip to Jeff’s is complete without some sausage and I had the smoked chicken and apple sausage which came on a bun with grilled onions – it was good, but it really just tasted like a hot dog.
I went back to Jeff’s and ordered their steak sandwich and fries and I was fairly disappointed. You see, Jeff’s is like an overpriced Carlos and Gabbys and while it ranks very high with the local populace and they make all of their own meats, based on prior food experiences I can’t give them such high rankings. They do not have lunch specials, their sandwiches do not come with fries and quite frankly, most of the sausages taste like spiced hot dogs. The burger was good, but the best thing at Jeff’s was the onion rings – but a very steep price of $5.50 for 10 onion rings plus that ridiculously high sales tax doesn’t seem worth it. I’m sorry I have to go against the grain, but Jeff’s didn’t really do it for me – it does attract a very diverse non – Jewish crowd, is open late and has outdoor seating which is a plus.
Pico Café: My friend Rabbs told me that on Thursday’s Pico Café has a special until 3pm, any fettuccini dish for $2 – really the Jewish deal of a century, especially since they normally cost $10 plus. I got to Pico Café at 2:46pm and they told they were closed. I made a fuss and they agreed to serve me, then they rescinded their offer. Some good Samaritan tried to see if they would give the special on Friday, I wanted it then and thought the sign should say open until 2:45 rather than 3pm which made me conclude that the folks who run Pico Café are a bunch of assholes – I am sure if I spoke Hebrew they would have hooked me up.
Haifa: Just another Israeli place that you wind up at because everything else is closed. The food was average, and the service was good, the only thing I should add is that the waitress is a super cutie which may make your eating experience a bit more pleasurable.
Mashu Mashu: Another restaurant I was told was unique, I was told it was Asian Fusion. Frummies do fusion all of the time, they just don’t know they are doing it. Like when you can get pizza and sushi in the same place, that’s fusion baby. Mashu Mashu was not fusion enough for my expectations, several Thai, one Japanese and a few Indonesian items grace the menu, but other than that it’s a run of the mill Chinese place. Do not order the wing platter, the platter came with wings that looked emaciated and it cost $8. The main dishes however were very nice. They gave you a choice of white or fried rice, no brown? The dishes were smaller than other Chinese places, but the prices were good $12/14 for chicken or beef dishes which is way better than I had experienced and the ambiance was quite nice.
Sierra Tur: I didn’t get to go to this place at the Baron Herzog Winery in Oxnard about an hour north of LA, but I am putting it up here because I want to – I just don’t think I can afford it. They do have an Elk steak I have my eyes on to try.
Overall I wasn’t too impressed with the LA restaurant offering but I just scratched the surface. People in LA like their food. In fact the people in LA really know how to cook, but they still love to eat out – with 75 kosher restaurants there is a lot to choose from, but many of them are just overpriced and I don’t believe in spending $75 on a steak when I know people who can make it better at home, unless of course you want to take me out, then I am all ears.