While the notion of a food crawl generally conjures up drinks in one restaurant, hors d’oeuvres and/or appetizers in another, a main course in yet a third, and dessert at a final venue, my own crawl-like experience is not self-contained in an evening, but rather spread over a three-week period. My crawl takes me to three of the major strictly kosher Los Angeles restaurants and encompasses two bakeries as well. The bulk of the restaurants are located in the part of Los Angeles known as the Pico-Robertson area, a section of town with a disproportionately large identifying Jewish population of all stripes and shades. Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, native Angelenos and others from all around the country, as well as Persian, North African and Soviet emigrees comprise the diverse population that frequents the establishments to be reviewed.
Delice & Schwartz’s Bakeries:
Delice Bakery invites us to admire and indulge in its macaroons, sugar cookies, and tarts. Julien Bohbot, hailing from Morocco, finished his studies in Restaurant Business in Paris before opening the acclaimed French-inspired bakery in 2001. Delice prides itself on its ability to satisfy all of the senses — visual, olfactory, and gustatory. Delice produces an outstanding raisin challah with a honey drizzle. A second recommendation is their compact muffins, ranging from cranberry to blueberry, cappuccino to carrot cake. Although my preference is for its challah and bite-sized sweets, Delice serves up quiche, freshly-prepared pizza, soup, salad, and club sandwiches. Located right beside LA Burger Bar, you might be able to get a two-for-one deal — a delicious lunch, a challah bread, and some parve Shabbat munchies.
Schwartz Bakery is the oldest kosher bakery in Los Angeles. Established in 1954, the branch of Schwartz Bakery at which I shop is on Pico, diagonally across the street from Delice in a part of town well-known for its kosher eateries and markets. The original Schwartz Bakery still operates on Fairfax Ave. Two and a half years ago, Pico’s Schwartz Bakery partnered with Circa NY, a restaurant chain based in New York, to expand its bakery into a small cafe. With this addition came a complete remodel and renovation. If nothing else, you must try their lemon meringue pie. Do not be miffed by the hefty price tag that comes along with it, but rather think of it as an investment. One large pie will last you an entire weekend with enough to share with friends and guests. If price is of concern, perhaps save the delicacy for special occasions. One last plug — after all my wisdom teeth were pulled by my dentist, as the anesthesia was wearing off, I was feeling pain and self-pity. That was until I began scarfing down the one-of-a-kind lemon meringue. It was truly satiating and life-changing. Nothing else quite fulfilled my need. I am eternally grateful.
If you are in that part of town, it need not be an “either or.” Obtain the challah and muffins at Delice. But do not leave the area without picking up a lemon meringue at Schwartz!
Delice Bakery Schwartz Bakery
8583 W. Pico Blvd 8622 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035 Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 289-6556 (310) 854-0592
Price: $$$ Price: $$$
Owners Errol Fine and his wife Pat (hence the name) operate their Cal-Italian emporium with a distinct motto of “celebrating the flavors of life.” You can expect serious waiters and a clientele of glatt gourmands who are comfortable bringing non-kosher guests. The setting is classy, with a wood-heavy interior filled with tables, booths and even a four-seat bar. Pat’s menu is indeed a particularly creative one, displaying inventive pasta dishes, a multiplicity of steaks and chicken dishes, as well a number of fish entrees.
Facing down three separate meals, I was far from bored and at times even on the edge of my seat as I wondered where the next thrill would come from. My order was a Chinese Chicken Salad made up of grilled chicken, crispy noodles, and sesame dressing. While my two compatriots preferred Lemon Chicken (roasted chicken thighs with Meyer lemon, rosemary, and olives) and a grilled medium-rare hamburger topped with sautéed onions, served with chunky French fries. It must be said that this hamburger deserves an entire page of its own. It was simply cooked to perfection. If you have a bit of extra cash to spare, nix Burger Bar and head right over to Pat’s for this superb delight.
Pat’s has an impressive following. Its customers are regulars. Pat’s is closely attuned to fine detail — whether it is recalling special tastes and preferences of customers or a certain drink or desired table. From what I gleaned by overhearing a conversation of people at the next table, it sounded as if Pat’s was particularly sensitive and accommodating to people struggling with allergies. Pat’s has an outstanding reputation beyond the Los Angeles community and welcomes people from every corner of the globe — Israel, South Africa, Panama, and Australia, to name a few. A melting pot of sorts is evident in the diverse multiculturalism that is Pat’s. While Pat’s is located at a poorly-lit and often less-well-traveled street corner in the Pico-Robertson area, there is much hustle, bustle, and camaraderie inside the restaurant itself. The constant activity and the high quality of the food more than make up for the drab exterior.
9233 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
As one enters the dining hall of La Gondola, one of LA’s finer kosher restaurants over the past two decades (albeit in three different locations), he or she cannot help but feel consumed by its warmth, sophistication, and sheer elegance. Prior to arriving, I worked up an appetite imagining appetizers and entrees from their BBQ beef ribs to chai steaks which, according to their promotional PR, launched them to the top of kosher cuisine both nationally and internationally. It is clearly the case that throughout their 21-year lifetime, La Gondola’s food has evolved from traditional Northern Italian cooking to a blend of Californian, Asian, and Mediterranean delicacies, the latest addition being sushi.
I shall preface my remarks by acknowledging that my family and I chose La Gondola in honor of my 22nd birthday. Consequently, we decided to splurge. Our first course consisted of chicken matzah ball and butternut squash soups, and a spicy albacore tempura crunch roll (although the alternative sushi “meshugana roll” was tempting). Our two main courses, which we divided evenly among the three of us, were comprised of a chicken citrus salad containing baby greens, sliced oranges and grapefruit, strawberries, black beans, red onions, cilantro, and sun-dried tomato dressing, and the special of the night, a rack of lamb covered in crispy onions, and a side of steamed spinach with mashed potatoes. Finally, the birthday meal concluded with a deep-fried peach cobbler topped with a scoop of Tofutti vanilla imitation ice cream.
La Gondola’s romantic lighting, chic table arrangements, and contemporary setup make it an ideal location for a first date, a much-anticipated anniversary celebration, or a birthday (such as mine). I notice that primarily young, married couples frequent the eatery. La Gondola’s impeccable service (shout-out to our dutiful waitress, Amber) surprised a friend of mine who had recently graduated from UC Berkeley. La Gondola welcomes large parties including young children and infants. La Gondola has the remarkable ability to entice adults as well as their young children who might get fidgety and boisterous elsewhere. Younglings are enthralled with its tender Gondola beef steak burger, a side of crispy fries, and a coke, whereas parents salivate at the thought of well-done Polo Marsalla, or a juicy London broil, not to mention a selection from Gondola’s fully-stocked bar equipped with tasty spirits, liquors, and digestives. Although Sunday and Thursday evenings prove to be hectic and youngsters are allowed to run loose, I would be happy dining at La Gondola any day of the week (did I mention they have a take-out Shabbat menu?). Simply speaking, La Gondola has something for everyone.
La Gondola is the product of a modest mother-son entrepreneurial endeavor that started out small and has expanded tremendously over the years. It began its tenure downtown, and now resides in the heart of Beverly Hills, on the north side of Wilshire, one block east of Doheny. Notwithstanding its growth and development, La Gondola retains a sense of humility and modesty and exudes a rather quiet confidence. No need to be flashy and over-the-top pretentious.
La Gondola is comparable to “the perfect man” — generous, sensitive to one’s needs, aesthetically pleasing, with a plethora of flavor, spice, and spunk.
9025 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Inspired by Israel’s famed “Burgers Bar,” the folks at LA Burger Bar (stationed at 8581 W. Pico Blvd.) have delivered the sensational Israeli chain right to our own backyards. LA Burger Bar is handsomely framed with high ceilings, French doors, a large skylight, and a mural of downtown Los Angeles spanning the entirety of the establishment. A transparent kitchen allows a glimpse into the assemblage of your foods of choice. The cooks, in neatly-pressed uniforms, give the appearance of self-confidence and satisfaction in their work.
In an effort to remain somewhat health-conscious, also not a huge burger fan myself, I ordered a seasoned grilled chicken wrap topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions, finished with a garlic-mayo sauce and a side of well-done fries. The chicken was well-prepared, juicy, and particularly flavorful. The condiments were entirely appropriate, in reasonable supply, and fit comfortably within the wrap. I was confirmed in the wisdom of my choice.
The more regular LA Burger Bar fare includes a grilled-to-order 200g LA burger made with onions and homemade seasonings, Portobello mushrooms, roasted peppers and homemade guacamole. LA Burger Bar also touts a classic cheeseburger covered in American or Mozzarella non-dairy, parve “cheese.” An assortment of other burgers include a Spicy Lamb Burger, Pastrami Burger, Rosemary Burger, Beef Fry Burger, and for the vegetarians, a classic Vegetable Burger. Customers are able to choose from an array of homemade dressings: sweet-chili, chimichurri, pesto, barbeque, spicy lemon olive oil, and ranch, to name but a few. In the wrong hands, any one of these meals would surely be a mess, but LA Burger Bar has the balance just right.
LA Burger Bar boasts an eclectic and broad-based clientele embracing large families with children, tweens/teens, college students and recent grads, as well as older individuals upwards of 70. One is able to claim a long horizontal table that accommodates as many as eight or nine hungry mouths. Or, for a more intimate setting, there are tables of four and singles for one or two people. Around 5:30 or 6 p.m., the eatery begins to fill up for dinner, and a tumultuous din falls over the place with youngsters anxious for a satiating meal. Long lines are the norm. A similar phenomenon is apparent on Saturday nights (open one hour after the conclusion of Shabbat), and Sunday afternoons and evenings — some of its most popular business hours. So, if you are looking to be surrounded by action and buzz, LA Burger Bar post-Shabbat is the place to be. And an added bonus — it stays open until three in the morning! In terms of parking (which always seems to be a point of contention), my suggestion is to drive one block past the restaurant in either direction, and you will likely find a spot on a neighboring side street. Once you are ensconced, there is a strong likelihood of a delectable meal right around the corner.
8581 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035