The actual name that everyone uses, “Got Kosher,” doesn‚Äôt really do justice to it, because it‚Äôs not like other kosher restaurants. The bakery is very special, and the restaurant serves authentic Tunisian foods.
And that‚Äôs what makes it interesting. I‚Äôm talking about Got Kosher Caf√©.
The great cuisines of the world are Chinese and French. But we also love Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Thai and others. Alain Cohen, the Tunisian born, French educated chef at Got Kosher, thinks that Tunisian food ranks as one of the great world cuisines. And he is doing a good job of proving it.
His story starts in 586 B.C., when the Jews were expelled by the Romans to distant parts of the Roman Empire. Some of the kohens, or priests, were exiled to the small island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. There the Jews prospered, as did their recipes, including the family of Alain‚Äôs mom. When the French were forced out of Tunisia after the Algerian war and Tunisian independence, his mother and father moved to Paris, where they opened a restaurant.
Alain grew up in that environment, and like many young men, decided to get away from France and the restaurant business and his parents and move to Hollywood to become a great filmmaker. He did produce one film about Djerba, but ended up in the restaurant business.
And the restaurant is something special, but not the decor. It‚Äôs a plain storefront with 30 not very comfortable seats placed too close together. Most of the rented space is used for a large kitchen which supplies kosher food to a number of institutions, and family take-out dinners in the Jewish neighborhood. But if you do find an empty table, the food is worth it, and if not it‚Äôs a great place for take-out foods.
So what‚Äôs so special about the food?
There are so many interesting dishes that it‚Äôs hard to list them all. First are the items in the display cabinets, such as all the pita dips we love, hummus, baba ghanoush, olive tapenade, and a few more. All are extremely flavorful. Next to them are unusually good desserts: honeyed pastries like baklava, French and Tunisian macaroons, lemon tarts and many more. The miracle is that they are all dairy free. But you would never know that from tasting them. One of the secrets is the use of coconut milk in place of cream.
Then there are the dishes we are used to seeing in a north African restaurant ‚Äî couscous, chicken or lamb tagines, roast chicken, and breik (or brik); a thin crepe filled will tuna (the flavor of canned tuna in olive oil) capers and a lightly poached egg infused through it.
Finally, some dishes we don‚Äôt see so often. There is the Tunisian sandwich served at lunchtime ‚Äî an excellent roll filled with the same tuna flavors, hard-boiled egg, potato, preserved lemon, olives, capers, tomato relish, peppers and Israeli salad; a surprisingly tasty combination.
There are delicious brisket sandwiches, either spicy or sweet. Chachouk, served in a skillet with potato, onion, peppers, merguez sausage and a poached egg on top; and the mixed grill, which combines beef, lamb, beef heart, sweetbreads, merguez sausage and other grilled meats.
The only drawbacks I experienced was the pita bread, which seemed too soft for dipping, and the harissa. The harissa is made in-house, but lacks texture and spice. The French-made Harissa for sale in small cans in various exotic markets in town is much better, and some of the food cries out for the real thing.
The food is very good, and especially interesting. But nothing can be more interesting than a few minutes with Chef Alain talking about Jewish history. That alone is worth the trip.
If you go
8914 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, Calif.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org