Schmoozing, Shopping and Dining on Pico

Jewish PicoBy Sherri W. Morr

When I lived in the Pico Robertson area in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s one could not consider eating let alone dining out on Pico Blvd. Actually if you kept kosher and lived in the area you could starve to death on Pico Blvd. Trust me there was no place to eat.

In fact Pico Robertson was then known as an area, not the ‘hood.’ Yes it had many modern orthodox families but no one really considered it back then a neighborhood. It’s not as though you saw so many people rushing around on Friday afternoon buying challah and flowers for Shabbat. The area was close to Beth Jacob and to B’nai David, Beth Am and Mogen David, but that was it. There were no Young Israel’s every few blocks. And trust me not a sea of Jews after shul on Shabbos waiting to cross Pico and Beverly Dr.

But still, make no mistake, one could tell; it was burgeoning into what I came to refer to as the 90035 ghetto.

Many New York families were relocating here, some from the upscale area known as the 5 towns on Long Island. They were not used to living in a desert of no luxury kosher caterers or decent restaurants to take the family out to dinner. And Israelis, those who could go into any restaurant in Jerusalem and not worry over what they could eat, they wondered what the problem was with ‘no place to eat out.’

There was a small somewhat shleppy restaurant called Tel Aviv on Fairfax, so one could get kosher meat there, like a rib steak, or lamb chops but it was not a very attractive restaurant, with no attention ( or knowledge) to presentation. Many people ate fish out and some would travel great distances (like Ventura) to enjoy a nice filet of sole (often requested that it be grilled in foil) dinner without worrying who might see them. Even then Pico Robertson residents were a bit judgmental when it came to kashruth.

After all you had to drive to Fairfax to buy a kosher challah at a shomer shabbos bakery. When Pico Deli opened they used to arrange for challah that could be picked up Friday afternoon from the Fairfax shomer shabbos bakeries.

Fast forward to the 21st century. It’s not even believable. You can get burgers, sushi, pizza even tacos-all kosher and the restaurants are shomer shabbos. If the line is too long, no worries walk further east, or further west, and like magic another sushi place is in front of you with a shorter line. At fancy restaurants like Pats or Ditmas patrons can dine on Petrale fillet of sole or a rib eye steak. Natalie Trattoria has the best Chilean sea bass this side of the Gulf of Mexico, and the pastries and cappuccino at Delice’ make you feel as though you are in a café in Paris. You no longer have to scour the kosher world to find an attractive and delicious Bar Mitzvah or wedding cake. They are fighting each other for your business, right here in Pico Robertson.

Did I mention the schmoozing? Who I might ask works the room better than Jews? No one. Especially when they are out, being fed amazing kosher food and not being perceived as different. They are at home on Pico Robertson, and there is something to be said for that! Tzitiz out, kipot in abundance, it’s a new anthropological happening for orthodox Jewry in LA.

Synagogues and Jewish day schools have been born as a result of such happy schmoozing. The community needs more than one Young Israel. Where do you think these ideas are born? Not in a stuffy board room, but at a grand table at La Gondola where the see and be seen crowd hangs out solving life issues of modern Jewish orthodox families. When the Israel University deans and presidents visit Los Angeles and Beverly Hills donors they know the best places to be seen. When the big wigs from the federation want to cultivate the frum, it’s no longer happening at Nibbler’s (it should rest in peace) where they could get a tuna sandwich, they now end up at Got Kosher or Bibi’s enjoying a grilled tuna melt sandwich with pesto.

If you need milk on shabbos forget about buying it on Pico Robertson. Everything is shut, locked up tight. Back in the day one could become a little anti Jewish by shopping in the grocery stores on Pico. So much shoving, hollering, fighting over carts, and products. It was far from pleasant let alone civilized. But now because there is a choice, one could go to Ralphs after all and peruse the kosher aisles, and the kosher take out. Just because you are frum you do not have to put up with rudeness or sloppy service.

Pico Robertson has a presence. A panache, a statement of not only is it OK to be frum, its preferred. Why shop at a mega store like Ralph’s or even Gelson’s when you can support Jewish businesses? All those owners and their employees, whether it’s a super-size Kabob by Faraj or a small, individual Wine and Nuts (where they also have the best soft serve ice cream) they are here to serve and support Jewish life and Jewish continuity … nothing wrong with that. And certainly nothing wrong with supporting them because in the end, everyone benefits, Jews and non Jews. Thousands of Jewish nonprofits operate out of Los Angeles and they will be the first to tell you, we need all the friends we can get.

Sherri has spent the last several decades working & consulting in nonprofit management, both in and out of the Jewish community. Currently she is the Director for the West Coast Region of American Society of University of Haifa. Prior to this she was director for the Western States for Jewish National Fund.