Encounter at Milky Way

Times Staff Writer

Numerous readers have requested recipes for the guacamole served at Milky Way restaurant on Pico Boulevard. Naturally, we were curious about the guacamole too, because Steven ("ET") Spielberg's mother runs the restaurant.

So we took flight to the Milky Way. And, yes, we met Spielberg's mother, Leah Adler, a vivacious, cheerful, competent woman who rules the Milky Way with the regal air of Queen Elizabeth--The First.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," she said, snapping the menu from which I was copiously taking notes on one visit because no takeout menus were available.

So I had to tell her what I was doing and why. What else could I do? She caught me in the act.

'Shall We Talk?'

She adjusted quickly. "Of course you may have a menu," she said. "Shall we talk?"

The Milky Way is a kosher restaurant of the strictest form ( kashrut ), which means that every food item used has been rabbinically approved. Not only is the restaurant kosher, it's a kosher dairy restaurant, a specialty so special that one is hard put to think it would work. But it does. Dairy kosher means that only vegetables, fruits and fish are served. No chicken. Certainly no meat.

Why dairy? Because when Adler saw the yellow tablecloths on tables of the original Milky Way on Beverly Boulevard (that's before they moved to the Pico Boulevard location), she saw "dairy."

"Our four marvelous children had all gone and someone suggested opening a business. I love every minute of it," she said.

Of course, a chef had to be found because Adler doesn't cook. "My husband reads the cookbooks while I'm off shopping at Neiman-Marcus," Adler said.

Warm Familiarity

The place looks like a former old-style Italian pizzeria with its dark lighting, brick arches, floral print cloths and glittery mirrors. There is a warm familiarity between the staff and Adler that reminds you of home. "Honey, do me a big favor and get those tablecloths on the table. We have a packed house tonight." Warmth and homeyness pervade. And that is good enough reason--perhaps the only reason I can think of--to visit the Milky Way.

The food? Let me put it this way. Does it matter? It's adequate. Not great and not too awful, although some might argue either way. One special of the day, crepes filled with ratatouille, failed to pass my most clement standards. The ratatouille was rather bland, without the rich sauce expected, and texture too knobby with crispy vegetables. It was also surprising to find garlic bread on the plate with crepes, although the bread was delicious.

I tried the vegetable soup expecting, of course, Mother's wonderful, Jewish-style vegetable soup on which I was raised. Jewish-style vegetable soup contains a combination of beans, peas, barley and a lot of chunky vegetables. It wasn't Mother's, but it too was adequate.

Cluster of Tortillas

The famed guacamole dip arrived piled on a plate amid a cluster of folded tiny tortillas. And it was quite good. Not the best I've had, but certainly in the running.

The menu was also a surprise. It's an eclectic menu containing a hit-parade of American and continental favorites--all kosher: spinach salad, pasta primavera, lasagna, fried mozzarella, pita sandwiches, fish steaks and kebabs on the lunch menu. On the dinner menu are enchiladas, trout amandine, Creole-style fish, stuffed fried won tons, fish and chips. Cheese blintzes and herring appetizers are about the only connection to foods usually associated with Jewish cooking.

The desserts are homemade. We sampled the pecan pie proudly brought by Adler from the refrigerator. Cold and hard, but tasty. Adler promised to serve a warm piece when next we return to the Milky Way.

The Milky Way, 9108 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 859-0004. Lunch served Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 6 to 8:30 p.m. Closed Saturday. Reservations required. No credit cards accepted. Beer and wine available. Average lunch $7; dinner $20.

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