If L.A. is a hotbed of multiculturalism, than surely one of the standard-bearers is Hadar, a strictly kosher restaurant serving Israeli, Moroccan, Hungarian and Chinese dishes.
It belongs to Yvonne Ohana, who doubles as a kosher caterer. She speaks to the customers in English, French, Arabic and Hebrew, but probably your first contact will be with a Hong Kong-born waitress. (Don't ask the waitress what the European and Middle Eastern dishes taste like. "I don't eat kosher food," she joshed.)
Perhaps I should mention that Hadar is gloriously modest. It's a boxy cafe with a mezuza on the front door and the words "French patisserie, designer cakes, take home" stenciled onto the front window. The walls are blue and white, with a couple of mirrors; stiff wooden chairs crowd around plain tables that are probably bunched too close together. Next to the deli counter, which fronts the kitchen, is a coffee maker and a pay telephone.
Most of the regulars are Orthodox Jews, generally groups of men in yarmulkes or couples quietly hunched over their dinners. One night I overheard three men in a heated debate about the relative merits of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn.
Chinese dishes, listed as "chopstick dinners," are prepared with restricted salt and no MSG. There's no pork, of course, so the dinners are beef, chicken or vegetables, stir-fried in various sauces.
Home-style sweet-and-sour meatballs in a spicy, oniony sauce are a crossover dish that appears on both the European and Chinese menus. Sauteed Oriental mixed vegetables with steamed rice is a medley of snow peas, baby corn, fresh mushrooms, broccoli and slivered carrots--a dish you might get in any Chinese restaurant. No surprise; Hadar has a Chinese chef in the kitchen at all times.
The Moroccan appetizers are delicious. Koube, three deep fried spheroids of a bulgur-meat paste stuffed with a spiced mixture of ground beef and pine nuts, are kin to the kibbeh made in many Arab countries (though not Morocco, curiously); they're closest to my heart--never mind that the bulgur crust is a bit thick. Another one not to miss is metbouha, a cuminy salsa of tomatoes, peppers and onions cooked down to a paste that is great with pita and just about everything else.
Pastilla turns out to be a Jewish take on the bestila, the classic Moroccan pigeon and egg pie in a filo crust. In a Moroccan restaurant, this is a big pie dusted with sugar and cinnamon; here it's finger food, five little pastry puffs with a light filling of minced chicken, dusted with powdered sugar but no cinnamon. Hadar's rice-stuffed grape leaves, served hot, are unusually long, about 6 inches. And naturally there is harira. In Morocco this is usually a lentil soup, but this version (a portion big enough for three or four people) reminds me of an Ashkenazi mushroom-barley soup, with ground beef, tomato and cumin added.
Everyone I brought was tempted by the menu's entrees: oven short ribs, homemade meatloaf, lamb shank, the Moroccan lamb sausages known as merguez and about a dozen others. When we tried to order, though, we discovered that not everything is available every day. For instance, couscous, the fluffy semolina pilaf that is Morocco's national dish, is available only on Wednesdays.
We found the entrees we tried pleasant, bearing in mind that everything is cooked well past medium in the best Jewish tradition. The roasted half chicken contrived not to be dry even without the basting of what I take to be a subtle barbecue sauce. The barbecued beef ribs (four or five to an order) were on the sweet side and definitely enormous. I actually had trout Jewish Moroccan style, baked crisp with carrots, onions, red peppers and paprika. All entrees come with either skinless roasted potatoes or what the restaurant calls Moroccan rice--a pilaf with corn, peas and carrots.
Perhaps Hadar isn't overstating the case to call itself a French patisserie, but the only desserts I could find here were tiny petits choux (cream puffs) and sticky, rectangular brownies, the dairy-less sort you can find in any Jewish bakery on Fairfax Avenue.
Not to complain, though. There is only so much multiculturalism a man can take in one day.
* WHAT: Hadar.
* WHERE: 12514 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood.
* WHEN: Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; closed Saturday.
* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $18-$32. Suggested dishes: koube, $4.50; metbouha salad, $2.50; harira soup, $4.50; roasted half chicken, $9.95.
* FYI: No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa accepted.
* CALL: (818) 762-1155.