Los Angeles diners are mambo-ing, samba-ing and cha cha cha-ing into Caribbean restaurants--the latest culinary craze of the '80s--at an increasingly frenetic pace.
Within the past year, a handful of quirky and innovative Caribbean-inspired eateries have sprouted throughout the city. In Venice, there's Jamaica-Jamaica and Miami Spice. Over in the Pico-Fairfax district, it's King Conch and the Sugar Shack. In east Hollywood, there's Cafe Mambo and Cha Cha Cha (under the same ownership) and perhaps the most freewheeling of them all--Montego.
And now, the San Fernando Valley boasts a Caribbean-Creole restaurant, too. Called the Beaux Tie Grill, it opened on a decidedly unchic strip of North Hollywood earlier this year.
"Business is very good," says Beaux Tie's chef and owner, Jardin Kazaar. "It took a while for people to catch on, but now they're coming from everywhere."
Kazaar, who apprenticed under a French chef from Tahiti, actually prefers to call his food "ethnic continental." He makes the sauces himself and his fiance, Michelle Warren, whips up desserts, which on a recent day included pecan pie and peach cobbler.
There are exotic salads with a strawberry vinaigrette, fried plantains and catfish strips rolled in a spicy batter and deep-fried, served with "Jamaica sauce," made with Kazaar's secret formula.
"I combine French aesthetics with Third-World spices," Kazaar says. "It breaks a lot of rules."
So does the locale of these places, often in funky parts of town that allow their entrepreneurial owners to get by on low overhead and a shoestring budget. Kazaar doesn't yet have a liquor license, for instance, but encourages patrons to bring their own libation.
Adds Kazaar: "People who eat at my restaurant know exactly what they're looking for. They're here for the spice."