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The Hollywood Walk of Food

March 12, 1992|CHARLES PERRY and RUTH REICHL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

There's the Hollywood the world knows. And then there's another Hollywood, a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that is as far from Punk City, La-La Land or any of the other cliches as you can imagine.

It's also far removed from the image of Los Angeles, the Automobile City. The five blocks that make it up feel like an urban neighborhood, complete with street life. People talk to the postman as he walks his beat. You see the local butcher having lunch at the local restaurant. There's a friendly coexistence of half a dozen cultures.

The northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Harvard gives a fair hint of what's coming up. It's a tiny mini-mall dense with nationalities: Here you find Angel of Siam (a Thai-Chinese restaurant) at 5241, Qahwat al-Sa'ayida (a coffee-house patronized by Egyptians) at 5237, next to an Arab video store, and at 5235 Hollywood Blvd., Bucharest Grocery and Deli.

The Bucharest itself is dense with nationalities. Behind its downright frumpy exterior is a sleek, modern store featuring a startlingly wide selection of the world's food.

There are Armenian breads and pastries (including a baklava with a dribble of chocolate frosting), Iraqi dates, Moroccan sardines, two kinds of French goat cheeses, frozen baby pork ribs imported from Finland, Norwegian lox, boxed New Zealand honeycomb, Bulgarian wines and Russian, Hungarian and Turkish sausages.

The emphasis is on Near Eastern and Balkan foods--you can get all four grades of bulgur wheat--but the Bucharest also stocks luxury items you'd more normally expect to find in Beverly Hills food shops, such as creme fraiche, Plugra butter, hot-smoked pepper salmon fillet, and (at $75 a pound) batarak. Followers of the more recherche Italian restaurants will recognize this as the ancient Mediterranean specialty bottarga, a bright yellow preparation of salted fish roe that tastes like a cross between caviar and salt cod.

The main focus is Near Eastern foods, particularly Armenian, though in keeping with the name Bucharest there is a certain interest in things Romanian. At the cash register there are two Romanian newspapers for sale, and signs over the butcher counter announce "Avem cirnati porc. Avem bors. Avem mititei. " ("We have pork cutlets. We have borsch. We have skinless sausages.")

Down the block, at 5229 Hollywood Blvd., stands Shamshiry, the first popular Iranian restaurant in Los Angeles. Nearby is a rather worn Japanese restaurant, but you scarcely need to visit Hollywood Boulevard to find Japanese food these days.

On the other side of Kingsley Street, you hit a vein of Thai businesses. Sapp Coffee Shop, at 5183, is a plain little room serving the usual Thai specialties plus a couple made with homemade "Thai spam" that seems to be boneless salted pig knuckle. The counter may be stacked with Thai desserts and sweets in plastic packs. (Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. except Wednesdays.) Past a Thai video store is Tepparod Thai, one of the first Thai restaurants to open in the '70s, at 5151.

The next block is mostly non-food businesses, but at 5103 is the Great Kitchen, still another Thai restaurant, advertising a $3.99 Thai lunch special. At times you can see owner Chayan Treevimon carrying some of the desserts he sells to Bangluck Market across the street.

At the northeast corner of Normandie, there's the newish Holly Norm Plaza at 5075, with the Star Club Thai restaurant fronting on the street. Around the corner and in the back, though, is Niko's Meat, a brightly lit Armenian butcher shop smelling of cumin, paprika and raw beef and lamb. The cuts of meat are mostly familiar to Americans, except for the beef that is scrupulously trimmed of fat and tendons and labeled "chee kofta ," referring to an Armenian preparation of ground beef mixed with bulgur. Since it's served raw, it requires top-quality meat, and Armenian cooks will search far and wide for a good source of beef for chee kofta (here $3.59 a pound; the butcher will grind it for you). Niko's also sells its own sausage, sujuk , and khinkal , a sort of sack-shaped ravioli with a plain beef-and-onion filling; at $3 for 10, these hearty little dumplings are a real bargain.

The rest of the block is mostly new mall stores, but at 5051-3, the corner of Mariposa, you find Arsham's Delicatessen. The contrast with the Bucharest Deli three and a half blocks away couldn't be sharper. The Bucharest is neat and orderly, filled with top-drawer foods from all over the world and run by a sophisticate who sometimes wears an ascot tie. Arsham's is like an Old World shop--in fact, it basically is an Old World shop.

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