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The Feast of Unleavened Bread : Passover From the Pros

April 04, 1993|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Traditionally, Seder dinners are held at home. But in typical Los Angeles style, Seder is starting to spill over into trendy eating places. It seems that every year a new restaurant joins in the festivities.

The most expensive, and most exclusive, Seder is held at Spago, where since 1985 a rabbi or cantor has presided. The meal costs $135 and the money goes to charity.

No, Wolfgang Puck Seder pizza is not on the menu. In fact, the Spago's Seder is fairly traditional--if you don't count the foie gras on the potato latkes. There is gefilte fish with homemade red and white horseradish and matzo ball soup (with parsnips in the chicken broth). And there are matzos--although here they are not plain, but sprinkled with shallots and thyme and baked in the restaurant's wood-burning ovens. Then comes braised Moroccan lamb with prunes, apricots and almonds; Moroccan carrot salad; mushroom and eggplant ratatouille and an assortment of desserts: sorbets, ice creams, macaroons, cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake and strawberry-nut cake.

Prego in Beverly Hills also sticks relatively close to tradition. Chef Andrea Rogantini's four-course Passover menu (it costs $23.75 per person) starts with matzos and honey-nut marmalade, then proceeds to chicken broth with matzo balls, sauteed lamb loin with fresh herbs accompanied by asparagus and sauteed baby artichokes, and flourless chocolate cake. Among the Kosher wines are Hagafen Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Last year's Seder drew so many customers that the restaurant decided to do it again, says Andrea Bullo, general manager.

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For something a little less traditional, consider the dinners that chef Evan Kleiman is set to cook at West L.A.'s Trattoria Angeli Wednesday through Saturday evenings. The Italian-style Passover foods include artichokes braised with herbs and extra-virgin olive oil and a layered dish of lamb, baby artichokes, caramelized onions and spinach topped with tomato sauce. For dessert, Kleiman is making riciarelli de Siena, rich cookies of sweetened almond paste. The price is $28.

Sephardic Jews, says Michel Ohayon, owner of the Moroccan restaurant Koutoubia, put the accent on sweet flavors in order that the coming year will be sweet. That's why the meal he's making includes chicken with prunes and honey and lamb with honey and almonds. These Kosher Sephardic dinners, which are prepared for takeout, cost $29.50 and include Moroccan salads such as marinated tomatoes and peppers, beets with cumin, and potatoes with citrus dressing. For the main dish customers get a fish course and a choice of chicken or lamb.

*BACKGROUND

A Seder is more than a meal. It blends food with ritual to commemorate the release of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Traditionally, the meal is held on the first night of Passover, which begins at sundown tomorrow. Many families also celebrate with a Seder dinner on the second night too. Ceremonial foods like maror (bitter herbs), which represent the bitterness of slavery, and salt water, symbolizing tears, appear on the table along with the Haggadah, a guide to the ceremony that includes everything from songs to ritual cups of wine.

This is the fifth year that Ohayon, a Sephardic Jew from Casablanca, has offered the dinners. "A long time ago, some customers asked for Seder food to go. From then, we've been increasing every year," he says.

A true international meal is being prepared at Le Petit Market, a specialty grocery and deli in Los Feliz. Chef-owner Pierre Pelech, formerly of the Los Feliz Inn, is from Toulouse in southern France; his wife and mother come from Morocco. He says that the Jewish, American, Moroccan and Southern French dishes he's making won't be kosher. But, he adds, "the meal will be traditional."

The package includes gefilte fish with fresh horseradish and beet sauce, chicken soup with matzo balls and a choice of three main dishes: lamb seasoned with saffron and garnished with almond-stuffed prunes, turkey with matzo chestnut dressing, and breast of veal with matzo-Swiss chard stuffing and olive sauce. Carrot kugel--carrots cooked with raisins, red wine and sugar--comes with the meal. And for dessert, there's matzo-apple cake with brandy sauce. The cake, which includes Swiss chard, is Southern French, adapted for Passover. The entire meal costs $10 per person, but the minimum order is $100.

Some restaurants aren't offering an entire Seder menu, but are including a single dish to commemorate the holiday. Chef Didier Poirier of Barsac Brasserie in North Hollywood is making charoset , a chopped mixture of fruits and nuts that represents the mortar used by slave laborers in Egypt. His version combines apples, apricots, dates, raisins and almonds in a marinade of amaretto liqueur, red wine and spices.

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