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New-wave kosher with Moroccan flair

From the kefta to the cookies, BBC Cafe's organic cooking is a revelation. The eatery's quirks add to its charm.

January 04, 2006|Susan LaTempa | Times Staf Writer

IF you're a grumpy perfectionist, read no further. You'll never have a chance to appreciate BBC Cafe's many virtues. It's a unique restaurant, a real expression of a community, and if you're not yet an initiate, its quirks can make your head spin.

The first few times you come here, you'll feel as if you've been cast in one of those classic Broadway or Hollywood comedies -- you know, where the new fiance, a prospective member of the family, stands in the chaotic living room of the eccentric household and wonders what in the world is going on. When you come to BBC, it helps to bring, in addition to appetite, patience and a sense of humor.

Just remember that it will all turn out well in the end.

A 7-month-old kosher Moroccan restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, BBC Cafe (for Bistro Baguette Cafe) is in an office building next to a scuba shop. The dining room is tiny, half a dozen tables, but the place spills out into the courtyard-hallway that runs through the middle of the building.

The meats are kosher, there are no dairy products served, the produce is organic, the spices freshly ground, the condiments and baked goods made on the premises from fresh raw ingredients. The kitchen blanches and roasts almonds to make almond meal; it sun-dries, soaks and grinds chiles for harissa. The rabbi inspects the kitchen three times a week.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 11, 2006 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
BBC Cafe -- In a review of Bistro Baguette Cafe (BBC Cafe) in last week's section, Judith Boteach was incorrectly characterized as a co-owner of the cafe. She is an employee.

The lovingly executed dishes drawn from the culinary traditions of Morocco, Spain and France not only bring kosher diners back time and again, but have already broadened BBC's appeal. North African expats, neighborhood residents and curious passersby are discovering the place, too.

Early in the evening, it's a bustling place, with several large parties: families with children, trios of older couples, groups of yeshiva students. Inside, there's likely to be a Charles Aznavour concert video on a pair of screens. In the courtyard, loud Middle Eastern pop prevails. Everywhere there are vases of long-stemmed roses.

You may be greeted by one of the proprietors, who are almost always on the premises: Judith Boteach, the charismatic Moroccan American chef and co-owner and her partners Jay and Karine Kaplan and Gabriel Azoulay.

Or you may be ignored by one of the young servers scurrying around (that spiky-coiffed T-shirt-clad young woman, for example) and wonder whether you should hover or leave. No need to get frustrated. Within seconds a runner or dishwasher has spotted you, zipped out of the kitchen to set a table, and is bringing menus and water brightened with apple and orange slices.

The food is terrific. Sandwiches, on light, yeasty house-made bread (toasted on the grill until there's just the right golden crispness), are prepared with house-made condiments. Entree plates of grilled or baked meat, chicken or fish come with mountains of thin, light frites. Moroccan appetizers and sides such as chickpea soup or roasted eggplant are confident expressions of a culinary tradition. And desserts are an exotic medley of tidbits made of marzipan, puff pastry, honey, orange-blossom water and nuts.

But until you get the hang of it, you have to be on your toes. Signs and menus indicate that breakfast is served, but opening time is now 11 a.m. And it takes practice to order. Listed salads ($4.95) are not sides, but huge main-dish bowls. My companion one night simply takes his home; his entree, it turns out, comes with a salad too.

For your hot sandwich (merguez, kefta, steak or chicken), you select four condiments from among the list of pickled lemons, cilantro, diced onions, olives, harissa and pickled vegetables -- but it could take a couple of tries before your server correctly communicates your choice to the kitchen. One night I gave up right away because the sandwich looked so good anyway, but a man at a nearby table patiently sent his back until he got the combo he had his heart set on.

Servers present an array of attitudes and abilities. We meet with warm, knowledgeable efficiency from one, first-night-on-the-job confusion from another, and placid indifference from a young woman whose demeanor suggests she's an extended-family member pressed into service.

Never mind. A basket of house-made bread has arrived. It's great stuff -- fresh and fragrant, with a soft-chewy texture. And the baked salmon dinner begins with a plate of Moroccan salads and appetizers that are so good that any umbrage at slapdash service quickly fades away. A pair of pale green roasted Anaheim chiles are soft and smoky, drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. A mound of matboukha, a slow-simmered tomato-red bell pepper paste, evokes sun-baked marketplaces in sight of the Atlas Mountains. Caramelized chips of roasted eggplant, sweet, dry and semi-soft -- unusual, and absolutely delicious.

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