After holding out for a long while out of spite, I finally tried the nearby Cobras & Matadors in Los Feliz for a sampling of their Catalan menu of seafood, cured meats, cheeses and charcuterie. If this restaurant was a date for the evening, Cobras & Matadors would be a 32 year old in marketing, attractive, worldly in a KCRW sort of fashion, dressed casually flirtatious but refined enough you’d still respect her, and has a habit of becoming increasingly louder with each glass of wine she puts away. I had mixed reservations about dining here because it replaced a former favourite steak establishment, The Hillmont, where the meat was carnivore-satisfying yet affordable, and the side dishes were executed favourably well that they deserved merit and mention all on their own accord. Bros before ho’s, and this Spanish lady of the night had taken away my beefy, brawny buddy. Out was the long communal tables and open spaced interior of the previous establishment, replaced with the candlelight chic interior of intimately placed tables, but mysteriously paired with the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve had to endure since my bus tour of central China. I suspect prisoners sentenced to death by electrocution would recognize the ergonomics of these chairs, a strange furnishing choice in an otherwise lovely interior setting.
Unfortunately, the food here seems to play second fiddle to the atmosphere. The menu is filled with tantalizing descriptions of very enticing possibilities, and the idea of a wide selection of dishes to nibble on is always an entertaining premise. Our table shared stuffed squid, sugared prawns, fried smelt, roasted stuffed pork tenderloin, chickpea crepes, sweet potato fries, a mixed vegetable medley, and a walnut and cheese salad. But beside the addictive sweet potato fries and the coveted spiced almonds mixed into the complimentary olives that start each meal, the dishes were not as memorable as hoped. Nothing was poor, but nothing spoke out to warrant an impassioned recommendation. Perhaps I didn’t enjoy my dining experience because of the annoyingly loud combination of Nic Harcourt-DJ-style tunes chorusing with the echoing of surrounding conversations. One or the other, but both was a bit too much, a stereo effect of the most annoying sort. I’m sure its much more fun while tipsy on Spanish wine ñ for the most part, restaurant-as-nightclub dining experience’s appeal is lost on me.
Sometimes a plain or homely appearance can be deceptive. After such a disappointing outing with the in-style dining set, I was in the mood for something with a bit more substance…somewhere to authentically grub Old World style, not dine or be part of a scene. We had a blind date with the only Uzbeki restaurant (aptly named, Uzbekistan Restaurant) in neighboring Hollywood. As I was unsure of the exact native geographic location or the characteristic of the cuisine of the central asian country, I was prepared to be surprised. I knew this culture was at a nexus of many influences from all sides of its borders, a geographical gangbang of Islam, Asia, and Eastern Europe. But other than that, the only other thing I knew about Uzbekistan was that the name was fun to say. Ooz-bek-uhh-stan! I was hoping the food was as memorable as the phonetics.
Like countless other ethnic Los Angeles food spots, Uzbekistan Restaurant is located in a Hollywood strip mall, just a crosswalk journey away from the ice cream mecca, Mashti Malones. Inside, the walls are adorned with scimitars, shields, and Uzbeki clothing…a brief lesson in decor and fashion for your dining pleasure. A trompe l’oeil sky overhead is complimented by a discoball that provides the “starlight”, and murals of a land far away in time and locale grace the walls alongside the booths. On stage the eastern european counterparts of Marty and Elayne of the Dresden Room, except with an accompanying fiddle, entertain the mostly Russian diners with chest clutching renditions of old Slav maudlin tunes such as Yesterday and the theme from The Godfather. Strange, but somehow the music befits a restaurant whose menu exhibits an equally strange mix of cultural influences from the east, west and mideast. Any reservations were laid to rest when I was immediately greeted by the smell of a milky creaminess coupled with the distinctive scent of fresh baked breads.
The menu was filled with dumplings of many sorts, looking like significant sized raviolis. Handmade pasta called lagman is served stroganoff style or fried with lamb and vegetables. Skewered meats recognizable to most anyone as kebab also play a significant part of the menu, alongside the national dish, plov, which is basically fried rice Central Asian style. If I was to sum up the general characteristic of Uzbekistan Restaurant’s menu, it would be Russian cuisine with a dash of middle eastern spice.
If I was to sum up the general characteristic of Uzbekistan Restaurant’s menu, it would be Russian cuisine with a dash of middle eastern spice. Little did I know the Uzbekis make the best damn cole slaw I’ve ever tasted, their cabbage concoction the sort of tangy, vinegar-tinged crunch that disappears in large forkfuls and helps palate-cleanse other rich flavoured dishes. The appetizer appeared with what appeared to be the distant cousin of the bagel, still piping hot from the oven, and served with their homemade vegetable spiced soft cheese. I also ordered slices of slowly roasted pork as an appetizer, each medallion embedded with discs of garlic inside, garnished with one of my least favourite of vegetable sides: canned peas. Despite the drab adornment and slightly dry texture, the pork went well with the cabbage slaw and bread. For my main course, I decided to try their sturgeon with pomegranate glaze. Seemed like an exotic culinary combination, as I had never thought of fish with the shockingly tart sweetness of pomegranates. But for the life of me, I could not really see or taste any of the fruit advertised when the dish arrived. Perhaps this was a mistaken oversight, but the dill accented sturgeon tasted delicious nonetheless even without the advertised preparation, and the portion was hefty like the elderly babushka dining nearby. This wasn’t fancy food any way you looked at it, but it was comfort food in the truest sense. This date was a bit modest, but Miss Uzbeki felt honest, comfortable, welcoming, and her whole family seemed to know what a good meal is all about. I think I’ll call back for a second date real soon.