Inspired by the all-day cafes in his native Israel, chef Danny Elmaleh has opened Vicky’s All Day, his second restaurant in West Adams amid the muffler shops and fried chicken spots, bringing an unexpected Mediterranean flair to the neighborhood.
Located in what was previously an Armenian bakery that specializes in lahmajoun, next to the fortress that is the Rockenwagner bakery, the menu reflects his dietary upbringing from a Japanese mother and Moroccan father. Signature specialties include the best shakshuka in Los Angeles – a slightly spicy chunky tomato stew made with peppers roasted by Elmaleh himself with traditional Moroccan spices, topped with oozy eggs and served alongside a dramatic laffa bread the size of a baby’s head.
“I wasn’t sure if they were going to like those dishes,” Elmaleh tells L.A. Weekly at the cafe’s beer and wine bar. “It’s not the type of cuisine you would expect to find in the neighborhood. There’s not a lot of Israeli people around here, but when you look at our clientele, they are very diverse.”
Leaning heavily on the diversity that is both the Mediterranean and Japanese diets, another signature dish that keeps returning customers coming back is the sabich pita sandwich, made with brined eggplant. The eggplant soaks up the moisture, which prevents the oil from entering the vegetable, so instead of soaking up the oil, it soaks up water. He adds a spice mixture of cumin and curry and a tahini sauce, which is a mix of ground peppers, mint, cilantro and garlic. It’s stuffed into a soft pita with Israeli chopped salad, cabbage slaw and fermented mango sauce. There are also a few heavier options like a fried chicken sando with honey sriracha sauce and pickled slaw on a brioche bun and a double patty bistro burger with pastrami marmalade, gruyere cheese, greens and pickled shallots.
Much like his nearby Mizlala restaurant, Elmaleh uses very little dairy and no butter – save for yogurt, some feta cheese and a scoop of vanilla gelato on the individual baked to order apple pie.
“I like to feel good after having a meal,” says Elmaleh. “In general when I cook, I like to use a lot of herbs for flavor instead of salt. I use a lot of vegetables and don’t use any butter, just olive oil.”
“In terms of eating healthy and having a home-cooked meal, when I was growing up in Japan and Israel, when you eat Mediterranean food, you always have a variety of stuff on the table,” says Elmaleh, who moved to Japan from Israel when he was 10 years old. “You’re not just eating one dish, there are always multiple dishes on the table, with many of them being small vegetable dishes with a little bit of meat. That’s the Mediterranean way of eating, which is the same way you eat Japanese food. You have a bowl of rice and a variety of condiments. The Japanese way of eating is based on white rice. Your condiments are seasoned and put together in a way to pair with that white rice. So you’re always eating a little burdock salad with carrots or a bean sprout salad with a little grilled fish. What makes it healthy is that diverse variety of different smaller plates together.”
A registered dietitian nutritionist for 25 years and author of the cookbook “Cooking With Trader Joe’s: Lighten Up!” Susan Greeley has made it her life’s work extolling the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, echoing the value of variety and shopping locally.
“My tagline for the Mediterranean diet, which I have been preaching for about 30 years, is good fats, good fiber and phytonutrients,” the instructor of Health-Supportive Culinary Education at the Institute of Culinary Education tells L.A Weekly. “If you focus on that every day, those are the three things that make up an anti-inflammatory diet and the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest anti-inflammatory diet by definition.
Greely goes on to say that the Mediterranean diet is higher in the omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats. There’s lots of lean protein, but the most important part of it all is fiber and phytonutrients. Every single plant food has very different phytonutrients beyond vitamins and minerals, like the lycopene in tomatoes and polyphenols in grapes and red wine. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, beans and legumes are what populations in the Blue Zones – longevity areas of the planet – eat frequently. She attributes a long healthy life with beans, greens, nuts and grains.
“The more variety the better; I can’t stress that enough,” she says. “In the Mediterranean diet they aren’t eating the same foods every day. And shop local. The food is fresher, so the nutrient density will be greater because it hasn’t traveled around the globe, and chances are it hasn’t been sprayed and more likely to be organically grown. After things are picked and shipped across the globe, they get sprayed again with other various toxins to maintain freshness. Even if you buy local items and keep them in your refrigerator for a few days, it’s still far better than buying produce that’s been shipped around the world in bulk. The amount of time from picking to eating is just way too long. Not many nutrients are left in it at that point.”
|In a new study released last week evaluating the Mediterranean diet and adverse pregnancy outcomes, investigators from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai found that women who conceived while adhering to the anti-inflammatory diet had a significantly lower risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.
The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, also evaluated the association between the Mediterranean diet and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including gestational diabetes and hypertension, preterm birth, delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infant, and stillbirth.
Coming out of the pandemic and looking ahead to 2023, Elmaleh believes the trend toward healthy eating will continue and that the deep-fried chicken fad may have hit its peak.
“I see what those fried chicken places are serving and people are taking home and eating on their couches,” he says. “I don’t know how they can eat that huge fried chicken sandwich with a side of fries, and it all seems to be overladen with processed carbs and fatty proteins fried in lard. It’s too much. I’ll have one of those meals and can’t go back for months. I just don’t feel good afterwards and don’t like feeling weighed down.”
In the end, diversity is at the core of Elmaleh’s success, who speaks fluent Japanese, Hebrew and English.
“Living in Japan as a foreigner, you never feel like you’re at home. I’ve always felt like an outsider. When I was in Israel, I was the only Asian-looking kid in Israel, and when I moved to Japan, I wasn’t fully Japanese either. I got bullied a lot, but it made me strong. The beauty of the West Adams neighborhood is the diversity in food and culture, and we’ve been welcomed with open arms.”
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