The Milky Way

It's the height of lunch hour at the Milky Way, a kosher dairy restaurant in Los Angeles, and the proprietress is making the rounds, stopping at tables to greet the diners. It would be like any other power lunch scene in LA, but the woman making the rounds is Steven Spielberg's mother Leah Adler.
At first you may wonder why the mother of one of the richest men in Hollywood isn't following the more glamorous trend of starting her own clothing or jewelry line. But after you taste the food at the Milky Way, the only thing you're left wondering is how Steven Spielberg and his mother ever managed to stay so thin.

For the goyim among us, a kosher dairy restaurant is one that serves dairy products and fish but no meat or fowl. Call it the flip side of a Jewish deli, but the atmosphere at the Milky Way is anything but deli. Located on a stretch of West Pico populated with kosher meat markets, veggie stands, and a bakery, the white stucco space within is lit by skylights, decorated with potted palms, and ringed with banquette seating in deep red leather. Only rarely are you reminded of the celebrity connection: The restroom contains a poster of Schindler's List.

Though the Milky Way offers many creative dishes you wouldn't automatically think of as kosher, like mushroom lasagna and Cajun blacked snapper, I went with the classics so as best to contrast and compare the Milky Way with New York equivalents.

If you want to know what cabbage rolls are really supposed to taste like, try them at Leah Adler's place. Crunchy, slightly sour and topped with a tangy sauerkraut tomato sauce, these were fresher and more complex than any I'd tasted in Eastern European themed East Village restaurants. The "secret blend" of vegetables inside seemed to include dried cherries, carrots, rice, walnuts, and a hint of cinnamon. These cabbage rolls were more Fertile Crescent than Borscht Belt.

The potato pancake alongside was also a wonder - potato shredded into vermicelli-like strands, massed into a pancake and fried crisp on the outside. The potatoes within were still al dente.

The Milky Way's cheese blintzes were some of the best pastries I've had in a while. Light, airy, but rich cheese, crepes pan-fried in butter, and the slightest perfume of almonds made these an excellent treat.

Even for those who don't keep kosher - or heck, for shiksas like me - the Milky Way dishes out some vegetarian dishes so good you forget they're good for you. OK, maybe not the cheese blintzes, but if there were ever a satisfying way to thumb your nose at Atkins, this is it.