Evan Kleiman revisits her Passover traditions

Posted By on April 3, 2014

Pollo Arrosto (lemon and rosemary chicken)

In an environment thats all too familiar with short-lived businesses and perpetual change, the sound of a collective, disappointed sigh spread through Los Angeles in January 2012 when restaurateur and chef Evan Kleiman announced she was closing Angeli Caffe after more than 27 years in business. Kleiman remains prominent on the L.A. food scene with her KCRW show, Good Food, and the doyenne of the beloved Melrose Avenue Italian restaurant also gave her fans a taste of what theyd been missing a few weeks ago at the Skirball Cultural Center, where she prepared her classic Passover menu.

In this culmination event tied to Tent: Food LA, Kleiman partnered with Skirball Executive Chef Sean Sheridan to revisit classic dishes her customers came to expect every year at her Angeli Passovers, this time at a special gathering called Angeli Caffe Passover Pop-Up. Here, as at the restaurant, Kleiman served the meal kosher style and family style, never as a formal seder, however.

For my own family, in fact, Passover at Angeli came to represent what the restaurant did best. Kleiman excelled at offering comforting, unfussy, fairly priced food that tasted delicious and was prepared with the utmost care yet offered in an unpretentious ambiance, all under the guidance of her own deep culinary knowledge and generous spirit.

Angeli was never about Kleimans singular culinary ego or advancing a dogmatic agenda shes built around authentic Italian food and cooking. Instead, Kleiman a Silver Lake native and Mid-City resident who clearly remembers learning to make hamantashen at the Hollywood-Los Feliz JCC (now the Silverlake Independent JCC) on Sunset Boulevard when she was 8 years old served as an L.A.-based pioneer in recognizing how a mix of European influences and California ingredients can thrive. Perhaps most significantly, she showed us how food can foster community.

This mission of creating a genuine food community remains a core component of her continuing work as a cook, educator, writer and host of Good Food. It is no wonder she describes herself as a culinary multitasker. (Disclosure: I have appeared as a guest on her radio show.) After attempts in the late 1980s and early 90s to expand the Angeli brand at three splashier locations in West Los Angeles, none of which achieved the longevity of her first venue, she reinvented herself at her original home on Melrose near Poinsettia Avenue, where she continued to cement her role as one of L.A.s godmothers of food.

Jordan Peimer, vice president of programs at the Skirball, summarized feelings shared by nostalgic erstwhile Angeli customers, many of them in attendance at the dinner that night. There are all kinds of reasons I miss Angeli Caffe, Peimer told the crowd. I miss seeing Evan at least every month. And I really miss Passover.

Kleiman starting doing casual holiday dinners more than 25 years ago to provide a place for her family and friends to go (Kleimans mother recently turned 94). During the early years, she took what she confessed to be an overly eclectic approach to menu planning.

I flitted around. I would do all-Indian Passover, and then I would do all-Greek Sephardic Passover, she recalled. I realized what people really wanted was some Ashkenazi stuff, and some Italianized stuff. Eventually, her longtime staff knew how to make Pesce en Carpione, the fusion Tortino di Azzime (aka mazzagna), and Kleimans unique charoset recipe as easily as Angelis signature dishes, such as pizza Margherita and red-beet gnocchi.

The Skirball meal included huevos haminados, hard-boiled eggs slow-cooked in layers of onion skins in a time-honored Sephardic method. This dish holds a particular significance for Kleiman, who said her favorite [moment] was when somebody would come up to me and ask, Is it time to start saving onion skins? And I was like, Yes, we did it!

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Evan Kleiman revisits her Passover traditions

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