Can the finger-licking morsels served up from stands at the side of the road in Mongolia or Jerusalem or Korea be just as delicious served seated in the comfort of a walled courtyard in Hollywood?
We pondered that, again, late last night over a second birthday dinner in as many weeks, as we lapped up whatever sticky, spicy flavors glazed our fingers from handling the Indian potato-stuffed paani puri we’d gobbled in minutes.
Street, Susan Feniger’s newest restaurant devoted to transglobal cuisine, is also A+R manager Rafael Negron’s favorite, so he chose it to celebrate his birthday. Ditto fellow guests, costume designer Arianne Phillips and art rep Richard Scarry (buzzing still from Gary Baseman's carnivale last weekend, as we were), among the friends piled around a long table near the blazing fire pit.
Susan, along with fellow chef Mary Sue Miliken, educated Angeleno palettes with their fusion menu at the late City Restaurant in the 1980s, followed by Border Grill and Cuidad (still going in Santa Monica and downtown, respectively).
At Street, Susan and executive chef Kajsa Alger serve up Moldavian meatballs with dill cream, Mid-Eastern-style lamb kofta with a slab of artichoke for the peeling, Scandinavian apple and beet salad with black currants, and a crazy Vietnamese corn with onions and bits of crispy pork belly. There’s plenty of vegan and vegetarian offerings, actually, which Richard ensured we try.
Part of the appeal of street food is the experience. And while Street offers a distinctly different, more refined spin than the origins of much of these plates, it’s certainly an appealing alternative to those of us who regularly hit vendors on our travels. Inside and out, U.S. artists Su Huntley and Donna Muir scrawled massive line drawings of urban life on the hot red and orange walls (they also did Cuidad). Neil Denari (who, among other amazing projects, did the futuristic L.A. Eyeworks flagship on Beverly Boulevard) enveloped the inside with long bars of wood, interspersed with streaks of light, that gives the effect of a tunnel. (The building is the former Highland Grounds space on Highland, north of Melrose.) The L.A. architect topped tables with a hard material made from recycled paper, and salvaged Danish modern chairs from a Sonoma Valley schoolhouse.
There’s a green theme running through the daily grind, too. The kitchen serves only Seafood Watch-listed sustainable seafood (so no tuna or swordfish), fair trade coffee from Intelligentsia, and collaborates with SEE-LA, the city’s nonprofit farmer’s market collective. They not only recycle, but compost, too. And that’s only the start.
Not so easy to swallow are the prices at times. One can’t help but recall the coins doled out to a sidewalk vendor in some faraway land, or even the ma-and-pa eatery owned by immigrants down the road from our Silverlake home. And, worth every penny as they are, the fresh-fruit cocktails are expensive. A great beer and wine list, many organic and biodynamic, are more reasonable. The $8.50 valet charge during dinner times also inspires a five-minute onslaught from Andy (there is some street parking on Highland).
But that’s all forgotten once we’re seated under the inky L.A. night sky, implausible palm trees towering above us, seated in the cozy glow with friends and jostling for the last millet puff.
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