Dear Mr. Gold:
I'm in a book club with some pretty amazing women. All of us are mothers — read: limited budget but willing to splurge on something special. We read mostly fiction, and a couple of books on our calendar are set in foreign countries, one in France, the second in Ethiopia.
We've decided that we'd like to discuss these two books over dinner. Could you recommend French and Ethiopian restaurants that might fit the bill? We're based in Northeast L.A., but we're willing to commute for good grub.
It's always good to theme the refreshments for book group. Unless you're discussing The Road, in which case I'd rather not know. It's even fun if you cheat. For the rest of her life, my daughter will probably wonder just how Little Women relates to a Swiss chard gratin — but I digress.
For Ethiopian food, you pretty much have to go to Little Ethiopia, that strip of Ethiopian-owned businesses on Fairfax just south of Olympic, which may not resemble Ethiopia per se, but certainly feels like Addis Ababa might if it were located a half-mile south of the Tar Pits. Everybody has her favorite among the restaurants in the neighborhood, and the reasons are generally sound. Nyala is still the laid-back, groovy one; Rahel the vegan one; Merkato the one the backpacker crowd tends toward; and Messob the sleek one your parents would like. At Rosalind's you will hear terms like NGO and PVO batted about by your fellow diners. But I still prefer Meals by Genet, which is more like a bistro serving great Ethiopian food than a self-consciously exotic restaurant, and the food is delicious, especially the mellow yet complexly spiced doro wot.
As for French food … There are any number of serious French restaurants in Los Angeles, although many, many fewer than there were just a few years ago, and on the onion-soup end, the gastropub has thoroughly conquered the brasserie. If you're in Northeast L.A., you're probably going to wind up in Cafe Beaujolais or Bistro de la Gare, which are just about right. If you want to go to a place where the waiter will make fun of the way you pronounce Pouilly-Fuisse, Le Petit Bistro is probably where you want to go. Or you could drive a bit further to Le Saint Amour, which will have all the andouillettes, escargots and boudin you could wish for, a list of authentically mediocre French wines, and profiteroles and peach Melba for dessert, but also a very un-Parisian relaxed friendliness that will gladden all but the hardened Houllebec fanatic.