Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Koran or Quran

Two incidents in Morocco got me thinking about reading the Koran. The first incident was with our guide, Hassan, in Fes when the topic of Moses and Abraham came up. Hassan expressed surprise to learn that both were in the Bible. I was surprised by his surprise, given the significant amount of his interaction with Christian tourists, and was intrigued to find how Moses and Abraham are presented in the Koran. Hassan also talked about his desire to do the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. He said that once you do the Hajj you add that to your name, so for example, he would be called Hajj Hasan. The second incident was on our third day traveling with our driver, Aziz, while we were in the midst of a long drive. He asked if we believed Jesus was a prophet or a God? Judy responded that as Christians we believed Jesus was a God. Aziz, obviously primed, played a talk from his cell phone explaining why Jesus was just a prophet. The talk went on for about 20 minutes, then afterwards Aziz asked us what we thought about what we'd heard and whether we would think about becoming Muslims. This was jolting to me for several reasons. It breached the boundary between driver and client and it was perhaps only the second time since my Mormon missionary days that I have been evangelized. However, during the remainder of our drive that day we asked Aziz about other Islamic topics, including, why Muslims don't eat pork and Muslim attitudes about women. Aziz found these topics addressed by the same person and we probably listened to an hour or more of this type of discourse. All of this got me intrigued to learn more about Islam.

After an internet search for the best translation of the Koran, which is written in Arabic, I purchased a translation by A.J. Arberry which is claimed to best convey the "impression made on Muslims by the original." It covers about 700 pages, but the pages are loosely packed and have wide margins. It is divided into 114 chapters, called suras, and each chapter is divided into verses, called ayat. For comparison, the New Testament has 7,956 verses and 138,020 words. The Koran has 6,236 verses and 77,439 words (just a little less than the four gospels plus Acts which has 83,207 words). Each chapter of the Koran has a title, derived either from a name or quality discussed in the text, or from the first letters or words of the chapter. Except for the first chapter, titled "The Opening," which is only seven verses, the chapters are pretty much arranged from longest to shortest. Chapter 2, "The Cow," has 286 verses and covers all or portions of 42 pages. Chapter 114, "Men," is six verses and covers about a quarter of a page. While writing this post, I found an internet version of the Koran that I like, The Noble Quran. It has an index that allows a quick click to the text of each of the 114 chapters, each verse is numbered and set apart from each other verse, and insertions into the text in parens ( ) give helpful information for greater comprehension.

Chapter 78, The Tiding
My biggest surprise has been how little doctrine is found in the Koran. It seems primarily devotional, for praise and worship, like Psalms. Large portions made little sense to me, not surprising given my lack of cultural and doctrinal background. But even when discussing familiar topics, the language and structure is more poetic, not my strong suit. The parts I found most interesting were those that dwelt with familiar figures, like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Lot and Jesus, or the few places that did deal with doctrine I have some awareness of. I'll briefly share some of those parts. I find that the translations I have looked at vary greatly. Sometimes I feel like the Arberry translation I used is better at catching the rhythm and poetry of the Koran, but is less clear in conveying the meaning. It also does not clearly delineate the verse numbers, making it very difficult to find specific references. So below I use a number of different translations and sometimes even combine portions of different translations that I feel convey a clearer meaning.


"The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah...And say not, Trinity. Desist. it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory to have a son." (4:171)

"Allah will say: 'O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?' He will say: 'Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right [to say]...Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden." (5:116)

"The Jews say, 'Ezra is the Son of God': the Christians say, 'The Messiah is the son of God.' That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them! How they are perverted! They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God, and the Messiah, Mary's son - and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no god but He..."(9:30-31)

"And for their saying: We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah, and they killed him not, nor did they cause his death on the cross, but he was made to appear to them as such. And certainly those who differ therein are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge about it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for certain: Nay, Allah exalted him in His presence." (4:157-158)

The Koran has two references to Jesus bringing to life a clay bird as a youngster, an event from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. First, in 3:49, "And will make him [Jesus] a Messenger to the Children of Israel [saying]: 'I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's Leave...'" Second, "When God said, 'Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My blessing upon thee and upon thy mother, when I confirmed thee with the Holy Spirit, to speak to men in the cradle, and of age;...and when thou createst out of clay, by My leave, as the likeness of a bird, and thou breathest into it , and it is a bird, by My leave..." (5:110)

Eating Pork

"These things only has He forbidden you: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine..." (2:173)


"O believers, when you stand up to pray wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads, and your feet up to the ankles. If you are defiled, purify yourselves; but if you are sick or on a journey, or if any of you come from the privy, or you have touched women, and you can find no water, then have recourse to wholesome dust and wipe your faces and your hands with it. God does not desire to make any impediment for you; but He desires to purify you, and that He may complete His blessing upon you..." (5:6)


Moses is mentioned more in the Koran than any other person and there is even proportionally more detail about his life than any other person. Many events from his life are narrated, but conspicuously missing is his receiving the ten commandments. The Moses portions of the Koran were probably my favorite.

"...We did send down the Torah to Moses, therein was guidance and light, by which the Prophets, who submitted themselves to God's Will, judged the Jews. And the rabbis and the priests too judged the Jews by the Torah for to them was entrusted the protection of God's Book, and they were witnesses thereto." (5:44)

"Moses...observed on the side of the Mount a fire. He said to his household, 'Tarry you here; I observe a fire. Perhaps I shall bring you news of it, or a faggot from the fire, that haply you shall warm yourselves.' When he came to it, a voice cried from the right bank of the watercourse, in the sacred hollow, coming from the tree: 'Moses, I am God, the Lord of all Being. Cast down thy staff.' And when he saw it quivering like a serpent, he turned about retreating, and turned not back. 'Moses, come forward, and fear not; for surely thou art in security. Insert they hand into thy bosom, and it will come forth white without evil; and press to thee thy arm, that thou be not afraid. So these shall be two proofs from they Lord to Pharaoh and his Council..." (28:29-32)

"And We (God) brought the Children of Israel over the sea; and Pharaoh and his hosts followed them insolently and impetuously till, when the drowning overtook him, he said, 'I believe that there is no god but He in whom the Children of Israel believe; I am of those that surrender.' 'Now? And before thou didst rebel, being of those that did corruption. So today We shall deliver thee with thy body, that thou mayest be a sign to those after thee. Surely men are heedless of Our signs.'" (10:90-92)


Muhammed is mentioned by name four times in the Koran. Three of those passages refer to him as the Messenger. For example, " the Messenger of Allah and the last of the Prophets." (33:40) The fourth refers to his messenger role: "But those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and believe in that which is sent down to Muhammad [the Koran], for it is the truth from their Lord, He will expiate from them their sins, and will make good their state." (47:2)

Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran in 609 CE, at the age of 40. He was in spiritual contemplation in a cave on Mount Hira, about three miles outside Mecca, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him in the form of a man and said, "Recite." Muhammad responded, "I am not a reciter." Gabriel then embraced Muhammad so hard that he could endure it no longer, at which time Gabriel released him and said again, "Recite." It played out the same way two more times, except that the third time Gabriel went on to recite what is now a portion of chapter 96 of the Koran, which reads in part: "Recite: In the Name of thy Lord who created, created Man of a blood-clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the Pen, taught Man that he knew not. No indeed; surely Man waxes insolent, for he thinks himself self-sufficient." (96:1-7) Muhammad then recited all of the words back to Gabriel and Gabriel left him. Muhammad left the cave for home and was half way down the mountain when he heard Gabriel above him say, "O Muhammad, thou art the Messenger of God, and I am Gabriel." Muhammad looked upward and saw Gabriel filling the horizon and Gabriel repeated the same message again.  (Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, Martin Lings, pages 44-45, hereafter "Life of Muhammad")
On an internet search for the best books on Muhammad, this was at the top of most peoples list. 
Muhammad received more revelations from Gabriel over the course of 23 years until shortly before his death. Those revelations now make up the Koran. Here is a list of the chapters of the Koran in the order they were received and whether the revelations were received in Mecca or Medina (Muhammed moved to Medina in 622). The earlier revelations are shorter, so tend to be toward the end, and they contain more repetition and rhyme.

Chapter 53, verses 4-11, allude to that first visit from Gabriel: "This is naught but a revelation revealed [the Koran], taught him [Muhammad] by one terrible in power [Gabriel], very strong; he stood poised, being on the higher horizon, then drew near and suspended hung, two bows-length away, or nearer, then revealed to his servant that he revealed. His heart lies not of what he saw.."

I like the following story because it shows Muhammad was not beyond reproach from God. Muhammad was speaking to one of the leaders of the Quraysh, a non-believer and someone he had wanted to connect with, when a recent convert who was blind approached him and asked Muhammad to recite some of the Koran to him. Muhammad told the blind man it was not a good time and asked him to be patient and wait. The blind man persisted and Muhammad finally turned away from him. Shortly afterwards Muhammad received this new revelation: "He [Muhammad] frowned and turned away, because the blind man came to him...As for him who thinks himself self-sufficient [the Quraysh leader], to him you attend; What does it matter to you if he will not become pure. But as to him who came to you running and is afraid [of Allah and His punishment], of him you are neglectful and divert your attention to another..." (80:1-2, 5-10; Life of Muhammad, page 66)

The Koran

One of the meanings of the word "Koran" is to recite which fits in well with Gabriel's first revelation to Muhammad mentioned above. The Koran makes reference by name to itself about 70 times. For example, "God has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise:...that is a promise binding upon God in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran..." (9:111) Further,  "Say: 'I follow only what is revealed to me from my Lord...And when the Koran is recited, give you ear to it and be silent; haply so you will find mercy." (7:203-204)

Muslims believe the Koran was written by God and Gabriel was merely reciting to Muhammad that which had already been written. This was alluded to in the first revelation which said God taught by the pen. Someone asked Muhammad about the pen. Muhammad responded, "The first thing God created was the pen. He created the tablet and said to the pen: 'Write!' And the pen answered: 'What shall I write?' He said: 'Write My knowledge of My creation till the day of resurrection.' Then the pen traced what had been ordained." (Life of Muhammad, page 46) The Koran refers to this heavenly Koran as the "Mother of the Book" (13:30) and the "glorious Koran, in a guarded tablet." (85:21-22).


The Bible recounts the story of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah offered Abraham her hand maiden, Hagar, so that Abraham could father a child. Hagar bore him Ishmael. Later, Sarah bore a son, Isaac, and Sarah then wanted Hagar and Ishmael to leave. They were guided to what is now Mecca where Ishmael was about to die of thirst. Hagar stood on a nearby prominence to look for help. Then she rushed to another prominence for the same purpose. She went back and forth between these two prominences seven times. Meanwhile, Ishmael, laying in the sand, cried out to God. An angel called to Hagar and told her not to be afraid, "God has heard the boy crying...Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink." (Genesis 21:17-19) This well was known as Zamzam. Abraham later visited Hagar and Ishmael in Mecca and God showed Abraham a site, near the well of Zamzam, where the Kaaba, a sanctuary, must be built and how it should be built. Abraham and Ishmael then built the Kaaba. The Koran states: "We [God] appointed the House to be a place of visitation for the people, and a sanctuary...We made covenant with Abraham and Ishmael: 'Purify My House for those that shall go about it and those that cleave to it, to those who bow and prostrate themselves.' And when Abraham said, 'My Lord, make this a land secure [Mecca], and provide its people with fruits, such of them as believe in God and the Last Day.' ...And...Abraham, and Ishmael with him, raised up the foundations of the House." [2:125-127]).

Abdul Mattalib, Muhammad's paternal grandfather, was responsible for feeding and watering the pilgrims to the Kaaba and levying a tax on them. He spent lots of time at the Kaaba, sometimes having a couch brought to the northwest side of the Kaaba, over the tombs of Hagar and Ishmael, where he would sleep at night. One night he had a vision and was told to dig for Zamzam. By this time the well was covered over and lost to memory. Abdul followed the directions given him in the vision and uncovered the well. He was thereafter given the added responsibility over Zamzam as he already had charge of watering the pilgrims. After both of Muhammad's parents died, his grandfather raised him for two years until his own death. During that time, Muhammad spent lots of time at the Kaaba with his grandfather. As his grandfather was dying, he arranged for Muhammad to go live with another of his grandfather's sons, his uncle, Abu Talib. (Life of Muhammad, pages 7-11,27-28)

The Koran, in a chapter titled "Pilgrimage," says: "And when We [God] showed Abraham the site of the House [Kaaba]: [saying] 'Associate not anything [worship] with Me [none has the right to be worshiped but God], and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it, and those who stand up for prayer, and those who bow, and make prostration; and proclaim to mankind the Pilgrimage [the Hajj]. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway, that they may witness things that are of benefit to them and mention God's Name on appointed days, over such beasts of the flock as He has provided them [for sacrifice]. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the wretched poor. Then let them complete the prescribed duties for them, and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House.'" (22:26-29) Kaaba means cube and its four corners are towards the points of the compass. The most holy object at the Kaaba is a celestial stone given to Abraham by an angel. Muhammad taught that it "descended from Paradise whiter than milk, but the sins of the sons of Adam made it black." The black stone was built into the east corner. (Life of Muhammad, pages 1-3) The circumambulation of the Kaaba is symbolic of Hagar's seeking help for her dying Ishmael.

"And when Abraham said, 'My Lord, show me how You will give life to the dead.' He said, 'Why, do you not believe?' 'Yes,' he said, 'but that my heart may be at rest.' Said He, 'Take four birds, and twist them to thee [and cut them into pieces], then set a part of them on every hill, then summon them, and they will come to thee running." (2:260)

There are two references in the Koran to Books of Abraham: (1) "This is in the former Scriptures, the Scriptures of Abraham and Moses." (87:18-19); and (2) "Nay, is he not acquainted with what is in the Books of Moses, and of Abraham who fulfilled his engagements" (53:36-37). Muslim scholars believe these are references to a lost scriptures. (Wikipedia, Abraham in Islam)

Islam is sometimes referred to as the "religion of Abraham" (2:135)


I've mentioned that I read the Koran to a number of people and at least two have asked me about the verses of violence, or the verses of jihad. I wasn't really looking for those kinds of verses when I read, but in general I did not feel it was any more violent than the Old Testament, or even a number of passages of the New Testament. Historically, the Christians have been much more war-like than the Muslims.The Christians have a very poor record for their treatment of the Jews, for their treatment of the Muslims and Jews during the Crusades, and even the treatment of the eastern Christians by the western Christians. Even the Mormons have their Danites and Mountain Meadows Massacre. I don't really have much interest in this aspect of the Koran, but provide a link to the 164 jihad verses in the Koran and the verses of violence in the Koran.

Compilation of the Koran

The revelations were received by Muhammad orally and Muhammad and his followers memorized them. Within a few years after Muhammad's death, the first caliph, Abu Bakr, directed that the revelations be collected into a hand-written book. Zayd ibn Thabit was directed to head that task. Zayd contacted men who knew the Koran by heart and also reviewed portions that had been written down on parchment, palm-leaf stalks, thin stones and animal bones, such as the shoulder blade of the camel. The third caliph, Uthman, started to notice pronunciation differences as Islam spread. Zayd was called upon again, this time to destroy variant forms of the revelations so that there was only one standard copy of the Koran existed. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Riad Badi - Marrakech

Riad Badi in Marrakech, Morocco was the third of our three great Moroccan riads. The riads have forever changed how we will think about lodging. They are a combination of a nice room, a very nice common area, a good breakfast and an optional evening meal, all for a very reasonable charge. Riad Badi, including the room and breakfast, was less than $80.00 per night, is inside the medina very near the Badi Palace and about a ten minute walk from the Jema el Fna, the main market square of Marrakech. It is a windowless three story building, recently restored, with a covered courtyard and a rooftop area with a great view of storks nesting on the Badi Palace walls.

Isabelle and Christian, the owners, are very accommodating. They offered to show us around the medina (we already had a guide arranged), walked us out to meet up with our transportation to a cooking class we took and early one morning when I was taking pictures of storks on the roof, Christian brought me up a pot of warm milk with sugar. For all of these reasons and more, Riad Badi was ranked no. 1 out of 1,126 hotels in Marrakech on Trip Advisor when we made reservations and it is currently no. 9 out of 1,174.
This is as showy as the front of the riad gets. 
The entrance is down a narrow, non-descript, corridor. The ground floor has the kitchen, several rooms for guests to relax and lounge around, and I believe games and t.v. (we never visited this part of the riad - we had too much else to do).
A couch and some chairs downstairs.
Judy sits at a table downstairs waiting for dinner.
A view of part of the downstairs from the second floor.
We also had dinner in the riad our first night after driving in from the southeastern side of the High Atlas Mountains. For a starter we had a pastilla which was a combination of bread filled with raisins and chicken. Our main course was a tagine of chicken with olives and couscous. I find that in general most chicken is overcooked for my taste and that held true in Morocco. The olives were quite large and a little more bitter than many we had and we had way more couscous than we could handle. We ate a lot of tagine cooked food in Morocco and lamb was always by far the best, followed by beef, a distant second, and chicken a more distant third. Finally, for dessert we had fresh strawberries in a cup with a sprig of mint and some whipped cream. Isabelle went to the market daily to get fresh fruit for the meals.
Pastilla with slice of orange on top.
A look inside the pastilla.
Tagine of chicken and olives.
The guest rooms are on the second floor arranged around the outside of the atrium. In addition to our bed, we had a nook with a coffee table and a couch, and a nice-sized bathroom with a walk-in shower.
The second floor and doors for some of the guest rooms.
Our bed
The nook with the couch.
Door into our room and bathroom off to the left. A beautiful wall hanging near the door.
On the third floor, which is the roof, there is a covered area as well as lounge chairs and a little hot tub. We had all three of our breakfasts there, outside and in the morning sun.  For breakfast Judy always got a pot of hot chocolate and I got a pot of warm milk with sugar (which I'd never had before Morocco and learned to love there). We always had fresh orange juice, some other fruit - an orange, strawberries or dates and several kinds of bread or cake along with butter, honey and fresh jam. We also had plain yogurt which I did not eat, but Judy did eat every morning.
Lounge chairs and a hot tub just visible to the left.
The covering over the atrium and the stork wall to the back.
Breakfast one morning.
Breakfast another morning.
Breakfast the third morning.
Best of all, we had a view of at least six white stork nests nearby on the wall of the Badi Palace. Two mornings I went up with my camera and watched them and took pictures. This was a very fun vantage point.
Four of the stork nests are visible in this photo.
Storks on their nest.
Taking flight.
Leaving the wall.
Overall, our three riads in Morocco were all marvelous. I would rate Riad Laaroussa in Fez and L'Ma Lodge in Skoura as the best, each being wonderful for different reasons, and I would rate Riad Badi a little behind the other two (the physical facility was not as large or as open and the food was not on the same level, but it was still fantastic and cheaper - in a more expensive city). 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Red Rooster - Harlem, New York

When in New York recently, Judy had on her "have to do" list a visit to Red Rooster, a restaurant in Harlem owned by Marcus Samuelson. In her classes at Crafton Hills College she has been using the book, Yes, Chef: A Memoir, by Samuelson. Samuelson was born in Ethiopia, but adopted to a family in Goteborg, Sweden after his mother died. He got interested in cooking through his adoptive grandmother, went to culinary school in Sweden, did apprenticeships in Switzerland and Austria, then apprenticed at the Restaurant Aquavit in New York where he got a three star review from the New York Times at age 24. In 2004 he got the James Beard Award as Best Chef in New York City and started a restaurant Ringo in New York. There is much more to his resume, including guest-chef for the first state dinner of President Obama in honor of the Indian Prime Minister and many appearances on various food shows. He opened Red Rooster in Harlem in December 2010. Several months later Red Rooster hosted a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee attended by President Obama which raised $1.5 million at $30,800 per plate. This is by far the most celebrity restaurant we have visited. Fortunately, our brunch cost substantially less than $30,800 per person. 

We visited Red Rooster on a cold Saturday morning, arriving right when it opened about 10:00 a.m. We'd been told it was virtually impossible to get reservations in the evening without substantial advance notice, but that we would be able to walk-in if we arrived early for the brunch. We may have been the first two customers in the restaurant as we waited for Andrew to meet us. It was slow to fill, but by the time we left it was packed. 

The decor was fun, had kind of an eclectic, home-grown, feel to it. For example, the bench we sat on had swaths of colorful fabric attached to it, including a piece with a sphinx. On one wall was a beautiful star-shaped quilt and there were photographs, collages and other items that made it fun to survey the room. Many of the people, both staff and customers, were even more interesting than the decor. Wild looking hats, hairstyles and clothing that I don't normally see. 
Judy's scarf fit the decor.

For starters we ordered deviled eggs with duck salame. The egg yolk filling greatly expanded its volume so that it towered above its hard-boiled egg-white base. The eggs were held in place by what appeared to be peanut butter (or perhaps cashew butter) and each had a chunk of bacon on top. The eggs were good, certainly visually different, but the taste was not significantly better or different than other deviled eggs I've had.
We also ordered cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam. I'm not sure I even tried the jam. I did use the honey butter. The corn bread was good, but not great or memorable.
Andrew ordered "the bird and the egg," consisting of fried chicken, an egg, a waffle and red eye gravy. I might've ordered this if he hadn't. The fried chicken was very nice, but I've had very good chicken at KFC. And I love an egg with anything. Very good - yes, spectacular -no. 
Judy ordered "el jefe," a short rib, black kale, eggs and grana padano cheese. This is the other item I might've ordered if Judy hadn't. Two eggs are better than one and I always love eggs with beef. It was good, I look at the picture and it looks good, but it was not memorable. I had no angst for not ordering it.
My top two choices taken, I went for "shrimp & grits," which was cheddar grits, "piri piri" and "frogmore stew." Frogmore stew is a Low Country (South Carolina) dish also known as "low-country boil" and "Beaufort stew." Frogmore is the mailing address for the residents of St. Helena island off the South Carolina coast and has nothing to do with frog legs, or any other part of the frog. The two main ingredients are fresh shrimp and freshly-shucked yellow corn. Piri piri is a chili pepper that grows in parts of Africa and then was taken to India by the Portuguese. It is also called African bird's eye chili. The shrimp was tender and the frogmore stew, with just a tad bit of piri piri spiciness, inundated the grits like a heavy rainfall swamps our back lawn. The grits were creamy, but I focused on spoonfuls of frogmore and left the less saturated grits mixture behind. This was creative, different and good - but you've got to really love grits to put that much away.
For dessert, yes dessert, even though its not yet near noon, Judy got "music roots" pie with hot fudge and marshmallow ice cream. It was visually different, like a combination waffle iron, wash basin and coon-skin cap. I took small tastes of the different elements and nothing tempted me to go on beyond that.
But, the dessert I ordered, the "creme de coco" with coconut panna cotta, mango and pistachio was incredible, probably the best of our menu items. It was smooth and creamy and the fresh mango taste dominated it wonderfully.
I'm a little conflicted about this restaurant experience. The setting is wonderfully fun and the clientele is even more interesting. So many stories I'd love to hear from backgrounds so different than mine. Judy was excited to be there and her excitement rubbed off. Having Andrew and his take on the world also added to the mix. The food was good, very good, but aside from one of the desserts, I didn't really feel like it was world class - President Obama, $30,800 per plate class (although I know the menu of that night had to be substantially different than what we were eating). I don't feel any particular need or desire to go back, although I would certainly do so. The dinner menu does look like it has more pizzazz. I give it a five (of five), but among the subset of five it would range in the middle, not toward the top. I also may be biased because of the chicken theme. If it was the golden calf, the black sheep, the galloping goat, Pilate's pig, or the magi's camel, I probably would have had more of an affinity for it. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Lala's Argentine Grill - Los Angeles

I recently had a young friend return from an LDS mission to Argentina. I wanted to take him out for an Argentine meal and hear about his mission, something I've done with some other returned missionaries. They get a meal with food from where they have been living and I get to hear about the mission and ask questions, a mutually beneficial situation. 

I did some research on Argentine restaurants in the Los Angeles area and chose Lala's Argentine Grill in Los Angeles (we went to the one at 7229 Melrose Ave). It gets four stars on Yelp with 1,427 reviews and is rated number 355 our of 8,017 in Los Angeles on Trip Advisor with 134 reviews. 
I loved it. I give it five stars. Taylor (my friend) also enjoyed it and he said it was very authentic. The drive into and back from Los Angeles gave us some good time to talk and now I'm looking for an excuse to go back. 
We were seated outside under a patio.
First, we started with some nice bread and a chimichurri dipping sauce. Wikipedia says it is used for grilled meat, but we found it also makes for a nice dipping sauce. It appears that chimichurri has many different variations, but one recipe I am looking at includes Italian parsley, thyme, scallions, peeled garlic cloves, crushed chili flake, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice olive oil and salt and pepper. Another recipe uses oregano leaves and sherry wine or red wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. Wikipedia credits Argentina for originating it and says it includes white vinegar and oregano and sites Uruguay for the addition of red pepper flakes. I found that in dipping the bread, it made a big difference if you got mostly olive oil verses a big smattering of the added ingredients. The olive oil by itself was bland, but the mixture made it quite exceptional. We finished our bread and chimichurri and ordered another round of it. 
For starters we got morcilla, two grilled traditional blood sausages. Taylor saw blood sausage in Argentina but never tasted any. I like to taste the boundaries and Taylor was a good sport and tried some with me. Morcilla is similar to what is called "black pudding" in England. It is pig's blood and ground up pieces of pork or pork offal. It may also include seasonings like salt, pepper, garlic, onion, paprika and other fillers like rice, breadcrumbs and nuts. I've eaten blood sausage before, at least once, but my experience is limited. This blood sausage had a higher ratio of blood to filler than what I've eaten previously which made it a little more difficult to deal with mentally. It tasted fine, nothing off-putting, but I do prefer more filler. Taylor courageously ate quite a bit of it.
Taylor was excited to eat some empanada. Lala's had a choice of beef, chicken, spinach, cheese and onion or ham and cheese. We chose ham and cheese. The empanada originated in Portugal. Wikipedia notes that in Argentina, the dough is made with wheat flour and beef drippings and that fillings differ from province to province. They can be baked (Salta-style) or fried (Tucuman-style). I'm guessing the one we shared was fried and it had a generous filling of white cheese and ham. It was good, but had a pretty high ratio of bread to filling. 

We also shared a chorizo sausage which Taylor was excited to try. He really learned to love chorizo. Chorizo originated in Spain and Portugal and is usually a pork sausage with an intestine casing. Argentine chorizo is usually made of pork, but can be made of beef, but tends to be less spicy than Spanish, Portuguese or Mexican chorizo. It was good, but I do like spicier chorizos. 
Argentina is known for its beef, so I had to try the "gaucho," a ribeye steak with grilled onions and an Anaheim pepper. The menu says the steak is aged at least 25 days. It came with a choice of french fries, mashed potatoes or salad and I chose the mashed potatoes. Taylor comes from a family where his father eats his steaks well done and we were going to be sharing. So I went for medium rare rather than rare. This item was worth the drive. The potatoes were some of the best I've had at a restaurant, I was wishing Judy could be there because she adores mashed potatoes. The Anaheim chili and onions were a very nice complement and the steak was fantastic. Nicely cooked, nice flavor. Taylor even voiced, when it was all over, that he usually ate his meat well done, but that he'd really enjoyed it medium rare. 

Here the steak is uncovered to reveal it is liberally peppered with garlic. 
Taylor ordered the suprema napolitana. It is boneless chicken breast, breaded and lightly fried, topped with basil tomato sauce and melted cheese, like a pizza. It was huge, nearly filled the plate. This dish was created in Buenos Aires and is not named after Naples, but after the restaurant Napoli in Buenos Aires where it was first sold in the late 1940s. Taylor was particularly excited about this dish, something he really loved there and he loved this. I'm not a major fan of pounded and breaded chicken so I had some and thought it was fine, but nothing I would order on my own. It did have a very large quantity of melted cheese on top of it. It also came with mashed potatoes.  
Finally, we got panqueque de banana condulce de leche, a pancake with warm caramel and diced bananas and caramelized sugar. Dulce de leche is made from whole milk, sugar and sometimes vanilla bean. It gets its taste from the Maillard reaction,  a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its caramelized flavor. It looked good and was very good, although it did have somewhat of a burnt flavor. 

The caramelized milk of the dulce de leche.
Overall, I loved Lala's and would like to go back again.