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My Site: Day 16: Jamaica

My Site


Day 16: Jamaica

How hard is it to convince your girlfriend, your mother and your thirteen year old sister to go to a hole-in-the-wall Jamaican restaurant that serves things like “Goat head stew with tripe”? On this day, apparently, not very. Driving through the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Crenshaw, my mother asks “There are no Jamaican restaurants in Brentwood, huh?” My sister meanwhile, a notoriously picky eater, is strangely up for the ride. We find a parking spot right out front. “Oh great,” mom says, “there are bars on the doors.” GirlfriendBites adds, “They have to keep the goats in somehow.” My sister finds that hilarious and it quickly dawns on me that she may have no plans on eating here at all.

Natraliart in Los Angeles, CA. There is a market attached to the restaurant, which I usually find as a good sign because it tends to mean that they’re getting a lot of natives dropping by to eat. I’m trying to decide whether my excitement is because this place sounds like somewhere I might have a great meal, or because it’s going to be a lot of fun watching these three women placed totally out of their element. The moment we walk in, all eyes are on us. We’re the only white people here and I’m suddenly a little uncomfortable with the task of taking pictures of our experience. My brain quickly flashes forward to the following scenario:

MAN: “Why are you taking my picture?”
ME: “I’m sorry.”
MAN: “What?”
ME: “What?”
MAN: “Why are you taking my picture?”
ME: “It’s for a blog. A Personal Food Project in Blog Form.”
MAN: “Does this setting amuse you?”
ME: “Me? No. I’m just…it’s about food.”
MAN: “Is there something about me eating my dinner that fascinates you in some way?”
ME: “I’m sorry.”
MAN: “What?”
ME: “I’m sorry.”
MAN: “For what?”
ME: “I don’t know.”

Back in reality, the extremely nice waitress brings us our menus. The restaurant has an very nice list of fresh squeezed juices, so I try the sorrel with hibiscus. MamaBites and GirlfriendBites choose the reggae punch. They also have, in addition to their more extreme sounding menu items, vegetarian plates, vegetable stew, tofu plates and the like. The food, while not expensive, is certainly not cheap. My sister, meanwhile, isn’t a big of fan of anything she is reading so far. I suggest the chicken patty and some plantains.

The waitress comes back and recommends the fried red snapper for MamaBites. GirlfriendBites goes with jerk chicken and I decide to take advantage of the more interesting items. “A small side of cow foot stew and a curried goat plate, please.” She goes back to the kitchen with a smile as I take another look at the room. Hand paintings of a map and Jamaican countryside, colorful fliers by the door and multiple photos of Bob Marley, among other things, under “Jucy’s Wall of Fame”. It’s hard not to appreciate the hard work, passion and financial risk it takes to open up and run a place like this.

The chicken patty arrives first and it’s really, really tasty. Stewed chicken inside of a good pastry crust. My sister tries it but doesn’t seem like she can really get herself into it. Now comes the rest of the food. The flavors on every dish are really good, but the execution seems a little hit or miss. The jerk chicken is disappointingly dry and the snapper is good, but doesn’t seem very fresh. MamaBites is starting to regret not getting some of the more Rastafarian menu options. “I wanted to get interesting sounding stuff for the blog.” I let her know that it’s actually a Personal Food Project in Blog Form and that vegetarian cuisine is a huge part of Jamaican culture. Now she’s disappointed, especially since the greens are excellent and easily the tastiest part of the evening.

I convince her to try the savory broth of the gelatinous cow foot stew and she says it tastes like “Thanksgiving gravy.” That’s about as high a praise as you can expect from my mother on this particular dish. The curried goat, meanwhile, has a really interesting and earthy taste. I like the dishes, but I doubt I’ll be craving them any time soon. The toughest part of the whole evening is that my mother, my girlfriend and my sister are barely eating. There is a lot of food being left on the table. I try to make up for it as best I can, but can only consume so much.

We signal for the check and the waitress asks if we want a box. GirlfriendBites hesitates for a second, then says “Yeah. That’d be great.” MamaBites signs the bill and GirlfriendBites fills the box with food that she knows she won’t be eating later. We thank the waitress and head for the car. GirlfriendBites points out that this seems like the kind of place where the food is a little on the inconsistent side. I’d probably have to agree.

Mamabites heads west on Washington Boulevard toward Culver City. “Should we stop into Brunello for a glass of wine?” she asks. “And maybe a pizza?” I’m just happy that they gave it a shot, which is all you can really ask for. We step into the restaurant, are kissed on the cheek and offered a table and a bottle of prosecco. My mother was born in New York, raised by my off-the-boat Sicilian grandmother and made sure that I was in a kitchen cooking marinara sauce from the time I was five. To us, the smells and sounds of this restaurant are home. They’re familiar. They’re comfort. I feel good here and it makes me disappointed for a moment. I love the adventure of this project, I love the experiences, but nothing can overcome the smells that bring you back to childhood. For now, I just hope that it’s the exotic journeys that make the comforting ones more appreciated. It certainly feels that way tonight.

Natraliart Restaurant
3426 W Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90018
(323) 732-8865

Food Breakdown: 4 non-alcoholic beverages, 3 entrees, 4 sides
Price: $70
Distance From My House: 5.2 miles



  1. BroBites · Sep 22, 11:45 AM

    Noah, remember when we talked about our three “desert island” world cuisines? No question: Italian, Mexican, Japanese.

    Growing up with Italian food at home turned it into comfort food. Even Mom thought it was strange when you made pasta for breakfast, but there’s just nothing better sometimes.

    Mexican food is obvious because we grew up in historical Mexico. It’s just damn good food and we got to eat it all of the time.

    I don’t get why we were so fascinated with Japanese. I mean, we even studied the language for years, but neither of us have been to Japan. Is it because Dad was into it? Is it a music-business-guy-in-the-70’s thing? Maybe the Japanese have just mastered food like they have mastered so many other things. They are a very old culture, but then again so is the Chinese, and their food never inspired me. The thought of orange-chicken still makes me want to do a 5-day brown rice fast. Hmm. Maybe it’s the land. Japan is an island nation with all sorts of limiting factors that inspired creative solutions to food problems. I guess that’s what’s so fun about “desert island” type thinking. What is it that is really important, and what can we do with what we have?

    Wow, now I’m getting all excited for Japan day! I might have to join you for that one…