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Bagels... lox... cream cheese...

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On a recent visit to Manhattan's lower east side, I cobbled together the perfect lox, bagel and cream cheese (open face)... belly lox and cream cheese from Russ and Daughters and bagels from Kossar's. We took it across the street to a little park and got a cup of decent coffee. Good god, was that bliss on a park bench.

This begs the question:

If you were to cobble together the perfect lox, bagel and cream cheese in Los Angeles, where would you get the vital components?

LOX and SMOKED SALMON:
First, let's get this off the table... Ashkenazic Appetizing 101.

For the record, lox is not smoked salmon (nova), and smoked salmon is not lox. Nova = smoked and lox =/= smoked, but rather brined. Belly lox is cut from the fatty belly of the fish and is brined (think the salmon equivalent of toro sushi) and like toro, the best stuff just melts away on your tongue.

It's very common to find belly lox back east, yet it's nearly impossible to find in LA.
I once went into the chasidic owned fish shop on Fairfax and asked them if they had belly lox, and the rebbetzin had no idea what I was talking about. (I told this story to the counter man at R&D and his eyes popped... "How can that be? Belly lox is where it all came from.")

Nearly all the smoked salmon (nova) and lox I've had in LA has been pretty dreadful (or at least not up to the extraordinarily high standards of Russ & Daughters). I mean, I eat it... most recently those air compressed packages from Trader Joes where the wild salmon clumps together in big, inelegant blobs. But to be fair, I haven't searched out a real appetizing shop in LA,. When I think about those gossamer-thin slices from R&D, I must use all my energy to keep from weeping.

I do know that Barney Greengrass in Beverly Hills sells belly lox, and I've had it once (and it's pretty good if I recall). But aside from this place (which is far out of the way for me), where can one get extremely good quality nova, and particularly belly lox? Anywhere? (In a post I made years ago, I was told that "The Nosh of Bev Hills" sells it, but they do not.

BAGELS:
OK, let the bagel debates begin. Remember, the question is who makes the best bagel to complement great nova or lox.

Top ones... Bagel Nosh in Santa Monica, the Bagel Factory on Robertson, Bagel Broker across from CBS. Which ones are going to get me closest to Kossar's bagel bliss? Crusty, crackly exterior, chewy interior, with a lovely mildly yeasty, vaguely salty flavor, not puffed up like a white bread ring. Poppy seed bagels go particularly well with lox. Brooklyn Bagel Bakery has consistently disappointed me with their dense, unchewable rings.

CREAM CHEESE:
This one's a mystery to me. Who makes a great cream cheese locally? I suppose I could just go with Philadelphia, but as long as the question is out there....

OK fellow 'hounds, let 'er rip

Mr Taster

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  1. For bagels, here in the WSFV I like Western Bagel, but be sure to wait if necessary for a freshly made batch of the bagel of your choice. When I'm in Beverly Hills I go to Greengrass for belly lox, but won't make a special trip unless it's a very special occasion. Then I'll settle for Brent's or Labels Table. Good question on local creme cheese. I don't know of a local cheese and have always used Philly.

    1. What about St Urbain Street Bagel in Beverly Hills? I remember I used to love that place but have not been in there for years.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Yes Please

        St. Urbain does do nice crusty bagels.

      2. I've never entered the store because I'm too broke, but I would imagine Petrossian in BH would have some very good smoked salmon.
        As for the rest I cannot chime in, since I'm French and my experience of cream cheese and bagels is very limited.

        1. russ and daughters is one of my favorite places in the world. i'm on a constant search for delish sable. nate and al's is good but the last time i went, i paid $15 for a sable bagel sandwich and they hardly put any sable on it. bummer.

          1. It's hard to find decent lox in this town. I've even resorted to making my own - which turned out great. But the lox at costco is so good, that I dont bother making my own any more. The price is right too. About $12 per pound. For the cream cheese, the tastiest I've found is the wipped at Trader Joes. For the Bagels, that's harder to find than the lox. I used to geat great bagels in the Marina at New York Bagels on Lincoln. But there gone, and if anyone knows a place around Culver City or the Marina, please share.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Baron

              I've gotta tell you, the cream cheese at TJ's is way at the bottom of my list. It has this oddly sweet-ish flavor that is just terribly off putting to me.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Are you talking about the Whipped cream cheese in the round green containers at TJ's? It has the taste (to me) that is as close to what I remember back east at the local deli.

                1. re: Baron

                  I also find that TJ's whipped cream cheese isn't to my tastes. I like the cream cheese in the case at NY Bagel on Wilshire in SaMo across from Whole Foods. I think their bagels are good too.

            2. Here is a link to a long thread about the Los Angeles Bagel scene... I think even you, Mr. Taster, are even a part of this thread.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/505547

              My bagel thoughts: Well, I lived in NY and there have been only three places since I've moved back from NY that have matched at some point, NY bagel quality. 1. Bagelicious in Anaheim Hills - Unfortunately, it went out of business. Why? I blame most of the now-"bagel" eaters in that area. They were equally satisfied with the round bread masquerading at grocery stores and they eventually convinced him to add preservatives (which exchanged quality for shelf life). 2. The Bagel Factory (many locations, but I go to the one in Torrance) - Probably my favorite bagel place at the moment although I think the quality declined over the past year (not sure why? change in bakers? not boiling them long enough? change in ingredients?). 3, Benjies in Orange County (they used to have more than one location, but I'm not so sure anymore) - Haven't been there in a long time and the last time I was their the place looked a bit run down but they used to have great bagels, lox, and cream cheese.

              However, my favorite California bagel shop is not local to LA. There is a place called Izzy's in Palo Alto. They are amazing. Kosher bagel shop and bakery.

              LOX - Here's another thread you may find helpful. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/632983

              CREAM CHEESE - The Bagel Factory sells a decent cream cheese.

              1 Reply
              1. re: DrBruin

                Oh yeah, I've been all up in the bagel and lox threads over the years... though I'm attacking the problem from a different angle this time.

                Mr Taster

              2. Well, you know my bona fides already, and I agree with you that Russ and Daughters is as good as it gets (though last year when I gave a bagel brunch at work I took the F train all the way to Russ and Daughters, then walked to Kossar's for the bialys, THEN took the train all the way up to H&H on 80th and Broadway for the bagels before heading back to Midtown).

                That said, there are no appetizing stores* in LA other than Petrossian and Barney Greengrass, and frankly if you're looking to give a large brunch it is cheaper to have a basket drop-shipped from Russ & Daughters. If you must pick it up locally, those are your options, though if we're going for packaged smoked fish (which is not as good as freshly-sliced) I have been very happy with the fish I've got from the Russian smoked-fish section at Wholesome Choice in Irvine and Anaheim.

                As for the bagels, Bagel Nosh is my top but in a pinch I will go with Western Bagel (the one in Studio City particularly) and even Bagel Me! down here in Orange County, despite the punctuation in its name. I have had better luck at the Villa Park branch than the Orange Circle branch, but as long as you stay with classic flavours you should be fine: mon (poppy seed), kunzhit (sesame seed), tsibl (onion), knobl (garlic), zalts (salt) or stam (plain).

                As for cream cheese, there's so much gum in whipped cream cheese that you are better off trying to find gum-free cream cheese in blocks (try Whole Foods) and whipping it in a stand mixer yourself.

                * Note for people who think this means stores with appetizing-looking food -- it doesn't. "Appetizing" is the term used in New York and New Jersey for the foods you serve with bagels, like smoked fish, cream cheese, various prepared salads, thinly-sliced onions, sliced Jersey tomatoes, etc., and an "appetizing store" (also called an "appy") is where you go to get this stuff. Think of it this way -- in New York, a deli sells meat accompaniments and an appy sells dairy accompaniments.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  I'll agree with H and H being a delish bagel (as well as Ess-a-bagel). And, I forgot about "Bagel Me!" They make a decent bagel too. We picked up bagels at the Orange Circle branch.

                  1. re: DrBruin

                    I enjoy Manhattan Bagels in Studio City in that little shopping center by Dupars, give these a shot!

                  2. re: Das Ubergeek

                    DU,

                    I used to be in Tustin all the time but am not familiar with Bagel Me! Is that location the same as their others AFAYK? Their online menu doesn't show any lox at all, not even a lox spread, that I could find. How's that possible for a place that makes authentic(?) bagels?

                    I've posted before about Bagels & Brew, in Lake Forest and Mission Viejo. Have you ever tried either?

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Das,

                      Your crosstown/uptown joint says you are at least as insane as me. But I woulda skipped H&H and shot straight up the east side to Tal Bagels - my favorite's on E. 86th.

                      I admire the spread at Russ & Daughters, but a fish allergy permits me to walk out only with that divine sesame brittle candy. I console myself with a knish at Yonah Schimmel.

                      Have you ever tried the bagels at the NY Bagel Bistro on Woodman and Moorpark? For local bagels I've been pretty satisfied with them.

                    2. i've had a decent bialy from some bread stand at the sunday bev hills farmers market. also this sunday i tasted a good sample of an everything bagel from the bagel guy at the hollywood market- he is in the section closest to vine. anyway, there are some bread options. i have no cream cheese suggestions, but has anyone been to the fairfax fishery? it's on fairfax north of beverly. they are closed sat and sun, open mon-fri 9-5, so i don't get there too often. they make their own lox there. i haven't tried it, but did get their sable/smoked black cod. it was good- but it wasn't salty and greasy like NY sable, but it was probably healthier! and if you really want a treat - try some of their smoked fish dips. i can't really buy them b/c i'll eat it in one sitting.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Clyde

                        This fishery on Fairfax is the same one I referred to in my original post... the one where the chasidic lady didn't know what belly lox was.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          that's a shame. well, i see an overnight shipment from russ and daughters in my future.

                      2. I definitely miss I'n'Joy for bagels and cream cheese...

                        One of my friends likes the cream cheese at Western Bagel, and I respect his taste buds, but I've never had it to know...

                        Two others that my friends are recommending for cream cheese are Canter's and Nate'n'Al's.

                        1. Shirley's bagels in Orange County make a pretty good bagel. Western Bagels is decent too. That being said, nothing in LA or OC for that matter comes close to Ess-A-Bagel and NYC bagels in general.

                          1. The bagels at Barney Greengrass are H&H bagels. They usually carry plain, poppy, sesame, pumpernickel, onion and bialys.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: pinpei

                              I've went to Russ and Daughters over Labor Day weekend and I can honestly say the lox (and nova) at Greenblatts is as good if not better. High quality, fresh, amazing. As for bagels, they have decent ones there, but I guess I enjoy Sam's on Larchmont.

                              Greenblatts
                              8017 W Sunset Blvd
                              West Hollywood, CA 90046

                              1. re: augustus gloob

                                Good job on bringing Sam's to the table... I did try Sam's on Larchmont and the bagels were indeed very good. I'll give Greenblatt's a try for the nova and lox.

                                Edit: are you sure Greenblatt's sells belly lox? They specifically list only nova on both their restaurant and takeout menu.

                                http://greenblattsdeli.com/menu/
                                http://www.greenblattsdeli.com/images...

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  They opened up a Sam's bagel on Sunset and Fairfax right next to Bristol Farms. We had their bagels the other day and they compare favorably versus others mentioned on the board like Barney's, Broker, etc.. The whitefish salad is very salty (I know this is off topic) but the lox is good not great.

                                2. re: augustus gloob

                                  Just went to Greenblatts after reading this thread - mainly because its right across the street from me and I have never been there. I just moved to LA from NYC two months ago.

                                  Anyway, lox was good (whatever kind it may be) but the bagel was pitiful. Probably came out of a lenders bagel frozen package. Sad. I may be a harsh critic being from NYC but that bagel was just not good by any standards! Also, $13.95 for a bagel with a little lox?? WOW.

                                  Visiting back home in a few days and will have to stop by ess-a and ship some REAL bagels back here : )

                                  Regardless, thanks for the tip it definitely satisfied my craving for lox.

                                  1. re: ilikeicecream

                                    Try Bagel Nosh on Wilshire and 17th in Santa Monica -- it's not Ess-A-Bagel or H&H but it's a damn sight closer than most of the bagel-shaped bread slices that pass for bagels here.

                              2. I have had the Trader Joe's nova and it is fine. The spritzo is a cheap shot. In fact it is a bargain and very good. I had some today. it costs about $4 a quarter.
                                I dont buy the farm raised and I dont buy the pacific. I buy the sockeye nova wild caught.
                                I have also had the Barney Greengrass on west 87th street in NYC, alot. My college roommate lives in the building.
                                I had the western and the scottish and the eastern lox. It costs about $10 a quarter.
                                If you want good lox and dont want to voyage far and you want to be able to enjoy it all the time, which we do, go to TJ's. remember--the wild sockeye.
                                As to bagels, we like Bagels Galore in Pedro.
                                They have fine onion and sesame and poppy and plain. We dont mess with the chocolate or the blue berry. A shonda.

                                1. I like your enthusiasm on this topic Mr Taster.

                                  First let me say that the lox is good but the grass is greener elsewhere when evaluating Barney Greengrass. See my review here:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/559424

                                  Next, I am a fan of the lox at Brent's Deli in Westlake.

                                  Finally, my bagel nod goes to the bagel store at the corner of Woodman and Ventura blvd in the same center as El Torito. These guys even have Bialy's. They most remind me of a NY bagel because of their "chew."

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: orythedog

                                    Interesting page from Russ & Daughters on lox vs nova

                                    http://shop.russanddaughters.com/stor...

                                    Mr Taster

                                  2. anyone know if East Coast Bagels is still open in Torrance (Rolling Hills Plaza)? Google maps says it is, but I can't find it.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: OC Mutt

                                      Sure doesn't look like it:

                                      http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/rating/

                                      But there are other locations...

                                    2. The closest I have found to the bagels we got in Little NY (Miami) is Goldstein's in La Crescenta and Pasadena (their salt bagel is lame though). Boiled and baked to perfection. Crackly exterior, crusty and chewwy on the inside. Nice and large too. I thought Sam's were OK, not quite as chewey as I am used too but not bad I guess.

                                      As for LOX, out here in California, they call lox what we called Nova back east. It really isn't lox at all. As the writer said, LOX IS NOT SMOKED!!! But for smoked salmon, I too like Lasco or Costco's brand (which I believe is packed by lasco.)

                                      I have yet to find a place handslicing their nova, and I would LOVE to find a place where I can get (Belly) Lox!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: gr8pimpin

                                        Reread my original post-- Barney Greengrass on WIlshire in Bev Hills is the only place I know of that sells true belly lox. I'd love to know of another source that's not so pricey. I'm about at the point where I'm going to make it myself.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        -----
                                        Barney Greengrass Restaurant
                                        9570 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          We split off a discussion about how to make your lox to the Home Cooking thread. If you're looking for it, it's here:

                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756487

                                      2. The best I've had is the bialy with lox and cream cheese at Olio Pizzeria. I can't think of anything else in LA that's been memorable.

                                        If you're in Malibu, check out Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Market. They use defrosted H&H bagels and good quality salmon and cream cheese.

                                        1. By far the best bagels these days is NYBD on Wilshire Blvd and 22nd street in Santa Monica. The bagels are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. They boil their bagels. They also have delicious pletzels(onion boards) all with fresh onions. Not enought places use fresh onions. They have good lox and cream cheese as well as other flavored ones.
                                          It reminds me of the old Manhattan, I & Joy. The owner Brian is very nice, and is very accomodating. I like to take home a lot of pletzels and I call ahead and if he doesn't have them and it is early enough he will make it.
                                          For Lox or whatever you want to call it, I get Lasco at Smart and Final, or at Costco.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: paprkutr

                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6557...

                                            Mr Taster