The vast area between Central Europe and China is empty for most Americans – show them a blank map and ask them to fill in the countries and they will probably get Russia right. They’ll know that one of the others is Ukraine, but probably not which, and after that things will get hazy. Ask what people who live in that vast region between regions eat, and their previous responses will seem encyclopedic by comparison. It’s a giant area with an ancient history, the path of spice caravans of antiquity, but their cuisine might as well be from Mars to most Americans.
The stretch of PCH near Beryl is a lot less exotic, but that’s where the cuisine of Central Asia can be found at an interesting new café called Doma Kitchen. It’s a fitting name for two reasons – first, that “Doma” means “Mother’s” in Ukrainian, which fits this home-style cuisine. The second reason is that the only actual building here is a little cottage that contains the kitchen. Customers go to the counter inside to order, then take their food to go or dine on a whimsically decorated covered patio.
Deciding what to order here can be a bit of a trial – they have different items at breakfast and lunch, and the chalkboard menu isn’t very specific about which are served when. Even if you do know what is served, you may not know what it is – the plov, a specialty of Uzbekhistan, is described only as a rice dish, and the dishes that mention their grilled lamb don’t hint at the spice mix that adds to the flavor. The staff speaks fluent English and are happy to help, but it would be easier if they came up with more comprehensive descriptions of their food and posted them.
It’s simple to decide to try the fresh pastries, because they’re sitting on top of the adjacent counter and look delicious. The selection changes daily and usually includes some European-style flaky apple tarts, along with more exotic savory cheese or meat pastries. The cheese and herb pastries have been the standout – they’re delicious and worth trying, though a bit overpriced at a dollar each for snack size.
The menu changes regularly and the owners are still experimenting, but a few items are always available. They offer Ukrainian-style borscht that is quite different from what you might expect – it’s a beet and cabbage soup with lamb, served hot instead of cold, with sour cream and homemade bread on the side. It’s simple and hearty with a slight sweet and sour flavor, and refreshing even on a hot day.
The lamb in that soup isn’t highly spiced, but the lamb in their sandwiches and atop the rice dishes is – it was coated with a spice mix containing a healthy shot of cumin and pepper before being roasted on a vertical spit shawerma style. The flavor is marvelous and has hints of Indian curry and Persian kebabs, but isn’t quite like either – it’s something entirely different and wonderful. When it is served on a sandwich, they use a homemade ciabatta along with tomato and shreds of basil – it’s one of the great sandwiches of the South Bay. All sandwiches include a side of their parmesan –dusted skinny fries, and at eleven bucks for a big lunch it’s a steal.
They also offer a chicken sandwich from meat that also spends time on that vertical rotisserie, but with a much less assertive spice mix – it’s still fragrant and tasty, but not as hot. I have been meaning to try their grilled vegetable sandwich too, but so far have given in and had the lamb again.
The lamb and chicken are also offered as toppings for the plov – rice cooked in a vegetable stock with herbs, carrot, and onion. If you think you have heard of a similar recipe with a similar name, you’re right – Russians who adopted this dish call it pilaf. The Russian version moderates the garlic and herbs; the version here is deliciously vegetarian when by itself and even better topped with meat or other vegetables.
Other items not to be missed are the crepes, called blini or blinchiki back where this is soul food. The ones here are delicious, stuffed with any combination of mozzarella cheese, onions, mushroom, lamb, chicken, or roasted vegetables – or if you’re having them for breakfast, nutella and seasonal fruit.
The owners of the Doma Café have applied for a wine and beer license, and after they get it will open for dinner, but until then only coffee, tea, or soft drinks are available. The fresh strawberry lemonade is very good, the coffee strong, and if you’re stopping in for weekend brunch you may bring your own Champagne. I recommend that you do – as long as you are investigating a fascinating and delicious cuisine, why not make it a festive occasion? The prices here are moderate, with no item much above ten dollars and plenty below, so there is room in the budget for a little splurge. Whenever you go and whatever you have, you can enjoy good service and excellent food, and your map of the culinary world will have another space filled in.
Doma Kitchen Café is at 420 North Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo. Open Tue-Fri 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., Sa 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.. Very small parking lot – street parking on Gertruda or Beryl. Menu at DomaKitchenCafe.com, phone310-372-7298. B