Z: Pronounced with the accent on the long "I", Ital foods are the simple cuisine of the Rastafarians. Associated with natural or health foods, Ital dishes do not include animal products, sugar, or salt but may contain a lion's share of fiery spice from Scotch Bonnet peppers. We met our friends, Mike and Rosemary, at Friedel Caribbean Cuisine in Studio City to explore the many vegan choices listed on their website. Perhaps the Ital Stew might beckon.
R: The welcoming greeting from owner Michelle Friedel Allan made us feel like we were old friends coming to visit. The cozy space is full of eclectic ambience with an overstuffed love seat and a couch, four mannekins donning festive outfits, and busy wall décor. Michelle has created the atmosphere of intimacy, yet the few tables are spaced comfortably apart around the perimeter.
Z: The colorful menus are extensive. While the restaurant is not exclusively vegetarian, we felt at ease with the many vegan choices available. Moments after we were seated, Michelle brought us a plate of Festivals, six-inch long sticks of fried sweet bread that were crisp and crunchy on the outside, with a soft and sweet interior.
R: When we asked about the Ital Stew, our hostess returned with a smile and samples in small cups. The stew consisted of firm cylindrical dumplings floating in a delicately seasoned, lightly thickened brown sauce along with bits of carrots, peas, and red beans.
Z: Wanting to venture further into the menu selections, we each chose a different entrée: Vegan Mango Beef, Vegan Ichiban Jerk Stir Fry Chicken, Vegan Kung Pao Beef, and Vegan Curry Chicken. We could have ordered a vegetarian version of the Red Pea and Dumpling Soup or chosen the Festivals or Pholourie and Chutney from the Appetizer section, but we wanted to save room for the delicious dessert we had waiting for us at home.
R: Waiting for our food, we noted the new look of the bleached wooden floor and the striking black tables and chairs that contrasted perfectly against the ultramarine blue walls. Opposite our table were two unusual decorator tables, also black, that held homey looking lamps and a host of bric-a-brac. The restaurant is brightly lit and features a unique ceiling that gives the impression of being outdoors looking up at the beautiful blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.
Z: Our dinner soon arrived on attractive square platters with multi-colored stripes bordering the edges. Each entrée contained rice and red beans that were neatly mounded in a perfect ramekin shape. There were deliciously sweet, fried plantain slices and a tasty, simply prepared cabbage and carrot stew on each platter as well.
R: The small variations were found in the entrees. Mine, the Vegan Ichiban Jerk Chicken, was very mildly spiced. I admit I'm a whimp when facing hot chiles and begged Michelle to go easy on the heat. Generous portions of round faux chicken slices nuzzled up to thickly sliced carrots, green bell peppers, and long shreds of cooked romaine lettuce in a lightly seasoned savory brown sauce.
Z: My Vegan Mango Beef stood out with an abundance of mango chunks, sliced carrots, green bell peppers, and tender slices of faux beef in a savory brown gravy sweetened by the mangoes.
R: Similarly, the Vegan Kung Pao Beef and the Vegan Curry Chicken offered mild seasonings and the familiar carrots and green bell peppers in a delicately flavored savory brown sauce.
Z: We were most impressed with the warmth and congeniality of Michelle who opened the restaurant to honor her mother who died giving birth to her. Her memory lives on with the flavors of home cooking and good value in the form of abundant portions of wholesome dishes.
R: What surprised us was seeing so many vegan items on the menu. Michelle explained she enjoys cooking but was unfamiliar with vegan food. When she purchased the restaurant from the previous owner, Ginja Lions, which was also Caribbean, the recipes were included. Presently, there are no vegan desserts on the menu, but hopefully there will be some in the future.
Z: A steady stream of take-out customers flowed in and out to place and pick up orders at the large window that opens to the kitchen. Lunch or dinner at Friedel is definitely a good value. Most of the hearty vegan entrees were under $10, with the Vegan Brown Stew Fish, Vegan Curry Shrimp, and Vegan Jerk Salmon about $15.
R: We asked about the mannekins dressed in bright, glitzy attire and discovered there will be a Caribbean Carnival in Westchester Park on October 14, 2007. Michelle was just getting down with the carnival spirit!
Reviewed October 2007