The Place: The dimly lit interior of La Vendetta has a bar and tables with red tablecloths and banquettes along one wall. The place to sit is at a shaded table outside facing Hollywood Boulevard. Traffic is hidden by a row of high shrubs. The knowledgeable servers are Romanian and bring two menus, one with Romanian dishes and the other with Italian, but if you have not tried Romanian food, start here.
The History: The space opened in 1933 as the Rainbo Café with a casino on the second floor frequented by Al Capone. The café was featured in the revenge thriller “Cape Fear” with Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte, transformed into the Rainbo ice cream shop. Current owner Chris Sorica and two partners opened Vendetta in 2011, in part to cater to the local Romanian community in Hollywood. Sorica is from the resort town of Neptun on the Black Sea. He studied management at a university in Bucharest and became the head waiter at a restaurant back home that took care of visiting heads of state. He worked as a waiter on a Carnival cruise ship plying the Caribbean and after seven years moved to Hollywood and was general manager at Piazza Pasta.
The Food: Romanian cuisine has been influenced by the Romans, Hungarians, Germans, Serbians and Ottoman Turks over the centuries. Often called a “Latin island in a sea of Slavs,” it is the only Eastern European country with a language derived from Latin. A basket of crusty bread comes to the table with chopped green and black olives in olive oil. Start with a big bowl of mamaliga, soft polenta with salty grated cheese and sour cream, or zacusca, a roasted and mashed eggplant and red pepper spread that is good with a Timisoreana pilsner beer. Snitel de pui is chicken schnitzel with fries; sarmalute is cabbage stuffed with minced pork simmered in broth; mititei are little grilled beef sausages with mustard. Ciolan afumat cu varsa is smoked pork hock with warm sauerkraut; fried carp comes with polenta and garlic sauce. There’s also Hungarian goulash with potato dumplings; lamb pastrami; chicken livers sautéed with garlic. Save room for giant ricotta donuts, papanasi, smothered in sweet sour cream, cherry jam and whipped cream.
You Didn’t Know This: Porridge, the oldest form of grain consumption, appeared long before bread. Mamaliga was made with millet flour known as pulmentum until maize spread across Europe from Spain after the conquistadors brought it from Mexico. It reached Romania in 1692, and the cornmeal dish became a staple. In Transylvania in central Romania, made famous by Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” corn is called KuKuruz. meaning “maize porridge.” It is the single most important Romanian food of all time.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food blogger and writer and creator of Mermaid Sea Salt and Indian Spiced Toffee, available at Cream Parlor, 8224 Biscayne Blvd.
If You Go
The Place: La Vendetta Italian and Romanian Restaurant
Address: 1909 Hollywood Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, till 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers $6.95-$14.95, salads $4.50-$5.50, soups $5.50-$6.50, entrees $12.95-$16.95, desserts $6.50-$7.50