What started as a neighborhood pizza parlor has become much, much more
Calling Pizza Nosh of Agoura Hills a mom-and-pop pizzeria is like calling the White House, well, a house. It’s true, but it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the place.
Sure, the simple kosher restaurant where “mom” handles the cash register offers 10 specialty pizzas, with enough ethnic flavorings to populate a culinary United Nations — Mexican, Mediterranean, Hawaiian, Brooklyn. Even the clock in the lobby looks like a pizza.
But the pies have learned to coexist with pastas, sandwiches and more unexpected additions, like Yemeni-style falafel. Owner Fred Amirian, 67, a native of Iran, loves to infuse menu items with spices from his native land, such as turmeric and sumac. His fish specials easily compare with fine-dining alternatives.
So, while the menu prominently quotes the 11th Commandment (“Thou Shall Eat Pizza”), sophisticated entrees like the Parmesan-crusted salmon, which melts in your mouth, are just as divinely inspired.
“[We’re] trying to bring California style to the kosher pizza kitchen. It’s constantly evolving,” said Danny Amirian, son of the restaurant’s owner — and the day we visited, the chef.
Pizza Nosh opened 12 years ago in this modest corner of a strip mall after Fred left a career that involved everything from imports/exports to real estate.
“When I retired, [Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochinsky] told me it would be nice to have a [kosher] restaurant,” explained the affable owner, dressed in a black button-down shirt and kippah.
It wasn’t a stretch for Fred to focus on pizza. While working on a degree in electronic engineering, he said, he became such a fixture at one New York pizzeria that they let him make his own. The well-traveled entrepreneur’s pizza philosophy is keenly developed and geographic in nature: New York has the best dough. Chicago is tops for sauce. And the cheese in Boston can’t be beat.
“I decided, why don’t I put it all together?” he said.
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. After working with a California cheesemaker to get things just right, that company moved. Because altitude affects the cheesemaking process, the company had to tweak things in its new location to maintain the distinct flavor requested by Pizza Nosh, Fred said.
The Amirians have spent years perfecting their recipes. Today, most menu items are made in-house, including the warm pita bread, whose sturdy dough does double-duty for the pizza crusts. The pita comes as part of an appetizer platter, along with falafel that’s flattened so that it cooks more evenly, according to Fred.
“[We’re] still experimenting,” he said. “We know what we have. We write it down. Then I add and subtract, add and subtract. … We play the game: Let’s see what we can make today.”
A member of Chabad of Westlake Village, Fred is assisted by the rest of his family: His wife, Barbara, takes customers’ orders, and daughter Melissa helps out as needed. Danny studied cooking at the Art Institute of California in North Hollywood and, in addition to helping develop recipes at Pizza Nosh, has worked at such high-end restaurants as Tierra Sur in Oxnard. He has a full-time job at a Malibu restaurant but still assists at the family business sometimes. (Fred’s other two sons have gone on to work in law and finance.)
The whole family is dedicated to the notion that kosher food can be incredible. Consider the Amirian take on eggplant Parmesan, which, with several giant circular layers and lots of gooey cheese, more closely resembles a delicious pie.
There are plenty of other options, too, many with vegetarian substitutes for meat. (Pizza Nosh, which is closed for Shabbat, features dairy and pescetarian cuisine.)
The fake chicken on the barbecue veggie-chicken pizza — whose dough is nice and puffy — provides a lovely crunch. As for the salmon, which comes with spinach and roasted tomatoes, it’s cooked to perfection.
But leave room for dessert. The chocolate chip cookies are so soft and pliable that you’d swear they were never more than five minutes old. And the little, innocent-looking cinnamon puffs — dripping with sprinkled goodness — are light, airy and positively addictive. Don’t worry if you have a few too many, though.
“That is so good to eat after a meal, because it helps with digestion,” Fred said, trying to console an over-indulged visitor with his take on the benefits of cinnamon.
Around him, people relax at their tables in the spare, intimate dining space filled with simple tables and chairs.
“I consider everyone who comes here to be part of the family,” Fred said, setting off for a quick chat with a pair of patrons at a corner table.
That’s saying something. This is a man who left Iran in 1964 and settled in the Los Angeles area in the late ’60s. A decade later, he bought more than 30 houses here for family who had been left behind. Not only did he eventually offer asylum to them all, he said, but he also helped open businesses for a number of them.
When Fred — a serial shmoozer — returns from visiting with the other patrons, he gets philosophical again about the whole purpose of his family’s endeavor, which is about much more than making sure he gets to eat pizza at least twice a week (though he does).
“You have to love to cook, and you have to love the face of people when they eat,” he said. “When I see these eyes open, it’s like it opens the whole world.” [T]
Top: Parmesan-crusted salmon with spinach and roasted tomatoes.From top: Barbecue veggie-chicken pizza, eggplant Parmesan, an appetizer platter (with pita bread, inset), cinnamon puffs.