Come, Prince, and see how much theme has been squeezed into this small space along the vigorous 2nd Street row. Behold your personal space for contemplation, pointed with arches and mirrors, lit with elegant metal lamps, walled with stone.
Well, it's not too distant from that. Young women pass between tables, a gentle tintinnabulation sounding from their belly dancing belts. Soulful music shivers from overhead. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but it feels like a coastal somewhere.
You'll get a basket of puffy miniature pitas. For your best experience ask for the Spicy Humus, with tahini and shocks of paprika, and apply it to everything else you eat.
Most of the dishes will be familiar--shawarma, kabobs, saffron-topped basmati rice--but lunch specials are a helpful introduction. The Chicken Shawarma Pita is a tightly wrapped revelation of firmly grilled, juice-filled meat, with tomatoes and pickles for polite company rather than being stacked to the ceiling. It's lightly padded with a garlic sauce, and has a singular intensity that makes it difficult not to wolf down.
It doesn't look like much swathed in yellow paper, so here. My camera is an insolent bastard that chooses to focus on french fries rather than the item I point it at, so I can only hope to convey the powerful flavor present in this cylinder of chicken.
Speaking of fries, the garlic fries are crisp and good, but lessen the impact of the meal, so go with the Tabbouli, fresh, dark and tangy as hell. Even better, busting out one of the mini pitas, filling it with tabbouli, and dragging it through the spicy humus == good times.
Sit out on the sidewalk patio and enjoy with a perfectly respectable Moroccan mint green tea... but next time I look forward to trying their coffee. It is a Lebanese place, after all.
The theme continues. Check out this cute bill-delivery device. Like a repurposed red felt fez.
Thanks to Kalani for introducing me to one of the places in his 'hood.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Southwest/Beach Cities, Lebanese )
Smoke over the Aegean
17068 Devonshire St. (west of Balboa, in Northridge)
Phone: 818-366-7573 | map
Why Ocean? Well, it's Mediterranean, and that's about as much explanation as I can offer, and it doesn't matter. It's got its culinary and social head together.
It isn't as confusing as people seem to think; turn into the driveway between Ocean Cafe and Lakeshore Learning Materials, park in the expansive lot in back, and enter in the rear of the building.
The interior is quite nice--butterscotch walls with ornate curtains and a chrome thicket of hookah necks, a banquet hall with a dancefloor--and you might admire it as you pass through all the way up to the front to the big covered patio. It's nicer and breezier, Devonshire isn't that loud, and you won't hear the music blaring inside.
They are attentive with the coals here, bringing red shards to tong atop the tinfoiled shisha bowl. The flavors are well-mixed, subtle yet buzzy. The tall, clean-shirted young man named Mimo will come by to make sure your evening is pleasant.
It's more of a restaurant that has hookah rather than a hookah joint that has food; too often the kitchen of a hookah place is an afterthought, offering hackingly dry koobideh or some familiar fries with dipping sauces, but Ocean's Mediterranean heart comes through.
Small plates will quickly fill every centimeter of your table. Hummus, of course, and labne, a thick, yogurty cream cheese, milk-white and sweet, bookend your appetizers.
I'm hooked on the kibbeh, four lemon-shaped spheroids of bulgur fried golden brown and bubbly; they're juice-saturated with ground beef, browned pine nuts and a wriggle of citrus, and really moist, on par with Skaf's Lebanese in Glendale. I think these will be a habit when coming here. The kibbeh? Yeah, we'll get the kibbeh.
The grape leaves are also deliciously finger-wetting, the leaves holding a thick finger of rice, almost risotto in consistency.
The makanek is fun occasionally, near-black Lebanese sausagettes, dry and scratchy in deameanor but benefiting from a squeeze of lemon or a swipe through some tabbouleh, itself a chopped wet heap of parsley, cucumber, tomato and olive oil without any bulgur.
Intended for large, hungry parties commanding enough tables to accomodate all the plates, there is a honking big platter with six skewers, resting above a mound of short-grain, fluffy rice and beneath curls of white onion and sprinkles of parsley.
The beef is the fight-over feature of this shared experience, aggressively done, browned through but juicy and toothsome. The char is wonderfully crunchy, the rub widely seasoned with a pleasant spice that awakens a few minutes later. The chicken is at the same level of quality, the full flavor of the fowl pulled forth by the grill. Both are as refreshingly moist as everything else. The kafta is quite good but not the champion of the three, blackened and gamy in a good way, threaded with green spices and less heartburn-prone than many koobidehs and bargs I've sampled elsewhere.
It can be as expensive as you want it to be, but we tend to congregate with good friends over beers and a flotilla of plates and a hookah, so we live it up a bit.
Many thanks to Doug and Rosina for introducing us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), The Valley, Armenian, Greek, Lebanese )
I'm a fan of shawerma and kebab and tabouleh and hummus anyway, but the Lebanese touch brings it closer to my heart. This miniature spit-roasted empire now has nearly a double handful of locations, but the original 1984 location is in East Hollywood*.
There is no decor in the Hollywood spot, really, not unless you count violently lemon-colored walls and aluminum, and not much atmosphere except for perpetually grumbling older men and angry conversations in Armenian. The Glendale location on Colorado is the second oldest, and is set up more like a Jack in the Box than a post-war lunch counter.
What Zankou is famous for are the chicken sandwiches, wrapped in a scuffed-up pita, with a thin plaster of highly opinionated garlic sauce. Even as the foil opens up, the scent of garlic wells up. It looks very spartan--shreds of roasted dark-meat chicken, pale squares of chopped tomato, and hints of the white spackle that is the potato-based garlic sauce of which so many poets have written**.
The chicken is usually splendidly done, moist and profound, and the bits of sauce will make you check yourself with a palm over your mouth for the remainder of the day. You get a little dish of carnation-colored pickled turnips and yellow peppers, which you can safely ignore unless you want some extra crunch and spicy hiss (which I do).
The Tarna chicken is marinated chicken shawerma, which is slightly crispier around the edges but not as lush as the roasted chicken. The Sujouk [sic] is dark and rugged and rosy inside like an Armenian/Lebanese sausage can be, but unless you're a big sujouk fan it's not necessary.
The Tri-Tip Shawerma, like the chicken, is infused with its own roasty flavor, dark and juicy. Slicing up the yellow peppers with this, then filling a pita with it, is good times.
The hummus is actually quite good, finely blended with big flakes of paprika. The tahini sauce is thick, sour and a little unfriendly.
* The Sunset location is not part of the website, possibly because of the drama--legal and lethal drama--that occurred with the family. You can look it up if you like. Zankou is quite the L.A. institution.
** Not really. But it's been blogged about a lot.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, Armenian, Lebanese )
The Glendale location is a little hard to find, despite its commanding corner location on Chevy Chase and Verdugo, if you're coming from the wrong direction. The interior is stone-tiled floor and crisp modern walls. It looks like it's order-at-the-counter, but you're smiled at and told to sit. Right away you've got a good feeling, with a basket of warm, powdery pita and a bowl of possibly the best, most perfectly-consistencied* hommos in Glendale.
Order the kibbeh balls: at least one for you, one for anyone else at your table, and one for whoever's nearby if you're feeling gracious. Chopped beef, onions, pine nuts, fried into a lemon-shaped shell of burghul that needs no dipping sauce. Say wow. Realize your newfound addiction and continue.
The cabbage salad is a nice start for your lunch, loudly peppered with herbs in a vigorous dressing. That or the lentil soup with swiss chard. Check.
I'm eyeing the maanek (Sautéed Lebanese sausage) and shish tawook (garlic-marinated, skewered chicken breast) for next time, but for my first visit I try the Chicken Shawarma. Shaved off the vertical broiler, with seasoned onion slices, rice, tahineh seed paste and yogurt sauce, it's just really good chicken with no pretense.
Baklawa? There's no room for baklawa.
As I try not to appear too rude in my wolfing-down of the chicken shawarma, I pause to take sips of my Lebanese coffee, its steam roiling from its brass rakweh. Quite strong but not buzzy like Cuban coffee, it's more a force of personality. It's coffee with charisma, and Skaf's does it carefully and well, leaving the bottoms of the brass pot and my cup painted with black sediment.
I am typing right after lunch. That is my explanation for my choppy, blissed-out sentence structure, and I'm sticking to it. Maybe it's the coffee, but I think it's the kibbeh balls.
There's a decent parking lot in back. The North Hollywood location is the original, so it's a good candidate for stopping by on my way to Thursday class.
* I just made that a past-tense verb.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Lebanese )