If you can't make it over to the Shipudei Itzik Hagadol in Jaffa--totally understandable considering the traffic between here and Israel--bustle yourself over to the Encino location. It's taken over an old barbecue joint, and shined it up with arcs of green light, tall booths of beautiful black inlaid vinyl, and a massive fan-cooled patio.
I first came here for lunch. I don't know whether I had on a "Restaurant Reviewer, Please Bribe Me" t-shirt on, or whether I'd stumbled into the most generous kitchen around, but once they discovered that I'd never experienced Itzik Hagadol before, I found myself helplessly submerged in a deluge of no less than fourteen (!) dishes. Impossible! Too much! I protested, since I had ordered less than a fourth of which appeared on my table*, but the waitress ignored me: The owner, he wants to spoil you!
There is a fault with this kind of kingly treatment, namely that I cannot possibly remember which dish was which, let alone scribble down enough notes to encompass this grand array. All of what surrounded me were what were quaintly called salads, each more formidable than the word "salad" suggests. With this came giant wheels of puffy, sesame seeded laffa bread.
I can detail only a handful of the delights delivered to me. This is Turkish Salad, a violently red gathering of tomato, onion, bell pepper and possibly pomegranate paste; it might be acili ezme, a Turkish tomato dip, but I was too busy scooping up this murky, spicy concoction with the laffa to care about naming conventions.
Other dishes flashed by without hope of detailed analysis. The Baba Ganosh is pale white and subdued, the eggplant and tahini light on the sesame flavor. I would not expect to nod appreciatively over a dish of Roasted Cauliflower, but slightly blackened in a golden curry-like sauce, it is absolutely savory. I was even enjoying a grey ground meat dish with scallion: oh, what is this?... It's Chopped Liver. Oh, ah, really? Hmm... I still like it.
A simple, tangy red tomato salsa and a cucumber salad with strips of red onion in a tongue-coating dressing acted as the few cooling elements, made for pausing and realizing how full I was getting.
This is the revelation that is Hummus with Hot Mushrooms; whenever I come here I will get this without fail. The hummus is yogurt-smooth, superior and sans paprika, surrounding a lush pool of goodness that only mushrooms in a creamy sauce can bring.
These are just the salads. There is carnivorous fare here as well, including a skewer of five meats: chicken thigh (dark, just-off-the-bone flavor), lamb (robust), hanging tender (otherwise known as hanger steak, gentle with a grainy tang), beef fillet (a little rough, but juicy) and house kabab, all charred nicely and needing no dipping sauce. Over all of them I prefer the house kabab by itself, a veal-and-lamb symphony that's ground and seasoned and made for chopping with a fork and devouring.
I'm aware of Shalvata Cafe, Hummus Bar & Grill, and Aroma nearby, but I have the feeling that there's a new powerhouse in town. Itzik Hagadol is open daily until 11.
* I believe you probably have to tell them that you do not want any more, or be quite specific in exactly the amount of food you plan to devour. Otherwise, be prepared to hike up your expected bill. They may not charge for the things they bring you just-because, but they will ask "do you want this? Do you want to add this?" and you will probably say yes. It's wallet-pinching, but worth it.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), The Valley, Israeli/Kosher )
Aroma. It's not the first choice I'd pick for a name, since there is a glut of trendy one-word eatery names* like Eat, Taste, Chops, Dish, Bones, Chomp, et cetera, and you'd hate to have to answer the question, "wait, which Aroma? The one on Sunset, the other one on Sunset, the coffee place in Burbank, the one in Alameda, the one in Buena Park, or the one in the Valley?"
This particular Aroma is an Israeli-style bakery, the original location for which is in Encino. The Sunset location tends toward a more skilled kitchen, a more vain clientele with a greater likelihood of complaining about a recent audition, slower service, and more fully deserving of the price tag.
Anyway. The menu is spiral-bound, daunting, full of many dozens of possibilities, and not terribly concerned with labeling or organization**. Drinks and desserts have their own menu. Go through all this carefully, pick a few appetizers, and relax outside on the firepit-dotted smoking patio, listening to Sunset roar by.
Appetizers! I think. It's hard to tell. But I can recommend the Avocado Egg Rolls (hot and perfectly crunchy with sweet cilantro and teriyaki sauces), and the Eggplant Rolls (rolled up with pesto and goat cheese and fried, which makes for an oddly uncrispy texture if you're not ready for it but an excellent flavor if you like eggplant) served with a tomato-basil sauce.
To eat there's a lot of yummy-looking photos on the menu. The Home Run is a tortilla wrap, packed with Mexican turkey breast, hard-boiled egg, and a burny hot sauce, with a heavy tang of black olive. There's also a Salmon-filled Phyllo Dough plate, flaky and sesame-dotted, accompanied by salad or mashed potatoes and a pesto sauce. There's also plenty of veggie sandwich & panini options, pastas, salads, and offers to sell you bridges.
There's a parking lot, which may or may not be persistently valet-controlled, and street parking if you're attentive to signage.
Welcome to 2009, by the way!
* How about we go into single-word overload? How about Grub? Bite? Nom? Piehole? Gastrowhore? Cuizzical? Masticate, Cooked, Yummers, Toothsome, Growly, Kisser, Puss? Contact me if you want to buy any of these.
** It is, if I dare make the comparison, rather like Cheesecake Factory's menu, in that it has a "what the %$#@! am I going to pick to eat?" factor, just without all the advertisements for property ownership and liposuction. Let's look at it this way: if you download the menu from their website, it's 23 megs.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Deli, Hollywood, Bakery/Patisserie, Vegetarian/Vegan, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Greek, Israeli/Kosher )