Turkish is an Inspired Addition to Westwood’s Eclectic Culinary Mix

Our exhilarating explorations through Istanbul, GaziantepUrfa and Cappadocia in Turkey last year, left us hungry for the UNESCO honored cuisine we sampled there.  Special thanks are in order to culinary connoisseurs, Faye and Yakir Levywho introduced us to The Kitchen @ Westwood.

This quaint, centrally located, gem of a restaurant, offers dishes we thought we could only indulge in after a 13 hour flight.  For starters they display samples of the quintessential Turkish snack and breakfast specialty,  borek. These flakey pastries, either baked or fried, savory or sweet, are filled with a wide variety of tempting ingredients from meat to cheese, potato to spinach and feta. But alas these tasty wonders are just the beginning of an array of inspired Turkish delicacies.

A sampling of The Kitchen’s dips proved to be a great choice.  We savored the smoothest, creamiest hummus from a secret recipe (all we know is that tahini is involved) that is worth its weight in gold. The smokey eggplant dip is about as habit-forming as they come and the refreshing yogurt with cucumber revitalizes the palate when eaten with or between any items on the menu.

The Fusion Salad is a reminder that although Turkish ingredients are used, this restaurant is firmly planted in Los Angeles, where our quest for the best tasting and healthiest salads mimics what the Turks have known all along; healthy food can be delicious. This combination of dark leafy power greens, broccoli, quinoa, strawberry, apple, sliced almonds and a pomegranate vinaigrette are the pinnacle of cuisine combining. We could eat this riot of health and wellness on a plate every day and strongly recommend doing just that.

Pide, is often referred to as Turkish pizza because of its obvious resemblance to the world famous pie. At the kitchen we found a delightful version topped with cheese, egg and Turkish sausage that rivals pide in Istanbul. A meal in themselves, one can also share a variety of uniquely topped pide as an appetizer when dining with a large group.

Turkish doner is recognized locally as shawarma and prepared traditionally on a rotating vertical spit. The dark meat and skin elevated by Turkish spices, keep the chicken well marinated and succulent.

Shaved hot off their towers, the doner is presented in numerous ways, from stuffed inside sandwiches to plates piled high. The luscious, moist, mildly spiced meats showcase the high quality ingredients and skill that go into the preparations.

The beef doner is topped with crispy lamb skin and fat, keeping it super tender.

Kebabs of chicken, beef or salmon are also charred to perfection, plump chunks, complemented by grilled vegetables and rice or layered into sandwiches with customers choice of pita or French bread. Try not to miss the in-house baked focaccia which exemplifies the culinary diversity and expertise of the talented chefs.

Another Turkish, under-the-radar dish is manti, which are beef stuffed ravioli smothered in yogurt and paprika sauce. This pasta plate is a warm and comforting tradition enjoyed throughout Turkey.

Iskender Kebab starts with beef doner that is lovingly placed on top of cubed bread and then doused in a rich tomato sauce. It is served with yogurt, pickles and pita bread.

Turkish tea is a staple at breakfast and throughout the day. We consumed more cups in Turkey than anywhere else we have traveled. So our meal was not complete without many glasses that we enhanced with just a touch of sugar.

However the sugar may not be necessary if you choose the flakey, buttery, pistachio laden baklava that is the pride of Gaziantep. The Kitchen’s version is on point and a scrumptious interpretation we would happily indulge in with our Turkish tea for an afternoon snack, dessert or anytime we need a well balanced sweet.

As one of the few Turkish restaurants in Los Angeles offering stunning renditions of Turkish favorites, we encourage visiting The Kitchen @ Westwood for a chance to savor this specialty, hard-to-find cuisine right here in our own UCLA centric neighborhood.

Mediterranean Oasis

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Ancient scenes of affluence and color line the dining room walls at Almaza Fine Mediterranean Cuisine in Culver City.  It’s easy to drive right by the patio just a tad west from the corner of National and Venice and not even notice that a restaurant exists there.

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After we slowed down a bit, we found an immaculately clean, ornate restaurant that specializes in Middle Eastern fare.  We like to eat light and stuck to appetizers for lunch.

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The vegetarian combo platter consists of creamy hummus, seasoned rice and vegetable stuffed grape leaves, a fluffy parsley-heavy tabbouleh, crispy spiced falafel balls, and a smokey babagannouj, love that smokiness. We all found the plate to be marked by extreme freshness.  Everything smacked of straight from mother nature.

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Warm pita triangles made scooping up the salads and appetizers all the more fun.  We love eating with our hands.  After all, that’s what people did before utensils, so why not dig in old school style. A side of yogurt salad embedded with cucumber and mint added a bit of tang to the appetizer plate.

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We couldn’t resist the musakaa, healthy slices of eggplant with bell peppers, baked in a rich tomato sauce.

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We were impressed with the freshness and reasonable prices at Almaza where appetizers are in the $5 to $6 range. Salads go from $4.99 to $8.99 for the Almaza special shrimp salad.  Entrees hover around $13.00. Three of us ate well and there were still leftovers.  Large plates of satisfying Mediterranean cuisine, an outdoor patio where they offer hookah, great value for our dollar and a laid back cafe ambiance make Almaza Fine Mediterranean a new favorite on our list.

Almaza Fine Mediterranean Cuisine, 8905 West Venice Boulevard, Ste 112, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone – 310-280-9006        web site – almazadelivery.com

Dripping With Honey, Nuts and Butter

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We have been fans of baklava since we had our first bite. Now we keep an eye out for the sweet, savory, flakey yet firm, nut and honey amalgamation that make up this stellar dessert.

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Traipsing around North Hollywood we happened to fall upon the Baklava Factory, a shop mastering this art form and were thrilled with the sweet pastries we sampled.

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Tray after tray of rich, buttery goodness cover the counters and not only look appealing but also melt in the mouth with delightful proportions of ingredients, none overpowering, each complementing the other.

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Nuts, cinnamon, honey and filo dough form the basic building blocks that are folded into rolls, triangles, squares and floral patterns, occasionally drizzled with chocolate or sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts.

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The resulting sweets are an enticing treat for the eyes, nose and tongue.

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We love to share the Baklava Factory, which puts out one of our favorite hostess gifts at $11.50 pound and these delights are an indulgence whose delicate textures and Middle Eastern flavors are well worth the few extra calories.

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Savoring life is part of the journey as much as keeping healthy and the Baklava Factory is one of the places we will continue to savor and feel great about the indulgence.

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Baklava Factory, 12909 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA 91605                  Phone – 818-764-1011       web site – thebaklavafactory.com

Mediterranean Wraps, Sandwiches and Salads in Noho

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North Hollywood is home to a large number of ethnic Mom and Pop shops and a hidden gem tucked away in the corner of a mini mall is Hy Mart Sandwiches.  First and foremost, we adore a great sandwich and we appreciate the Mediterranean spin Hy Mart puts on these stuffed beauties.

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The restaurant comes with instructions, which is always helpful.  There are vegetarian and omnivore options (step 1), that can be put into a wrap, on a fresh roll or be tossed in a salad (step 2), made from whatever combination strikes customers fancy (step 3).

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A staff of three sandwichistas crank out the goods almost nonstop Monday thru Friday from 10:30 AM to 7 PM.  While Saturday hours keep them hopping from 10:30 AM to 5 PM and Sunday 12 PM to 5 PM.

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We were strongly encouraged to try the garlic chicken, a sub sandwich of warm grilled chicken tossed with garlic spread, and we’re thrilled we took the hint.  The delightful chicken is enhanced with lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, salt and pepper which are all toasted in an soft, fluffy in house baked Armenian roll.

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When the option of having our sandwich prepared spicy was presented, we jumped on the bandwagon, which added a bit more flavor rather than real spiciness. We did get a pepper infusion with the addition of a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo Heat Chips which woke things up with a spicy, smokey, slightly sweet essence.

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The gyro gone wild carnivorian wrap is a jumble of hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, cucumber, gyro meat and falafel rolled up in lavash bread, that somehow manages to meld together quite well.

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You can consume your freshly prepared meal in the busy dinning room or have your food wrapped to go.

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For a taste of Mediterranean cuisine rolled up in a wrap, on an Armenian roll or tossed in a salad, Hy Mart Sandwiches puts out some mighty flavorful handheld options that spell the perfect portable picnic, lunch or dinner to us.

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Hy Mart Sandwiches, 4795 Vineland Avenue, Suite C, North Hollywood, CA 91602
Phone – 818-506-7264         web site – hymartsandwiches.com

We Love Sabzee Mediterranean Market

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Foreign markets come in all shapes, sizes and configurations, which is a big part of the enjoyment.  We do however have our preferences, and Sabzee Mediterranean Market embraces our vision of a well thought out set up.  The perimeter is divided into clearly defined stations focusing on Persian baked goods, deli items, prepared dishes, a butcher counter and a nut/seed area, all organized and displayed to make our lives as easy as possible.

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Sabzee is a Mediterranean Market with strong Persian leanings, which means lots of fantastic Iranian cuisine and products along with other Mediterranean offerings.  Grateful thanks go out to cook book author and ethnic market maven, Faye Levy, for guiding us to Sabzee Market.

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Immediately upon entering the spotless establishment we are thrust into the bakery, which displays artfully designed sweetness at prices that make celebrating easy on the wallet.

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The deli section and attached cafe offer effortless choices for lunch, planning a party or making dinner, with cases and steam trays presenting a myriad of possibilities.  Sabzee also encourages sampling.  We tried both the fesenjan (pomegranate and walnut) and the ghormeh sabzi (herb and bean) stews and absolutely fell in love with the fresh clean flavors of these two opposite ends of the stew spectrum.

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Persian stews can be served over fluffy Basmati rice or the way we like it best, over tahdig, a crispy rice that turns the rich stews into even more of a festivity than they already are.  But order ahead or show up early because by 6 PM we found they were sold clean out of tahdig.

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Kabobs abound on the menu as do a variety of rice and roast chicken options.  We adore knowing that someone is manning the Mediterranean kitchen if we don’t have the time or inclination.

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Prices, as you can see, make letting someone else cook an easy choice and a huge saver of time and money.

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If you arrive at the right time you can see the “show” of Iranian bread being fashioned and baked right before your eyes.  This never fails to entertain and amuse us, mostly because the bakers are so accomplished and make it look so easy.

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The vibrant, clean and fresh produce section is a joy to shop, with the added benefit of traditional Middle Eastern herb and vegetable staples.

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Shelves are laden with products from various parts of the world covering cuisines as diverse as South East Asian, Latin American, German and of course Mediterranean.

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Ice Cream comes in the traditional flavors of saffron, pistachio, rose water and pomegranate.  Exciting tastes to savor as a sweet finish to any meal.

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Nuts, seeds and snacks abound, a reflection of the healthy Mediterranean diet.

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For a stunning example of a market that caters to the needs of their clientele, Sabzee Mediterranean Market is an enchanting environment to explore, learn and discover flavorful options to add to the dinning experience.

Sabzee Mediterranean Market, 17461 Ventura Boulevard, Encino, CA 91316
Phone – 818-745-1313      web site – sabzeemarket.com

Healthy Eating Made Scrumptious

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Amy Riolo has a new book out to add to her exciting collection.  The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook delves deeper into the benefits and delights of the world’s healthiest diet.

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She divides her book into the following sections: whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts, olive oil, fish and seafood, dairy, poultry, eggs, meat and sweets, each with nutritional benefits, history, culture, lore and recipes.  In the fruit section we are quenched by her revitalizing North African fruit “cocktail” (page 50) of orange juice, strawberry puree, pomegranate syrup as well as the seeds.  We drink and eat this with a spoon to make sure we get the crunch of pomegranate seed in every sip.

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From her vegetable section, we find the green beans, potato and cherry tomatoes with pesto (page 70) a well balanced blend of fresh produce, natural textures and herb driven flavors.

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Quinoa, arugula and fig salad (page 40) from the whole grains section, has us embracing healthy dining with new vigor.

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Citrus marinated salmon with fennel creme (page 116) is an easy to make dish that tastes like it was slaved over for hours.

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And we love the fact that she doesn’t demonize dessert, but instead makes the fresh and wholesome into healthy treats like raspberry citrus clafoutis (page 174).

For those looking to explore the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and expand their repertoire with easy, whole food recipes, Amy Riolo’s, Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Cookbook is a first-rate resource.