Azerbaijani-Style Novruz Spring Celebrations in California

The Vernal Equinox today marks the beginning of Novruz. A joyous holiday celebrating spring, peace, friendship, life in harmony with nature and as it literally translates, a new day.

Novruz is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. The California Azerbaijani Friendship Association, headed up by Ms. Kimiya Mammadova, held their Novruz Gala last Saturday night and we were thrilled to participate in the festivities.

Music and dance followed a lavish feast that included all the flavors of spring. Honoring of the the new season is best represented by the famous leek and herb laden egg dish called Kuku Sabzi. This healthy treat enlivens the senses with copious amounts of seasonal herbs including cilantro, parsley and dill. It can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, as an appetizer, side-dish or final touch to a holiday meal. We found the light, abundantly fragrant slices reminiscent of an overstuffed frittata and wouldn’t mind wedging some into freshly baked bread with yogurt and radishes, as recommended by Bon Appetit.

We were regaled with plates of stuffed pastries scattered across the table including the badambura above. Azerbaijani cuisine specializes in some of the best nut and fruit filled delicacies we’ve tasted. Their baklava’s cake like texture makes for a moist, balanced, unique interpretation of the filo dough encased sweet we tend to find in local Middle Eastern and Mediterranean establishments.

Stuffed grape leaves were a beefy powerhouse representing the elusive Azerbaijani cuisine served at the event. The delicacies were lovingly transported to Santa Ana from San Diego’s Cafe 21. An Azerbaijani owned Mediterranean gem that boasts two locations serving exceptional renditions of old and new favorites.

It is tradition to serve Plov during Novruz. The staple consists of crusted, perfectly cooked basmati rice, tender lamb, dried fruit and nuts that all blend into a symphony of sweet and savory satisfaction.

And no spring celebration is complete without a nod to the fresh fruit that is beginning to emerge as the weather transforms from winters chill into spring’s warmth and abundance. If you happen to be near a restaurant of the region, we strongly recommend you check out some of the holiday dishes and take full advantage of natures awesome blossoming.

Wishing everyone a joyous spring and Novruz Bayraminiz Mübarek, which means Happy Novruz.

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Persian Kitchen Extraordinaire

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We are always amazed at the high quality, scrumptious food that comes out of tight little kitchens around town.  Bibi Sara is a wonder of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine that makes exceptional use of their little space.

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The short menu covers the basics, plus they have some secret menu items that you can inquire about, including tahdig, the famous crispy rice dish topped with Persian stew.

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The petit kitchen, where all the magic happens, is in full view allowing us to watch the masters in action.

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A lot of the business is takeout, but we find the small dining room to be more than adequate and downright cozy on cold winter nights.

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The cooler is self serve and contains small tubs of appetizers, salads and drinks, including the Middle Eastern yogurt beverage called doogh, in both plain and mint.

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The buttery baba ghanoosh is tahini heavy, through which the tangy spices and eggplant shine through.

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While the mast o’-khiar adds cucumber and dried mint to tart yogurt for a blast of refreshment. A yogurt laden with shallots called mast o’-moosir is also available.

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We found the falafel to be some of the best we’ve had in Los Angeles. The garbanzo patties are spice and herb heavy, with makes for a serious party in the mouth that plays well against the green salad, tomato, pickle and tahini, all folded into a super fresh lavash wrap creating our dream falafel sandwich.

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Hot sauce is available to add a jolt of heat if desired and we found it to be a great addition to the falafel.

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We saw some tahdig in the kitchen and couldn’t resist the call.  the crisp browned thin servings of rice can be topped with a variety of stews.  As it was close to closing time, all that was left was a freshly made batch of the green herb stew called khoresht ghormeh sabzii. Greens and herbs in this amazing version are cooked down to their essence and strike the perfect balance with the supremely tender beef chunks and meaty red beans. This is a Persian delicacy not to be missed that reheats and crisps up well at home in the oven if you are taking out.

For a little sweetness they serve bite size baklava. Here the Middle Eastern pasty is scented with rose water and contains the precise blend of savory nuts and  sweet honey, with neither overpowering the other.

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For some of the most memorable Persian food in the San Fernando Valley, from family recipes, we strongly recommend a visit to Bibi Sara where just a few dollars bags Persian delights a plenty.

Bibi Sara, 4878 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Phone – 818-914-5298

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European Bakery and Persian Kitchen Not To Miss

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We were drawn inside by the smell of fresh baking pastries and taken aback by the beautiful assortment of sweets and the Persian menu on the wall. Down the little alley off Robertson, a European bakery and Persian restaurant named La Maison de Creme Bakery is also, according to the sign out front, called Tehran Restaurant.  No matter what you call it, definite do call on it.

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The minuscule patisserie reminds us of specialty shops we’ve found on our global adventures. Simply saunter down the enchanting walkway, illuminated by the warm glow of bakery lights to find the restaurant staffed by a charming couple happy to offer heartwarming hospitality in the sugar and butter scented space. Homemade jams, pickled garlic and other in house crafted specialties line the case.

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There are only three tables inside and a couple more out front, this is an intimate venue for a cozy lunch, dinner or to order take out.

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We requested a sampling of salads and they were happy to oblige. Their baba ghanoush is smooth, mashed eggplant and tahini, heavily laden with garlic and herbs. While the light and enlivening tabouli is a well balanced mix of parsley, tomato, green onion and bulgur.

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Masto khiar blends a sour, tangy yogurt with cucumber, spices and garlic for a cooling palate refresher.

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The well done falafel are crisp and slightly scented with cinnamon, a nice addition to the mix of spices in the garbanzo patties drizzled with tahini.

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Number 1 on the kabob menu is the chicken.  Tender, juicy, marinated white meat chunks of poultry are savory wonders served with perfectly cooked, supremely light and fluffy, buttery, citrus scented rice.  This rice is a marvel we fell immediately in love with.  A fresh salad dressed with cilantro and lime salad dressing completes the perfect plate and at $9.99 satisfies every requirement we have for a gratifying meal.

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Since La Maison de Creme is a bakery it would be a shame to leave without sampling the Persian influenced European delights.  We started with a French macaroon that conceals a heavy smear of almond paste elevating the crumbly, sweet cookie to a heightened exotic level of pleasure.

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The creme puffs, another French phenomena, are light and airy dough puffed to its highest point.

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Then it’s filled with sweet, creamy, rose water tinged, in-house made creme. It’s just two bites, but what eye rolling bites they are.

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For an entrancing little lunch/dinner spot with freshly prepared entries and high quality desserts, all at prices that are easy to manage, La Maison de Creme Bakery is one easy to miss spot, not to miss.

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La Maison de Creme Bakery, 265 South Robertson Boulevard, Ste 3, Beverly Hills, CA 90211                    Phone – 310-855-7290

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Persian Appetizers, Grilled Kebabs And Rice Galore Near LAX

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A little oasis called Jino’s Pars is a haven of tranquility and impressive cuisine near LAX.  They serve both Italian and Persian food, but we always go with the Persian.

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We love Persian food and the abundant appetizers provide an opportunity to taste a lot of different flavors and can easily make up the entire meal.  We can’t resist the tadig, a crispy rice dish topped with Persian stew. For an extra $1.50 they will top the crunchy rice with two stews which is the best way for us to indulge in both sweet and savory on the same plate. We chose the fesenjan, a pomegranate and walnut based stew of sweet and savory notes and from the opposite end of the spectrum we ordered the heartier meat and eggplant stew called khoresht-e bademjan. Both are warm, intensely flavorful stews that can be ordered as a main course on fluffy basmati rice or as a starter on top of crispy rice. You really can’t go wrong either way.

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To contrast with the sweet pomegranate and the savory eggplant stews, a cool bowl of lebneh (thick strained yogurt) loaded with fresh spinach, adds just the right amount of tang and creaminess to sooth all our woes.

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The mixed appetizer plate offers bowls of tabouli, yogurt with fresh cucumber and herbs along with a smooth and creamy hummus that blends garbanzo beans, tahini and fresh garlic into a rich satisfying dip.  This freshly made hummus hits home with its bright chickpea flavor.

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Main dishes are served with a side salad or soup and we chose the shirazi salad of chopped tomato, onion, cucumbers, mint, parsley all tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.

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The chicken barg satisfies with marinated and juicy strips that are skewered and grilled before being served on a large mound of rice.  We substituted the sweet cherry rice for plain basmati simply because Persians make some of the most remarkable rice dishes and we don’t pass up on a good thing when we can get it.

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For a solid taste of the Middle East through the lens of Persian cuisine, Jino’s Pars offers scrumptious, large, easily shareable dishes at great prices and that’s a formula that makes eating out a joy in our book.

Jino’s Pars, 5844 West Manchester Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Phone – 310-645-6666         web site – jinospars.com

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Icy Refreshment

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Ice cream has evolved over the decades to embrace a wide breadth of interpretations, yet some remain dear no matter what new flavors come down the pike.

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Mashti Maolne’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream is an oldie but a goodie as they say.  We revisited this old timer to check out their offerings.  Aside from the standards, we were called to investigate the unique flavors and found their sorbets to be especially enticing.

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There are a few specials that need explanation.  The Mashti is a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two wafers and a Malone is a rich funnel cake-like pastry onto which ice cream is placed.  They also have beautiful free form waffle cones in cups as well as more traditional ice cream cones to choose from.

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Sampling is of course the way to go.  Be sure to get a lick of Turkish coffee, ginger rose water, lavender, saffron rose water with pistachio, sour cherry sorbet, cucumber sorbet or whatever else catches your fancy before you commit.

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We ended up with a double scoop that included herbal snow, a mix of 14 herbs, poppy seed, basil seeds, lemon, rose water and cardamom that hits with a bouquet of roses followed by the crunch of basil seeds and a downpour of slushy herbal sweet and savory snow.  The second scoop, creamy mango, played off the herbal snow with its milky rich, full bodied mango puree to create a marriage of opposite flavors and textures that simply sing together.

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In addition to ice cream and sorbet, Mashti Malone’s also carries Middle Eastern pastries and wafers if you care to create your own ice cream sandwiches or desserts at home.

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Cartons, ready to go, fill the freezer if a party is imminent.

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A refreshing testament to the power of high-quality exotic ingredients, Mashti Malone’s set the bar decades ago and continues to bring sweet, creamy and icy pleasure to a parched Los Angeles.

Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream, 1525 North La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-874-0144      web site – mashtimalone.com

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Middle Eastern Market Experience

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Elat Market is a Middle Eastern, kosher supermarket that draws customers in with great prices, specialty products and a central location near Pico and Robertson.

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The busy aisles require some finesse to navigate and we have learned the hard way not to get in the way of elderly patrons hellbent on finding affordable flawless produce.

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Once we got used to the assertive nature of the clientele, we found the shop to be a wonderful resource.  Elat is mid sized and easy to navigate, while also stocking everything we need.

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Prices far below those at conventional markets are the norm, as are nontraditional items such as Persian cucumber which are referred to simply as cucumber.

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Hard to find seasonal fruit, such as fresh dates are readily available.

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The market is divided into sections that overflow with each particular item, such as the nut and dried fruit corner where bins as well as prepackaged items abound.

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The deli counter lays out freshly made sushi as in most markets, so we don’t feel we are missing out in any way.

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A preserved fuit and vegetable case offers olives and pickled vegetables to adorn the dinner table.

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While the feta cheese case displays the tangy white dairy product from a variety of  countries.

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Both the meat and fish counters provide an assortment of kosher products for the orthodox and nonreligious alike.

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The beautiful meats and fish adhere to strict standards and tend, in our experience, to be of high quality and freshness.

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A small area houses bread including challah, lavash and a number of other exotic loaves and flatbreads.

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While pastries galore line the shelves.

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We love Elat Market for its diversity, reasonable pricing, foreign ambiance and fresh produce, fish, meat and poultry.  They have everything we look for in a supermarket experience with the added benefit of Middle Eastern flair.

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Elat Market, 8730 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone _ 310- 659-7070  web site – elatkoshermarket.com

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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

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Some of LA’s Most Intense Ice Cream

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Ice cream fans take note, Saffron & Rose in Westwood is an ice cream lovers paradise.  Their kitchen puts out some of the creamiest, mouthwatering, unique and just plain rocking frozen delights we have in Los Angeles.

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This spectacular Persian ice cream is handcrafted and made with whole organic milk free of hormones.  They also offer flavors that are sugar free and vegan if you have dietary restrictions, but if you can take the full bodied style we highly recommend it.

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The servings are all in cups, either to enjoy in the shop or packed to go. Wafers are used to make ice cream sandwiches if you feel so inclined.  The prices start at $4 a half pint or $4.50 for a double scoop and go up to $20 for the party sized pack.

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The flavors are spot on and all of them are truly luscious.  The most popular is the saffron pistachio, which is a creamy, thick, rich dream with just a hint of rose water.  The organic peanut butter with honey roasted peanuts tastes like a frozen jar of the smoothest peanut butter we’ve ever had.

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The orange blossom blooms with the true essence, the pistachio hits the mark, the cucumber tastes like a sweet whipped frozen cucumber, and the heavenly passion fruit, besides being loaded with fresh pulp, also contains the black seeds that crunch under your teeth adding a spectacular contrasting texture to the velvety ice cream.  They also make Falooda, a vermicelli and ice cream potion mixed with lemon juice and cherry syrup.  It’s basically a sweet, crunchy, icee slush.

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They are generous with their samples and tasting actually makes it more difficult to choose, as each flavor seem to be better than the next, if that’s even possible.

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We took home some passion fruit and the Golo Bol Bol also known as their saffron pistachio.  The pure ingredients are listed on the cap and as you can see nothing but whole foods go in and boy does it show in the finished product.

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For a sweet treat that completes any meal, stop by Saffron & Rose on Westwood Boulevard just a bit south of Wilshire, trust us you’ll be glad you did.

Saffron & Rose Ice Cream, 1387 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Phone – 310-477-5533       web site – golobolbol.org

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Persian Tapas

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Westwood is a hub for Persian cuisine and there are many options from small markets, to sandwich shops, restaurants, to bakeries and more. The long-time favorite Shamshiri Grill, continues to provide a warm ambiance, consistently good food and reasonable prices.

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You can certainly go traditional and order kebab or stew with mounds of perfectly cooked basmati rice or you can do what we do and make a meal of the appetizers which range in price from $4.95 to $8.95.

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We began out culinary journey with the combination appetizer plater which includes beautifully spiced falafel, stuffed grape leaves (aka dolma), baba ganoush, mast-o’-khlar (seasoned yogurt),  hummus and tahini.  This option allowed us to sample quite a bit of their starter menu and these overflowing delights along with the complementary bread and plate of mint, radish, onion and butter make for a humongous appetite wetter or they can be the entire meal.

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We also can’t resist their tahdig, thin layers of crisp rice topped with one or two Persian stews of your choice.

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We love the pomegranate and walnut based fesenjan and the eggplant stew, Koresh Bademjan.  These two could not be more opposite, which is why we love them together.  The fesenjan on half the crispy rice is a thick, rich, sweet-tart reduced stew/sauce that complements the tangy yogurt from our appetizer plate exceptionally well.  While the eggplant stew is a satisfying savory delight of aubergine, tender beef chunks and lentils.  We enjoy breaking through the crispy rice that has absorbed the essence of the stew, for a crackling, opulent, mouthwatering experience. This large plate of rice with stew is also sufficient for lunch or dinner on its own.

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The small Greek salad is actually quite substantial, loaded with greens, tomato, radish, cucumber, pepperoncini, feta and a light oil, vinegar and herb dressing.

The above items form an extensive hors d’oeuvre dinner that easily feeds four  to six and of course you can mix and match the menu items to your liking.  We prefer a lot of little tastes and enjoy our Persian tapas repast immensely.

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If you  have any room left their baklava is a honey sweet treat that goes very well with the Persian or Mint tea

Shamshiri Grill, 1712 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024                            Phone – 310-474-1410     web site – shamshiri.com

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Smoke On The Alley

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Delightful treasures can be found in the most unlikely of places, today’s find lies down a back alley near Pico and Robertson.  Elias Kabob is located in the parking lot directly behind Elias Kosher Meat Market at 8829 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.  The little window at the back of the building is often obscured by parked cars, but follow the smokey aroma of burning mesquite bricks and you will be led to the exact spot you want.

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There are no tables or chairs, this is strictly a to go deal.  The Persian menu offers mesquite charcoal grilled beef, chicken and fish kebabs served with either white or green (dill) rice, a vegetable kebab, fresh cucumber and tomato salad, lavash bread and includes a soda or bottle of water.

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Most of the overflowing plates run from $6 to $12 and are prepared to order so they are fresh, fresh, fresh.  Call ahead and let them know what you want if you don’t care to wait 10 to 15 minutes, or shop the front market for a wide assortment of Kosher delights while they cook your order to perfection.

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Today I chose the spicy chicken wings, a bargain at $6, and as tonight is the first evening of Passover, I was given matzoh instead of the lavash flat bread they usually serve.  If it’s important to you, the meal is Kosher, but regardless of your religious affiliations they put out a mean grilled plate here.  The slightly spicy, smokey chicken drumettes were juicy and a sublime complement to the char-edged grilled vegetables and heavily dill laden rice.

The back of the menu lists catering options with Persian, American and Moroccan dishes available for your next big soiree.  The charming staff are always smiling and happy to help.

Elias Kabab is located directly behind Eliass Kosher Meat Market which can be found at 8829 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019.  A drive around the corner and into the alley will land you in front of the tiny kitchen.  The phone for Elias Kabob is 310-246-9518 while the phone number for Eliass Meat Market is 310-278-7503.

The smoke here is intoxicating and fortunately you don’t need a prescription to indulge.

L’Chaim.

 

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