Eating Florence – La Cantinetta Antinori

Restaurant: La Cantinetta Antinori

Location: Florence, Italy

Date: June 17, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tuscan

Rating: Slick and tasty

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On our first trip to Florence (we went thrice) we met up with an Italian friend and her family and they brought us to the Antinori wine empire’s casual enoteca, where they combine slick modernized Tuscan food with a large selection of excellent wines.


The lovely room in Palazzo Antinori.


A nice light quafable mineral laced white. We went through about half a bottle a person at lunch!


The menu. Sorry the meat courses are out of focus.


Assorted bruschetta, Tuscan standard.


Insalta Caprese.  Tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Basil and olive oil.


Panzanella. Traditional Tuscan salad of soaked stale bread, tomato, basil, onions, olive oil.


The ubiquitous Insalta Misto.


Taglierini agli scampi freschi. Thin noodles with tomato, basil, garlic and you guessed it, a giant crayfish creature.


Fagioli. Tuscan fava beans and olive oil.


Sea bass, capers, sun dried tomatos, potatoes.


Pounded veal in mushroom sauce.


Filetto di manzo. Beef filet and potatoes.


Almond semifreddo with caramel. This is SO up my dessert alley. Creamy and sweet. Oh yes. Oh yes.


Expresso, to counter the copious amount of wine I consumed.

This was a nice place. Not radical, not staid. Fitting of a hot spot in Florence, it’s basically traditional Tuscan fare with 10% modernization. Given the quality of the ingredients and the base cuisine, this is more than enough for a great meal.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Bologna – Trattoria Leonida

Restaurant: Trattoria Leonida

Location: Bologna, Italy

Date: June 7, 2011

Cuisine: Bolognese

Rating: Big menu, great food

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We continue our sojourn across Emilia-Romagna. It was a rainy day in Bologna, and we stopped for lunch in this Trattoria in the old town, just east of the pair of leaning towers. It was selected by the intuitive method, glancing inside to see if it felt right.


All sorts of antipasti are stored in a number of display cases and on some tables at the front.


And a bit of roast rabbit on a plate with potatoes!


The tables at the front.

A delicious course of marinated salmon carpacio with olive oil and red peppercorns.


A ricotta and fig torte, declared to be very tasty.


Classic Tagliatelle Bolognese!


Parpadelle with boar ragu. This was an amazing pasta.


Stricchetti with sausage and peas in a pink sauce. Very tasty, although when ordering it I expected a white sauce.


Roast rabbit (taken from the plate above) in a balsamic sauce.


Turkey in balsamic sauce.


The condiments for the salad.

The usual mixed salad.

This pasta must have been awful!


And to wake up, some more expresso.

This random pick turned out extremely well. The food was fantastic, and the other customers only local businessmen.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Locanda Portofino – In the Neighborhood

Restaurant: Locanda Portofino

Location: 1110 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, Ca 90403. 310-394-2070

Date: May 20, 2011

Cuisine: Northern Italian

Summary: Tasty neighborhood Italian

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For whatever reason Los Angeles has a lot of Italian restaurants. There’s a lot of competition and innovation, and as far as I can tell we’re about tied with NY as the best town in the US for this wonderful (and justifiably popular) cuisine. This also means that there is a total and ridiculous excess of neighborhood Italians. I’ll try any of them once, but I pretty much never go to 75% of them a second time. There are just too many good ones to eat some ho-hum boxed pasta. In any case, Locanda Portofino is one of the good ones.


The menu.


I’m very partial to Amarone. They’re pretty much all drinkable (and grapey).


“Ceasar salad.”


“Bresaola con rucola. Thinly sliced cured beef with virgin olive oil, lemon, rucola and shaved parmigiano.” A very nice rendition of this classic.


“Penne vodka. Penne with light cream tomato sauce, shallots and vodka.”


“Tagliatelle alla boscaiola con salsicce. Green and white egg tagliatelle in a light cream sauce with pancetta, ground sausage, mushrooms and green peas.” I love love this pasta. It’s not far off from al carbonara either, but isn’t eggy in the same way. I love the combo of the peas, the two types of pig, and the peas. No wonder my cardiologist gives me a hard time.

Pretty much anything on the menu here is well done, but this was just Friday date night and so there are only a couple pics. Still, if you live on the Westside, forget those chain Italians, or the lame kitchen “red sauces” and go to Locanda Portofino, Delfini, Palmeri, Osteria Latini or the like. Or if you want higher end: Capo or Drago.

Matsuhisa – The Private Room

Restaurant: Matsuhisa [1, 2]

Location: 129 N La Cienega Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 659-9639

Date: May 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Fusion

Rating: As good as it’s always been!

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Some good friends were in town who had never tried Nobu Matsuhisa‘s particular blend of Japanese Peruvian Fusion. As popular as this has become in the last fifteen years, and how every derivative restaurant in America throws a few of his dishes on the menu, the original still rocks. I also scored a Friday night reservation in the coveted and private “Omakase only room,” where his cooking is showcased to the best effect.


The original storefront.


This aged 1st Cru white burgundy from my cellar was the very expression of mature chardonay.

As you can see from the color. This wine is ready, more than ready, as it might have been a tad better two years ago. Still it had a wonderful floral perfume to it.


The private room seats eight, and has it’s own sushi bar and kitchen.


“Seafood springroll with heirloom tomato and caviar.” This is the only repeat of the night, a Matsuhisa classic.Fry is always good, but it’s actually the combination with the spicy tomato chutney/salsa that really sells the dish.

One of the private kitchen chefs working on the appetizers.


Grilling up some conch!


Different members of our party got slightly different versions of this quartet of amuses.


“Seared salmon, new style.” That is with sesame, ponzu, and warm olive oil.


Kanpachi (young yellowtail) with a bit of red peper and ponzu on a radish.


Red snapper carpaccio, with chives, garlic, and vinegar.


A second version of the plate.


Lobster cerviche.


Tai (red snapper) sashimi, new style.


Yellowtail collar marinated in miso (a Nobu classic), baked, and then served with a bit of garlic and texture on letuce. You wrap it up and eat it like a soft taco.


Japanese baby conch, sauteed in garlic butter (escargot style).


The creepy crawly himself. Chewy and a little bitter, in a good way.


Burgundy goes very well with the Matsuhisa flavor profiles. The first time I ever went here, in 1996, I brought a Gros Frere Clos Vougeot. This 2005, Parker gives a 92. “The 2005 Clos Vougeot from Drouhin’s two parcels in that famous cru, is much more earthy and less fine-grained than the majority of their wines from this vintage, but it exhibits impressive concentration. A bone meal-like meld of mineral and meat dominates the nose and suffuses the palate along with black raspberry, plum and cherry fruit accepted by faintly bitter fruit pit notes. This is quite full and rich, but without being heavy; overtly tannic and chewy, but without being coarse. A promising more tart than sweet juiciness of black fruit mingles with roasted meat and stony, chalky minerality in the finish.”


Sashimi salad, with yellowtail, seared blue fin tuna, various dressings, and hearts of palm.


Par boiled Santa Barbara prawn with a tiny bit of salad (including hearts of palm). This was really yummy, even better than the cooked version we had last time. The meat is very sweet and succulent, delicious warm but essentially raw.


Sea bass on a bed of mushroom “risotto” with white truffles. The little spears are pickled ginger shoots.


“Fois gras, seabass, mushrooms, in a very rich reduction sauce.” Very meaty and tasty, the sauce was a pretty awesome blend of all three contributors of yum: salt, sweet, and fatty. The little red fruit is a pickled leeche.


Another very nice, red burgundy, this one (unlike the others) from the restaurant’s list. We drank more than I thought. 🙂


Grilled Toro, with enoki, aspargus, and other mushrooms.


American Kobe Beef with asparagus, garlic, and a spicy sauce and mustard. Really yummy (and rich) dish.

Each person gets a little sushi plate, there were a couple variants, this one has no shellfish.


A version where everything is cooked.


The “normal” plate for those who eat everything.


Chu-toro (medium tuna belly). Perfect!


Kanpachi (young yellowtail). Like butter.


Orange giant clam.


Uni (sea urchin).


Anago (sea eel), in the classic sweet BBQ sauce.


The pretty laquer soup container.


Inside is snapper soup. I haven’t had this one before, although it’s a classic mild Japanese fish broth with cilantro and scallions. The fish is soft mellow whitefish in this context.


My brother got a special surprise, the eye. The chef’s convinced him to try it. “Good for the sinews and joints.”


Taco (octopus). Very tender.


Japanese Sea Scallop sushi, with a bit of yuzu. Always one of my favorite sushis, and this didn’t disappoint.


Kohada (gizzard shard).


Baby squid, battleship style. They’re raw, but tossed in a kind of sweet miso-lemon dressing. Really tasty.


And we finally make it to desserts. Fruit tart with ginger ice cream. This was a total fan fave with the ladies.


Green tea tiramisu with chocolate gelato. Both were good, with the pastry having a nice creaminess and the ice cream a deep richness.


Butterscotch cream brulee with a citrus ice cream. Also really nice and creamy.


Coffee ice cream with chocolate crunch. This was great too, probably my favorite. The crunch added a really nice texture.


Shave ice. Below are a couple balls of vanilla ice cream (very good vanilla ice cream), red bean sauce, and very finely shaved ice.


Then green tea sauce (or maybe just tea) is poured over it. In the end, a very interesting (and Asian) mix of flavors and textures.


Even the urinal is cool.


The main room.


The chefs at work back in our private room/kitchen.

This was probably the best meal I’ve ever had at Matsuhisa, and I’ve had a LOT of great ones. Because I’m jaded now, and used to the cuisine, it wasn’t utterly mind blowing innovative like the first time I ever ate here. But the cooking is as good here as it ever was. Nobu (and his sucessor cooks) still really know their stuff.

For a previous meal at Matsuhisa, see here.

Palmeri again

Restaurant: Palmeri [1, 2]

Location: 11650 San Vicente Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 442-8446 ‎

Date: April 3, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Great, and good value.

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Palmei is one of our Sunday regular places. I’ve already covered the basics in my previous review. But it’s an always reliable and reasonable Italian with a very good kitchen.

The menu.

A nice little half bottle of Brunello. Parker gives it 92. “The 2005 Brunello di Montalcino is impressive for its open-knit, expressive bouquet of violets, dark cherries, minerals, menthol and grilled herbs. Medium in body, the wine delivers gorgeous length and a polished, refined finish. It is a strong effort in this vintage. The estate’s Brunello is made from vineyards in Castelnuovo dell’Abate (70%) and Canalicchio (30%). In 2005 La Gerla did not produce their Vigna gli Angeli bottling and opted instead to add that fruit to the regular bottling. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.”

Palmeri has very nice bread, including the ever popular homemade grisini.

And best of all, they have this “amuse” (with the bread) ofmarinara sauce and ricotta baked. With bread, pretty much like pizza.

“Special Caprese of burrata and heirloom tomatos, olive oil and basil.” For my detailed write-up on burrata, see here.

Barbiatelli, beets, goat cheese, a bit of nuts and fruit.

Penne pomodoro, for our toddler.

He likes his parmesan.

“Ravioli, Crab meat filled black pasta in a saffron sauce topped with rock shrimp.” I love good pasta in these butter sauces. These are soft and the sweetness of the crab and shrimp go perfectly with the butter.

“Special pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach.”

Pizza Fornarina. Mozzarella, St. Daniele prosciutto, argugla, parmigiano reggiano and truffle oil. I’m particularly partial to this pizza. The dough is very tasty and thin but chewy. The salad like combo of toppings top notch, and the bit of truffle oil lends a little extra zing.

For our previous Palmeri review, click here.

Or for a different Brentwood Italian.

The “Reform Kosher” for Passover Tuna Melt

We were scrounging around for lunch and came up with this variant passover tuna melt. While “passover” compliant it is in the tradition of the Great Trefa Banquet of 1883. You’ll see why. My wife did not participate — for the same reason.


So in making the tuna itself. At home I use this red chunk Italian tuna packed in olive oil which is amazing. Here I only had some Trader Joe’s albacore packed in water. So I added some olive oil (I don’t like mayo with my tuna). I also threw in some chopped cornichons, fresh ground pepper, lemon juice.


And mustard. Now this is a great mustard, but as we searched my mom’s very deep pantry, it came up.


Notice the price on this baby, and the yellowed tag. Today you’d find this tub for around $29, therefore dating this particular example to the 80s. We moved on to a lesser, but “younger” mustard.


The tuna.


The matzah, waiting.


Here’s the Trefa, a little Prosciutto.

Matzah, ham, then tuna.


A nice aged cheddar (goes so well with the ham).


All four.


A little trip to the toaster oven and…


Voila.


Close up. Yum!


Others who aren’t tomato haters used some of these.


As shown.


And after baking.


Our explorations in the pantry also turned up this vintage can of hazelnut oil, complete with archaic french price tag. It might date back to the late 70s!

For a similar non-passover snack, see here.

To see my passover seder, click here.

Upstairs 2 – Modern Tapas, Lots of Wine

Restaurant: Upstairs 2

Location:  2311 Cotner Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90064 Tel. 310-231-0316

Date: October 10, 2010 & April 15, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Tapas

Rating: Bright flavors and a lot of options.

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Upstairs 2 is located just above the Wine House on Cotner. This is one of the two great wine stores on this road, the other being Twenty Twenty Wine Merchants which is even more erudite (and closer allied to my taste in wine). Upstairs offers not only a big wine list and extensive by-the-glass offers (in multiple sizes) but a rich and varied menu of modern American tapas. As you know, I love tapas style dining because of the ability to try more than 2-3 flavors and the much more flexible composition of dinner menus.

This review is a composite of two different dinners. I show both a small set menu and a variety of “regular” tapas off the menu.

The menu.

The bread and olive oil.

Tonight there’s a little tasting menu with wine pairings. It appealed to me so I gave it a try.

This riesling was to my taste.

The cold cucumber soup, creme fraiche, and dill, not as much. I was hoping for something a little closer to middle eastern yogurt salad. This was very cucumber and dill. I enjoy those flavors but the thin texture of the soup (almost watery: the texture not the flavor) put me off somehow.

I funky powerful white.

“Half lobster tail, spinach polenta, black truffle butter.” This was the best dish of the three. The green stuff was rich and creamy and went very nicely with the firm lobster meat.

A pleasant barolo.

The osso bucco itself was tasty. The meat was firmer than a traditional osso bucco, and tasted almost like lamb. The succotash was okay.

I should have ordered ala carte. The dishes were okay, but I could have done better picking myself.

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And so, here is a collection of modern tapas designed to be shared by the whole table.

“Blood Orange Caesar Salad, Pumpernickel Croutons, Shaved Parmesan.” Very close to a traditional caesar, just with a little extra sweetness thrown in.

“Grilled Mahi Mahi, Crispy Corn Pancake, Black Bean Hummus, Avocado Mousse.” Sort of a modern fish taco!

“Medjool dates wrapped in serrano ham, stuffed with asiago cheese.” These are always yum central. The sweetness of the dates, the savory of the cheese, and the salty bite of the ham blend wonderfully.

“Lobster BLT on brioche, bacon, frisse, roma tomato, housemade mayo.” Another winner. I didn’t even mind the tomatoes here.

“Tandoori chicken salad, artisan greens, grape tomatos, raita, meyer lemon dressing.” This was great too. Somehow tandoori chicken does okay on salad.

“Crispened eggplant, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, marscapone cheese, chunky tomato and basil.” Mini pizza-like in flavor.

“Mixed heirloom tomatos, rainbow microgreens, citrus vinaigrette.”

“Lamb sausage flatbread, Moroccan red sauce, asiago cheese.” Not so mini pizza!

“Grilled Local Sea Bass, Purple Potato Ravioli, Ginger Beur Blanc, Black Sea Salt.”

“King crab ravioli, veronique sauce.” I love these butter sauces on delicate pastas.

“Grilled bison hanger steak, yukon smashed potatoes, red wine sauce.”

“Slow Roasted Kurobuta Pork, Sticky Rice, Oregano and Citrus.” This was really tasty, with a sweet asian pork thing going on.

“Moroccan Roast Chicken, Plums, Olives, Capers, Couscous.” Lots of flavor here as well.

“lamb meatballs, ouzo and mint.”

“Pappardelle Pasta, Veal ragu, Fresh Basil, Asiago Cheese.”

Dessert menu.

“Valrhona Chocolate Chip Gelato.”

“Sticky Toffee Pudding, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.” This was good, not amazing, but good, particularly with the ice cream. I wanted even MORE toffee flavor, but I’m an extremist.

Overall Upstairs 2 is a good place, particularly in that it offers a lot of variety and really strong flavors. It’s particularly good with a part of 4 or 6 and people willing to just order up a storm and share it around. The good, extensive, and flexible wine options are great too. Also if you buy a wine downstairs, there’s no corkage.

Fraiche Santa Monica

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica [1, 2]

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: March 19, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: On the way up.

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This particular location adjacent to the Barnes and Noble on Wilshire near the promenade has a fairly checkered past. Two or three years ago the Fraiche group turned it into Riva. This was supposed to be a coastal Italian, but to my taste wasn’t really Italian at all — although they made a decent Pizza. In any case, it failed and they rebooted it as Fraiche Santa Monica with an entirely new menu and staff, albiet an identical interior. This is sort of a spin off of the Culver City location (REVIEW HERE).

One corner of the back room. I didn’t have much of a wide angle lens (food after all). It’s a pretty nice space.

The wine by the glass list.

“Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Les Chapitres de Jaffelin, Burgundy, 2009.” As a burghound this was about the bare limit of drinkability for Pinot Noir. A little sour and acidic and decidedly unbalanced. But then again, I rarely expect much from “Bourgogne” (Burgundy which is not AOC to a particular village or vineyard).

The bread was hot out of the oven, and very nice and crunchy. Oilve, mashed and oiled.

Today’s menu. This is actually the second time I’ve eaten at Fraiche SM (I did so once right after they opened) and in the meantime they have moved the menu to be much closer to the new one at Fraiche Culver City (detailed review of that here).

“POACHED PEAR SALAD, Endive, baby wild arugula, candied walnuts, Point Reyes blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette.”

“Baby Beets, House Made Ricotta / Orange / Pistachio.” Sweetness of the beets meshes with the cheesy sauce. Beet salads have become very passe, but when well done (like this one), I like them.

“ROASTED PEPPERS ARUGULA & BURRATA, Shallots, 12 year old balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.” This was as good a Burrata as I’ve had at a restaurant. They still aren’t quite as sensual as my own take on the cheese.

Valpolicella Ripasso, Classico Superiore, David Sterza, Veneto, 2008.” Much better than the generic Burgundy. This was a fine wine of the type. Grapey, but not as much so as an Amarone.

“MUSHROOM RISOTTO, Arugula, Pine Nuts, Pecorino.” Nice nutty, mushroomy risotto.

AGNOLOTTI, Mushrooms,  mascarpone, truffle butter.” These are really good. The pasta is nice fresh egg pasta. It tastes mostly of butter and mushroom. Butter!

“GARGANELLI, Mushroom Bolognese, Parsley, House Made Ricotta.” I actually expected this to be a meat pasta, but it’s vegetarian with the “ragu” being made from mushrooms. It was tasty, particularly the ricotta which, being homemade, was more like a real Sicilian Ricotta than one usually gets here. The mushrooms leant it a fairly rich taste, but it wasn’t heavy at all (like a meat one would be).

“Rigatoni, Beef & Pork Ragù / Scallion / Gruyère.” This one was great. basically a Bolognese, but really good. Close even to one of my ultimate pasa favorites, the lamb ragu at Capo (SEE HERE).

We were too full for desserts but Fraiche has really good ones, so I snuck in a photo of the Budino from a trip to the culver city joint. You can look there for a bunch more dessert photos. The dessert menu is nearly identical.

“Carmel Budino, Vanilla Mascarpone, Sea salt.” Mildly carmel/creamy with that nice salt factor. Good, but not quite as good as the similar dessert at Gjelina (SEE HERE).

Fraiche SM seems to be settling into its groove. It was better than last time, and quite a bit better than Riva. It isn’t a lot different than the Culver City location, but the menu is slightly smaller, and missing the assorted “pots of stuff” that are fairly unique over there. It does still have the very good fresh pastas. I need to try I nice meaty one.

Quick Eats: Caffe Delfini

Restaurant: Caffe Delfini

Location: 147 West Channel Road, Santa Monica, CA 90402. tel (310) 459-8823

Date: February 6, 2011

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Good Italian, great value!

 

Caffe Delfini is one of our regular “sunday night” places. LA has a lot of neighborhood Italians, and so it’s only necessary to go to the one’s with a good kitchen. Delfini consistently delivers very good fare at reasonable places, and they are extremely friendly too, and very accommodating of our messy toddler.

The official Menu is here.

I got a glass of Amarone. I like the grapiness of this very traditional wine from outside of Verona.

“CAESAR SALAD. Hearts of Romaine lettuce, shaved Reggiano cheese, tossed with light Caesar dressing,      and served with homemade garlic croutons. (contains pasteurized eggs).”

“MISTA  SALAD.    Chopped butter lettuce, radicchio, shaved carrots and sliced tomatoes      dressed with extra virgin olive oil and aceto balsamico.”

“INSALATA SPECIALE.   Combination of rugola e radicchio, caprese and prosciutto e melone.” My favorite salad, a bit of everything.

“RIGATONI ALLA NORMA.   Tubular pasta with eggplant, plum tomatoes, scamorza cheese, onion, garlic,     basil, thyme  and a touch of red chili flakes.”

“PENNE AL POMODORO E BASILICO.   Penne pasta with basil and tomato sauce.”

LINGUINE MARE (white wine sauce). Linguine pasta with Manila clams, N.Z. mussels, shrimp, calamari, snow crab claw,  garlic, parsley and a touch of red chili flakes.”

These aren’t the incredible fresh pastas of a place like Drago, but they are nicely done classics, fresh out of the pot/pan, served searing hot. You could also walk across the street to Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi and get them too, but you’d also pay 2-3 times as much, and get a dose of celebrity attitude too.

 

Quick Eats: Sunnin

Restaurant: Sunnin

Location: 1776 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (310) 475-3358

Date: December 24, 2010

Cuisine: Lebanese

Rating: Cheap tasty Lebanese

 

A couple years ago I had an office a couple blocks from Sunnin, and we used to go at least once a week. In those days Sunnin was across the street from where it is now, in a total hole in the wall. There they served on styrofoam with plasticware. It was it its best with “mama” behind the counter. The sons served (slowly), but the humus was amazing, and the garlic paste for the grilled chicken. Now they’ve moved across the street and they have real plates, a bigger space, and slightly higher prices. The sons still loiter about. The food hasn’t really changed.

The menu can be found HERE.

“Deep fried Cauliflower served with tahini sauce.” Fry, as usual, what’s not to like. Cauliflower has a lot of surface area, better to pick up the fry, and the sauce, which cuts the fry nicely.

“Fresh yogurt and cucumber slices mixed with garlic and dry mint.” I love yoghurt sauce, and it’s a fundamental part of what I call the “lamb yogurt flatbread continuum,” that band of culinary couplings that roles from Greece all the way to north India.

Pita.

“Sanbousek, Homemade dough stuffed with ground beef, onions and pine nuts.” Tasty thick pastry stuffed witha  savory mix of meat and spices.

“Lamb Kebab. Cubes of lamb grilled on a skewer served with hommos, rice, Lebanese salad and pita bread.” Tender lamb chunks. Zesty salad, and the humus. I’ve always loved the humus here, it has a lot of garlic, and a good amount of lemon in it. Then it’s brightened up with Lebanese olive oil (I’ve seen the jugs) and paprika.

Beef instead. The beef is more tender, but the lamb has a bit more flavor.

The chicken kabob is great here too, and it comes with the garlic paste — I love the garlic paste.