Hen House Grill

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I’m currently watching the season premiere of Homeland, so I thought it’d be appropriate to choose a Middle Eastern restaurant off my queue (by the way, the actor who plays Abu Nazir goes to Attari Sandwich Shop – I’m totally going to bust a Carrie and stalk him). Went to Hen House Grill in Irvine with Han and Natalie over a couple of months ago, and I was pleasantly caught off-guard by: 1) there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant in the OC that’s decent, and 2) there are Middle Eastern people in Irvine? But yeah, we were the only non-Persian patrons during our visit, and that can only be a good thing (Han was very proud of this).

While the food here isn’t destination-worthy even if it was in LA, I think Hen House Grill can easily blend in in Tehrangeles and succeed. Both the beef and chicken koobideh tasted authentic, and more importantly, tasted good. Same goes for the eggplant dip. I would actually choose the food here over the popular Sunnin near me. Prices are comparable with the Persian/Iranian restaurants, portions are more than fair, and we got so much sangak we needed two tables just to have enough room for it. Overall, a good choice if you want something different for those of you in Irvine. For me, who has lived near Tehrangeles for almost a decade, it’s a nice familiarity.

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UntitledWas helping Han move that day – my housewarming gift.

Chris Hei grade: B

Hen House Grill
18040 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 786-2000

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Attari Sandwich Shop

The strip on Westwood Blvd. between Wilshire and Santa Monica is essentially the Middle East haven of Los Angeles. In this small area lay dozens of restaurants (like Sunnin, which I just wrote about), cafes, markets, stores, and Persian ice cream shops. But the gem of the neighborhood has to be Attari, a tiny sandwich shop hidden beyond a courtyard, the entrance of which is not visible on Westwood. I’ve see the place in the past during my college years, but it never crossed my mind to actually visit the place until it made its re-entry on Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential LA Restaurants list a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to walk to Attari from my apartment for take-out, since I was by myself and wanted some exercise (it’s like 1.5 miles away). LA Weekly is doing their 30 Sandwiches in 30 Days this month, and featured a couple of the sandwiches from the restaurants, as well as the osh. Osh is a green lentil soup that is topped with some yogurt and sauteed onions. I ordered it on the recommendation of the restaurant. It doesn’t sound appealing, and certainly doesn’t look appealing, but it definitely hits the spot on a cold night. And it goes very well with some freshly baked French bread that comes on the side.

Speaking of the bread, it’s the vessel for each variety of their sandwiches. And man, is it great. Crispy exterior, chewy interior. Very reminiscent of the same type of bread that is used for banh mi.  On my first visit I had to get the beef tongue sandwich. The tongue was cooked so well it practically melted in your mouth, and well perfectly with the accompanying lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. Nothing sexy, just simple and well-executed. On my second visit I ordered the chicken kotlet sandwich. Looked and tasted like a cross between a falafel and a potato croquette. Pretty good, but kind of dry without some type of wet saucy contrast.

Overall, they were some very good sandwiches. The beef tongue was just absolutely amazing. The osh was good, too. The fact that I went there twice in a span of three days speaks volumes of how I feel about the place. On my two visits, they weren’t very busy, and I had hoped that more people would know about this hidden little gem. However, I tried to go there for lunch yesterday with Linh-Nam and Paul, and the place was packed, out beyond the courtyard. So it looks like my worries were unwarranted.

Osh

Osh ($4.95)

Tongue Sandwich

Tongue Sandwich ($7.99)

Chicken Kotlet Sandwich

Chicken Kotlet Sandwich ($6.75)

Chris Hei grade: B+

Attari Sandwich Shop
1388 Westwood Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 441-5488

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Sunnin Lebanese Cafe

Photo credit: Life as a feast

This is going to be a fairly lazy post, since I’m backed up by at least ten posts, and I’ve been very busy at work over the last month. On the Saturday before Halloween, a group of us decided to go out for dinner before all but myself headed to a Halloween party hosted by a couple of our friends (a party which I was later coerced to attend briefly). Wanting something nearby, Eugenia and I overlapped our to-dine lists, and Sunnin was the closest restaurant that was on both of our lists.

As its name suggests, Sunnin serves Lebanese food. If you’re not familiar with what Lebanese food is, it’s actually not very different from your typical Middle Eastern cuisine. In fact, it’s very much so. You got your kabobs, shish-kabobs, and plenty of hummus. On the council of her dining buddy Yelp, Eugenia ordered the fried cauliflower appetizer. Each of the five of us ordered a different entree (all pictured below). All of the entrees were pretty good, but all of them also tasted pretty similar to one another. And it’s tough for any of the individual dishes to stand out when they all tasted a little one-note.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s any better than the other Middle Eastern restaurants in the vicinity that I’ve tried (Flame, Zankou). Still pretty good though, but I’d rather just go get an awesome sandwich at Attari a few blocks up (post forthcoming). And a side note: the service was pretty good in general (a little slow, but they were pretty busy – no problems there), but they tacked on a 18% gratuity fee for the five of us on the bill. I could care less about the 18% (I usually tip more anyways), but the fact that they did it for a group of five is a little…interesting. Like they thought we were a group of kids who don’t tip or something.

Fried Cauliflower – deep fried Cauliflower served with tahini sauce

Chicken Kefta Kebab – finely ground chicken seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices, grilled on a skewer served with rice, hommos, Lebanese salad and pita bread

Chicken Shawarma – marinated layers of chicken cooked on a vertical broiler, served with rice, Lebanese salad, tahini sauce and pita bread

Beef Kebab – tender beef cubes grilled on a skewer served with hommos, rice, Lebanese salad and pita bread

Lamb Kebab – cubes of lamb grilled on a skewer served with hommos, rice, Lebanese salad and pita bread

Shish Tawook (Chicken Kebab) – cubes of chicken breast marinated with garlic grilled on a skewer served with rice, Lebanese salad, garlic sauce and pita bread

Chris Hei grade: B-

Sunnin Lebanese Cafe
1776 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 475-3358

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Gourmet Genie

9/22/11Despite this fever of food trucks in recent years, I find the vast majority of them to be rather average. This was just the case with Gourmet Genie. They were near my work last week, and my coworker and I decided to give them a shot. They’ve been around in the past, so I figured they were good enough for others to warrant a repeat appearance. The menu is pretty vast for a food truck, and everyone knows that I’m terrible at making decisions (my decision-making when ordering food is usually the result of detailed research), so I picked the spicy lamb shawarma because its picture was the closest to my face when I was in line.

PhotoSpicy Lamb Shawarma ($9) – Lean Sliced Leg of Lamb, Marinated and Seasoned, Jalapenos, Kosher Pickles, Red Onion, Fresh Parsley & Tahini sauce

As Michael Bluth would say in Arrested Development, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” The lamb was overcooked and chopped into these unappetizing bits (although some bits had a nice char). The main offenders, however, were jalapenos and pickles. First of all, are they even Mediterranean? Anyways, their ethnic authenticity isn’t the point. They just tasted so out of place with all the other ingredients. In fact, those ingredients were all I tasted. Second, I don’t remember if there were any onions in the shawarma. It would’ve been a nice touch. Probably needed more tahini too. The whole thing was fairly bland. All I tasted was the jalapenos and pickles, no joke. I’ve been more open to trying some of the food trucks that come around work in recent weeks, but I don’t think I’ll order from this one unless I’m really hungry and didn’t have my car at work.

Chris Hei grade: C

Gourmet Genie

Zankou Chicken

9/10/11I can’t believe it’s been around three to four years since I’ve had food from Zankou Chicken, considering how close it is to UCLA. Quite a few of my friends from UCLA consider the chicken from Zankou to be the best in LA. I always thought that while it was pretty good, the chicken wasn’t worth going out of the way for (or in this case, going fairly close but standing in line for a while). It just never came to mind when I was thinking of somewhere to eat in the area. However, I was seeing the world in a whole new light with my contacts on last Saturday, and walked by the place on my way back from the optometrist. It was my first time seeing that the line wasn’t out the door. Plus, I haven’t had Mediterranean food in a long time…

PhotoShawerma – Slices of Marinated, USDA Choice Steak Served with Hommus, Tomatoes, Onions and Sesame Sauce

This was what I had for lunch that Saturday. Thought I’d take advantage of being there after such a long absence and order a variety, to see what I was missing out on. This shawerma, made with tri-tip steak, was pretty good. A little plain though, but at least it seems very traditional (from the little that I know about Mediterranean food). I heard that the the chicken version of the wrap (tarna) is better, but I was already getting the chicken by itself.

PhotoWhole Chicken – Whole Chicken Roasted and Served with Pita Bread and Garlic Sauce

Like I said before, I know some people who consider the chicken at Zankou to be the best in LA. Given that I don’t order chicken much when I dine out, it’s hard for me to make that assessment. However, I will say that this might be my second favorite chicken of the year so far (behind A-Frame‘s, probably equal to Dino’s). Since I didn’t have this during the lunch I bought it, it might not be fair to make a judgement on the chicken as a whole. The skin wasn’t crispy by the time I ate it (obviously), but it tasted good. The dark meat was very succulent. The same, however, can’t be said about the white meat. It was a little dry. I don’t know why people love white meat so much. The accompanying garlic sauce aided in providing some moisture to the white meat though, along with a burst of garlic flavors. Side note: as much as I loved the sauce, I wish it didn’t come in these Pizza Hut ranch sauce-esque containers.

PhotoGarlic Sauce

Seeing how busy the place is, I still don’t know if it’s worthy of such popularity. The food was pleasing, but didn’t amaze me. However, I do agree that the food there is good, and I probably will come back next time to eat the chicken at the restaurant for a completely fair assessment. It closes at 11pm, so maybe I can come here after basketball one of these days.

Chris Hei grade: B

Zankou Chicken
1716 S Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 444-0550

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