Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Episode 18

Maybe we had Middle Eastern cuisine on the brain because one of our founding FG's was eating her way joyfully through Israel without us.  Perhaps we were swayed by the glowing review in the LA Weekly.   But I think, in my heart of hearts, that given our history with hot dogs, sausage-filled biscuits and bacon cheeseburgers, we were subliminally drawn to a place where there was zero possibility of ordering pork. 

Whatever the motivation, going to Sunnin Lebanese Cafe this week was a great call.

Episode 18 - Gunnin' for Sunnin

Like Iroha, this destination had a built-in fan base.    FG10 had suggested it, saying she and her husband had practically camped out at the cafe's old location when they lived nearby.
FG13 chimed in:  "We LOVE Sunnin! Been going there for years!"
FG2, MIA due to a family vacation, sent in a list of must order items, but had us steer clear of others:  "I don't love the lentils, flavorless."

Thus advised and enticed, four newbies and our resident expert sat down in a large, cheerful, and sunny cafe near the corner of Westwood and Santa Monica Blvd.  The restaurant had taken over the place earlier this year, moving from a cramped storefront across the street to this new location.   Our cheerful waiter helpfully walked us through the menu, and we spied a little guy in a Lakers jersey tailing another staff member, "helping" deliver huge platters of food.  This was clearly a family operation, and we felt right at home as we ordered what turned out to be a gigantic Lebanese feast.

We started with a round of small plates, mainly because the hunger factor soon outweighed the politeness factor and no-one wanted to wait for the latecomers.    Hommos, babaganouj (eggplant dip), warak enab (stuffed grape leaves), a combo plate of pastries (beef, spinach, and feta variants), moussaka and a fattoush salad soon arrived.   As did the final two FG's.   Free to go nuts, we added chicken kebabs, chicken and beef schwarma, a Greek salad, falafel and fried cauliflower to the list, and settled in to try everything.

The hommos, an almost ubiquitous dish of tahini and chickpeas, was luxuriously silky and smooth, with bright, clean flavor.   This was top-of-the line hommos, and we were putting it on everything in sight.   The babaganouj was, if possible, even better.  Bursting with spice and garlic, cool and almost creamy, it was everything a dip should be.    The grape leaves were briny and wonderful.    On the other hand, all the pastries were forgettable at best, and after an initial thrill over finding meatless moussaka on the menu, our vegetarian FG gave this version a big thumbs down, as did the rest of us.  It just didn't taste good.  

The salads were both delicious, particularly the fattoush salad, which was tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, pita crisps, sumak, and a piquant herb-lemon dressing that was utterly refreshing on a hot summer day. 

The best thing on the table by far was the flash-fried cauliflower.   A pile of golden brown florets on a plate, with a tahini dipping sauce on the side, the dish was beautiful to look at and a revelation to eat.   The inside of each piece was meltingly tender, almost sweet and a little bitter, and the outside was not exactly crunchy, but more like deeply roasted, caramelized and a tiny bit crispy.

Of the entrees, the clear winner was the chicken kebab plate.  The huge chunks of chicken breast were juicy, beautifully cooked, and full of citrus flavor.   The kebab was served with a pile of brilliant white lemony garlic paste on the side that the whole table immediately adopted as the condiment of choice.     The rice and salad that came with it were pretty much superfluous.   The other main dishes were nothing special.

Everyone agreed that when coming back, the strategy would be to stick to the appetizers and salads.   The small plates section of the massive menu at Sunnin had enough selection and winning dishes to make many a memorable meal.

Yes, FG10, If I lived in the neighborhood, I might almost camp out here, too.

FG final verdict?  Sunnin Lebanese Cafe is ON the list!
Prices: Appetizers $5-10, Entree plates $9-12
FG Value rating:  Fair Deal!

Want to know where the FG's will strike next?  Visit our website and find out!  I'll give you a hint...there will be pork available, if only as a condiment.  Yum!

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