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Help - What is the mystery spice at Gaby's?

Good Morning Hounds,

I really enjoy eating at Gaby's (Venice @ Motor). The Mediterranean inspired food is nearly all fantastic.

As you sit down, the staff always brings over some warm pita bread and some spice flavored olive oil. I usually eat the whole thing within a few minutes (to the embarrassment of my wife) and ask for seconds.

The mystery (for me anyway): what are the flavors added to the olive oil? Specifically, if I were to go my local Persian market, what would I buy to make it at home?


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  1. If the color of the spice is dark red/burgundy it's probably sumac - which is a persian spice made from dried berries. Taste is tangy & slightly sour (delicious) Easily found in persian/middle eastern markets. (if that's the one you're talking about.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: mrpullings

      OOPPS ! you said mediterranean - don't think sumac is prevalent in med inspired cuisine.

      1. re: mrpullings

        The hounds posting below here have concluded it is zaatar. While I'm out buying some zaatar, I'll pick up some sumac as well and give it a try. Thanks for the response.

    2. What kind of food do they serve at Gaby's? I have never been there. Re. Persian food, here are some common spices used in our food: sumac (dark burgundy spice, used on kabobs), dried mint (used in yogurt), fresh or dried dill weed (used in certain rice and stew dishes). There are so many spices though. I am trying to think of what could be in this olive oil. If I saw it and tasted it, I could probably tell you. I wish I could help more. :)

      1. is it dark green with sesame seeds in it?
        Za'ataar is a spice mix that is put into olive oil in Middle eastern restaurants, not Persian though
        in Persian restaurants, Sumac is served- burgundy, sweet but tangy, but I have never seen it in olive oil.

        1 Reply
        1. re: msmd310

          I think your guess is closer than my guess, msmd310, because I've never seen or had olive oil with spices in it at a Persian restaurant or at home. Persians usually serve warm bread (various kinds) with butter, fresh herbs, fresh onion, and yogurt.

          1. re: Maxmillion

            Not at Gaby's, it's za'atar. I'd love to know who serves dukkah...delicious stuff.

          2. The green one with ground sesame seeds is made with thyme too. What is really pretty is when they swirl it on the plate and it looks like a palm tree. You can purchase it premade in middle eastern stores or armenian

            1. It is zaatar, which is a blend that consists of thyme and sesame seeds. You can buy the powder at middle eastern markets. There are a few varieties, ranging from light reddish brown to dark brown and some are green. All contain sesame seeds. The kind used at Gaby's is the dark green variety, and it is simply mixed with olive oil before serving. If you enjoy the zaatar dip, they also make a zaatar "pizza", I think it's called Bruce's Zaatar Pizza or something like that.

              5 Replies
              1. re: hrhboo

                Thanks for this. Definitely *not* a Persian mix-- most likely Arabic. :)

                1. re: katkoupai

                  Right you are..it is Arabic. Sumac is also sometimes used in Arabic foods but mostly in salads like fattoush etc.

                2. re: hrhboo

                  Thanks for the definitive response! I'm going to go look for some tomorrow. I am now officially a zaatar addict.

                  1. re: jhulla

                    I'm going a bit OT from the original request, but if you are now a za'atar addict, do head over to Magic Carpet (on Pico near La Cienega) and try their melawach w/za'atar topping--sort of a giant bready Yemenite pizza, melawach comes in lots of varieties but the simple one with za'atar is my favorite. (Note, Magic Carpet is Kosher and so is closed Friday night-Saturday.)

                3. With your original question addressed may I put in a plug for Gaby's? This is not the your Middle East chow to die for, but the funkiest all around experience between the outdoors tent, extreme traffic, and the interestingly diverse clientele, If they rated restaurants on funk Gaby's would undoubtely be near the top of the list. Burger Continental might also have been competive in this category if not for their atrocious chow. Anyway, I'd highly recommend Gaby's for solid chow. good value and plenty of funk.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bernardo

                    Does anyone have any idea how the lemon chicken with creamy sauce is made at gaby's? i can't seem to figure it out.


                    1. re: bernardo

                      This is particularly true for the restaurant on Venice Blvd, which I prefer for dining out event thought the express and Marina are closer. In fact I went there last night. It's a bargain night out , especially with BYOB no corkage.
                      love the zaatar also.