Phoenicia in Glendale -- Lebanese with a flourish
- ttriche May 24, 2007 09:54 AM
So, on the recommendation of a fellow ''hound'', and warily at that (seeing as to how even places like Casa Bianca and Lemongrass have their proponents on this board), my wife and I went to Phoenicia on Central (cross street is Lexington) in Glendale. At worst, we figured, we'd get an ordinary Armenian spread, seeing as to how a sucky LebanArmenian place in Glendale would go bankrupt. (Unlike such a place in Pasadena: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382730)
The meal and service was anything but ordinary. Phoenicia's hostess, the most skilled and elegant with whom I have ever crossed paths (the wonderful folks at Providence should take a field trip to see how it's REALLY done -- she could do a side business in hospitality training), welcomed my wife and I upon arrival, and the owner came over to light up the space heater (my wife selected a table outside). On a Monday evening at 9pm, it was predictably a bit less than crowded, but there were a handful of other tables still lingering over hookahs and cordials.
(As an added plus for business travelers, they are open until 11pm even on Mondays.)
I ordered a glass of Arak (since I primarily enjoy meza) and my wife, who is 5 months pregnant, ordered water. (The hostess congratulated us on our good fortune, which I thought was nice) We decided on the 'Arz' prix-fixe selection, thinking that we were plenty hungry (I'd eaten almost nothing and my wife was fresh off a flight from Washington, DC). We had no idea. We munched on the olives and pickled turnips for a few minutes while the kitchen plated our cold mezze.
Warak enab, kibbe nayeh, hommos, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh (the RIGHT way, dammit; more greens, less bulghur, and the bulghur that was in there was quite fine), falabel, kibbe (kufte? I can never keep those damned meat torpedoes straight), soujuk, two kinds of madammas, and probably a few more mezze that I am forgetting, all showed up competently executed. The falafel was not as ethereal as Sahara's, and the kibbeh was neither as spicy as Lebanese Kitchen's nor as robust as Sahara's. The soujuk was spicier and less lemony than Carousel's version, and we didn't get any basturma (then again, I don't think the Arz combo includes it, so, natch). Needless to say we were getting kind of full, and I was almost done sipping my Arak by this time...
Which is when the kebabs arrived. The beef and lula kebabs were fine; the chicken, I thought, was not as succulent as the same dish at Sahara (but then again, we probably go to Sahara twice a month and have met three generations of the staff since we started going there). But the sheer variety of competently executed dishes, along with new-to-me items like the exceptionally smooth kibbeh nayeh, made for a great dining experience.
As she slipped away from a table full of high-rollers who had arrived after we had, ordering a couple bottles of Blue Label and a hookah (we were in the minority dining outside without a hookah!), our hostess suggested that if we enjoyed the meal, we might enjoy the live entertainment on Friday or Saturday nights. My wife, who is much pickier than I regarding return trips to new restaurants, immediately suggested that my parents would enjoy this.
The professionalism and grace of the service at Phoenicia cannot be overstated, at least as we experienced it. The kebabs came out only after we had begun to slow down on the mezze, which I later realized was intentional -- the meat was not the centerpiece of the meal. Next time, however, I do want to try the lamb's tongues and perhaps the basturma.
(Side note: Yesterday, we finished eating the leftovers from Monday night; I had them for lunch.)
If you enjoy a good Lebanese spread of mezze, and are willing to pay a bit more for excellent service and a pleasant atmosphere, Phoenicia would be a great place for you to try. It's not going to be an everyday haunt for us -- Sahara already fills that bill for my wife and I, at about half the price of Phoenicia. But you get what you pay for at Phoenicia. We will be returning.
We also go to Sahara 2-3 times a month. Except for my mentioning in other threads that I wouldn't mind the tahini being a little more garlic-lemony, and maybe a touch too much salt, and of course the non-legit rice, it's a great value, great service, and usually pretty darn consistent, which to me is a big plus. People have gotten defensive about the complains about Lebonese Kitchen, but I too, have experienced the "unknown" feeling about what you're going to get in the end.
I've been trying a couple other places around, and planned to spread my wings into the Glendale area for this sort of thing, and maybe a little different and more adventurous menu. So I will check this place out. I've walked by Carousel a few times with a similar thought, it has gotten some press on this board too. Thanks for the info.
If you're going to try Carousel, I do sincerely hope you'll try the original, in Hollywood, first. It's too bad that Isaac at Sahag's Basturma moved back to Lebanon, because you could make a day out of a Little Armenia trip that-a-ways... alas, time marches on.
For a person who finds Sahara's tahini too salty, I'm astounded that you brook any dissent about Lebanese Kitchen. Especially when their turnover is low, they salt dishes like they are planning to dry-cure the leftovers. It can be thirsty work eating at the LK ...
I was not clear, I glitzed. I meant the Sahara tahini needs more spice -- i use more garlic and lemon, and they generally use salt generously (rice and kebobs specifically). Sorry, I need to think when I'm typing :-) Totally my inability to communicate!
On LK, I just tried it several times and got several different results, and their hours are not the best either.
Regarding the hours at Lebanese Kitchen -- our best meals there have always been on Saturday afternoons, around 3-5pm. Especially when the red-haired guy is around.
They aren't really open for the full breadth of dinner hours, typically slowing down by about 7:30pm. For the longest time, we figured it was some sort of money-laundering operation ;-)
I remember going to Phoenicia over 15 years ago when Ara Kalfayan, the then and current owner, was doing California cuisine and it was always a treat to eat there, and to be treated as nicely as he treats every customer. A rare gentleman indeed, and he instills that feeling in his staff or they get work elsewhere!
Then he converted it to Kix, and just within the past 6 months or so, converted it back to Phoenicia. Glad to hear of your delight over dinner. I cannot wait to go myself and reacquaint myself with him after all these years, knowing the food will be as good as it always was, just a different type of food.