REVIEW: Victory Bakery & Restaurant, Anaheim
(Review with pictures available at http://mangelorange.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/victory-bakery-lebanese-home-cooking-in-little-gaza/)
The first thing you need to know about Victory Bakery is that it’s not just a bakery — not by far. It’s a restaurant and an all-you-can-eat buffet and a bakery and a baklava factory and a retailer of nuts and gelati and coffee and juices and… whew. The place is, as you can probably imagine, very large. It’s hard to imagine it full, and as though it weren’t big enough, there’s a gigantic tent set up in the plaza outside the aptly-named Hidden Cafe where there is occasionally live music. You could go here for weeks straight and not try everything they have.
But sit down, because you’re going to want to minimise the distance between your head and the floor when you read this next part:
The thing to get at Victory Bakery is the all-you-can-eat buffet.
"You’ve finally gone off the deep end. Think of your credibility!"
I don’t care. I said it, and I stand by it.
"But everyone who’s ever read Kitchen Confidential knows that buffets are where food goes to die."
Maybe at the bacteria-fest that was the Studio City Todai (may it rest in pieces). But not here. Not at Victory Bakery. The buffet at Victory Bakery is worth getting over your phobia of steam trays. It’s $14.99, which includes your choice of soft drink. It might sound a lot to the Hometown Buffet crowd but it is definitely your money’s worth.
First of all, the buffet is absolutely enormous — an L-shaped array of food that’s 20 feet long.
The first thing for which I would drive from anywhere is the yellow lentil soup. Lentil soup — really. It doesn’t *sound* exciting, but it is truly a work of culinary perfection. You can tell, first of all, that it’s homemade stock. No store-bought stock in the world has that depth of flavour. Add to it yellow lentils and some herbs (thyme?) and it just transcends its humble ingredients. A little drizzle of olive oil from the salad bar and it was just what the doctor ordered. (What’s that? Your doctor doesn’t recommend lashings of olive oil? You need a different doctor.) I had to force myself to stop eating it with pita chips (dunk them in, let the lentilly goodness seep into the nooks and crannies as the bread softens… ohhhh.)
Another winner on the buffet was the stuffed squash. Long Mexican zucchini (you know, the variegated kind) stuffed with meat and rice in a thin tomato sauce. Honestly, you could stuff absolutely anything and I’d probably love it, but this was good even given my bias. I asked for — and received — a small plate of plain rice and put a zucchino on top, sliced it, and fell in love. The deep, dark secret about summer squash is that — within reason — the longer you cook it the sweeter it gets. The rice inside soaked up the thin red sauce and it was slightly smoky and slightly sweet.
One visit there was the Lebanese answer to scalloped potatoes: potatoes layered with mushrooms and tahini and baked until it was crusty on top. My wife didn’t like it. I did, but you have to like mushrooms quite a lot, because this is quite an earthy dish. It’s very rich and very powerful-tasting and, like Brylcreem, “a little dab’ll do ya.”
Another time there were oven-baked Anaheim chiles with sumac. Simplest dish in the world, yet it wouldn’t have occurred to me to bake my town’s namesake pepper, sprinkle with olive oil and shake sumac over it. Delicious.
Hummus is very good — it was pronounced “very good” by my wife, who is a connoisseuse of all things garbanzo, but I preferred the babaghannouj, which was not overwhelmingly smoky and definitely had a heavy hand with the tahini. A little sprinkle of lemon juice set that to rights and I was off to the races. Unfortunately, it was only available on the first visit.
Oven-baked chicken and rice was very good — the chicken was marinated (I think) in yoghurt and turmeric, so it had that sort of vibrantly yellow cast one associates with Punjabi food. Better still were lamb chops baked with rice.
Behind the buffet you’ll see three shawarmas — one chicken, one lamb and one gyros (beef and lamb). These are part of the buffet and you can ask for whatever you’d like, hand over your plate, and they’ll slice it, heat it and put it on your plate for you. Charlie, our server, brought over a big plate of lamb and chicken to try. The lamb was quite good but just a little bit gamy. The chicken was delicious tasting — we got the centre of the rotisserie, so it was a bit dry, but I suspect that it’s much, much better fresh. I am absolutely willing to forgive a few extra-crispy bits of chicken, though, because of the garlic.
You know that garlic sauce at Zankou that everybody raves about as though it were made from garlic and crack cocaine?
Yeah, well, this is better. Immeasurably so. This is unmistakably hand-pounded, honest-to-God all i oli, made of garlic, salt and olive oil and absolutely nothing else. Light and fluffy — whoever made this has been doing it for a very long time, because it’s damn near impossible to make oil and garlic into a stable emulsion — like a garlic cloud. I’m telling you, Zankou *doesn’t even come close*. When I looked up from lecturing die Uberdaughter about table manners, the chicken and garlic had disappeared into a pita and my wife had one of those oh-my-God smiles on her face.
Sadly, not everything is perfect; on the first visit, the few sad little dolmas left in the huge hotel pan had dried up. They were actually quite flavourful, but the outside had dried to crackling. I bet that if the dolmas were fresh they’d be fantastic, though.
Another miss was a stew of peas, carrots and beef in tomato sauce. The vegetables were obviously frozen (not soft enough to be tinned) and the huge amount of carrot in the stew made it unappealingly sweet, like a soup at a middle school cafeteria. I’d have preferred to see fava beans with the meat, which was very tender and cut into manageable chunks.
The buffet, incidentally, changes daily and is refreshed throughout the day. As with all buffets, you want to go when it is busy, so perhaps weekend nights and weekday lunches.
Back to the good, though — the desserts. On the buffet are some of their cookies (the ones with chocolate sprinkles on one end are best — the double-chocolate ones are a little bit too sandy for my taste), plus baklava (excellent, on par with Sarkis Pastry down the street) and pistachio fingers (also quite good, though unevenly sweet). There’s also fruit and yoghurt on the buffet, and honey to put on the yoghurt is available for the asking.
But if you really want to have a honey-laden end to your meal, walk back behind the juice and coffee bar to the Lebanese pastry section and go to town. I wandered back there and was given samples of whatever piqued my interest — by far the best of which was a sublime pinenut basma, a sort of sticky sweet semolina cake that is absolutely drenched with sugar syrup. At $9 a pound (and an ounce or two is enough for anyone) it’s a stone-cold bargain too.
Service is extremely friendly. The Lebanese seem to be born hosts, and Victory Bakery is no exception. They doted on die Uberdaughter, bringing her treats (ice cream and fruit and cookies, somewhat to the consternation of her dad). Charlie, our waiter, clearly wanted us to try everything, bringing over this and that and the next thing. The bakery part has the same friendly, you’re-family-now ease. We did have to ask for drink refills (most people were just refilling their own drinks, but iced tea is poured from service pitchers), but they responded with alacrity.
This is a place worth a considerable drive. They’re clearly proud of what they do, and they should be.
Victory Bakery and Restaurant
630 S. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92804
Victory Bakery and Restaurant
630 S Brookhurst St, Anaheim, CA 92804
My girl and I went here tonight and we thought it was great. We also sampled the shwarma (spelling), the meats cooking on a spit. Both chicken and beef were really good and that garlic sauce was like a cloud. I'll likely still be tasting it in the morning...
Though you serve yourself a waiter came by several times to check on us. He was cool and answered several of our questions reguarding the food.
I'll definitly be hitting this place up again. Thanks for the review Das.
We went for dinner last night, and eating at 20:00 isn't probably the best idea. As you mentioned, weekends and lunches are probably best.
Even though the food has been sitting in the pan most of the evening, there were a couple standouts: one was a thick cut of eggplant with ground beef and the other was (as you mentioned) the lentil soup. I love eggplant in all its forms, and this one was delectable. The 1" thick melt-in-your-mouth eggplant round was baked and topped with ground beef. And though I loved the flavour of the soup, I was surprised that the lentils were not whole, but smashed/smushed. Still quite tasty!
My experience with the dolmas were the same as yours; a bit dried up, but still yummy. They also had cabbage rolls, also a bit dried up, but yet tasty. They didn't have as many offerings as you mentioned...and one odd item was spaghetti. While the flavour was really nice, the noodles were limp.
The buffet bar facing the street (and not the kitchen) were mostly salad items (which I skipped) and a dessert platter. There were probably a half dozen items in the buffet bar facing the kitchen. Other than another couple, we were the only ones there. This was quite definitely *my* mistake going late in the weekeday; I'd LOVE to give this place another try during the weekend...as the sampling of items that they did have were quite good.
Thank you for putting this on my food-map! =)