Niroj - INCREDIBLE!
Post after post on this board, restaurant after restaurant, I have tried to find authentic Near Eastern Food in SoCal. I hit every single place. Usually twice. Even if it was two hours away...
Yesterday I was just picking up food 1 mile from my home in Agoura Hills at Cafe 14 and I happened to see this place. I stopped in and looked at the menu, not even knowing what type of restaurant it was... I instantly recognized the menu as Southern Turkish / Kurdish. (It is a Kurdish restaurant, owned by an Iraqi Kurd, as it turns out.) Although I had already ordered food and picked it up from Cafe 14, I thought, "one more main course can't hurt." I ordered the standard 'Levant Kebob' -- at a Turkish restaurant it would be called 'Beyti' -- essentially an adana kebab in lavash bread topped with tomato-butter sauce and garlic yogurt. (*Somewhat* similar to Iskender, if you've had that.). Got it home... WOW. This is one of the very best examples of this very standard dish I have ever had. If the other food lives up to this (going back tonight), that makes this, imo, the best Near Eastern / Middle Eastern restaurant in SoCal... and it is only one mile from my home in Agoura Hills. Just off the 101 at the Reyes Adobe exit. I'm SO excited!
The restaurant has only been open 3 months, so check it out! And I'll report back more tonight after I've had more of the menu...
In for lunch today. I agree - wow! Had a lamb stew with tomatoes, eggplant and green pepper (on waiter's rec.). Served with saffron rice w/ almonds and golden raisins. Also ordered chicken kebob, served w/ yogurt. Finished with "Kurdish [= Turkish/etc.] coffee". Hot tea is brewed (no teabag). This is fresh food made with care, not the piles of mediocre stuff at a lot of Mid-eastern places. I wanted to just barge into the kitchen and shake hands with whoever was back there. Nice, competent staff (we asked for just cucumber and tomatoes for our toddler and they basically just comped her a little salad). What a delight to find so close by.
And Whiner - I'm just as intrigued that you're getting take-out from Cafe 14 (need to look into that!).
They are working on their website. The dinner menu and hours will be posted later this coming week but they are open (the kitchen is open) weekdays until 9pm, Friday and Saturday until 10pm.
I spoke with the owner and his wife and they really are remarkably friendly. I ordered take out for myself and my friend from the restaurant (not on the phone) so had to wait. During my wait, beyond water, I was offered tea, bread, a drink, ice for my diet coke that I brought in from my car, and birthday cake since it was one of their birthdays.
Got the food and brought it home. I went for straightforward, classic, and "specialty" dishes figuring that would be the best way to judge. Appetizers were the dolmas, Kurdish sausage, and Borek. Mains were the Levant kebob (again) and the Niroj Kabab.
The dolmas were delicious, perfect amount of lemon -- although it is hard to screw up a dolma too badly. If I were looking for a gripe, I would say they were just slightly on the mushier side of the spectrum, but this is a small issue and may be resolved by eating at the restaurant where they aren't sitting on a bed of (very good) olive oil for half an hour before consumption. The Kurdish sausage was spiced perfectly -- I mean, really, just brilliantly -- with just a slight bit of heat. While the flavor was flawless, it was slightly drier than ideal. Again, this could also be because we ate it a half hour after it was cooked. The borek was exceptional. There was slightly less cheese than I expected but the fresh spinach(?) was cooked perfectly inside and the seasoning was excellent. The pickled cabbage served with the appetizers was just about the best I've had. The tahini was excellent, but again, hard to screw up tahini.
As good as the appetizers were, the mains stole the show. The Niroj kebab may rank as the best authentic* Middle Eastern main course I have had outside of my actual trips to Turkey. The rice, while on paper very traditional almond and raisin rice pilaf, was really special. The Levant kebob, for the second night in a row, proved itself the best 'basically-what-I-know-as-beyti' I've had in the U.S. outside of the Richmond branch of restaurant Troya in San Francisco.
All-in-all, I would say the appetizers were delicious; and the mains were at least one notch above those. With virtually all main courses on the menu under $20 (and the two I ordered were $16 or $17 and $19) and virtually all appetizers under $10 (as were all the ones we ordered) this is also a great deal.
Obviously, this is an effusive review. But, given its price, the difficulty of finding even-decent Middle Eastern food in LA compared with its excellent quality, and the friendliness of the staff, I would say it more than deserves it.
*"Authentic Middle Eastern main course" -- Not counting dishes consumed at Aziza in San Francisco, a Michelin starred Cal-Moroccan restaurant.
Great find! I wish I had seen your post earlier. We were literally on the 101 in the West Valley at the time of your posting. We were literally debating what Middle Eastern/Med-style places close to the 101 around the West SFV might work. Because it was Saturday PM and the of Shabbat, many places would be too busy (Hummus Bar & Grill was packed+). Niroj would have been perfect. We will put this place on our "Chow- friendly in the West SFV" list.
Also curious about one of the descriptions of a dish, basically a patty of ground beef and lamb (and maybe bulgar) mixed with "mozzarella cheese". Don't think this was a typo, but anyone know what this cheese actually is, and how it ends up in a Kurdish meatball? Common preparation in that part of the world?
Thanks for sharing. Sounds great. Hope you'll post about other dishes you try as you sample more of the menu in the future. I do note that they are open for lunch only during the week. On the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) they do dinner only from 5PM to 10PM (at least according to their website)