Day 30: Lebanon
I knew that what I was doing would take over my life, but I didn’t really think about how much it would effect everyone else’s. GirlfriendBites was obvious. We live together, she runs a business mostly from home and we’re sharing a car since mine was sold before moving to New York. Once returning to Los Angeles, the car, as an asset, has really just turned into a giant pile of food. But no matter how obvious it was that it would take over her life, it wasn’t really clear how much. Now it has and the answer is “a lot”. (Author’s Note: The “Holy-Crap-Thank-You-For-Everything-You’ve-Done-For-Me-And-Managed-To-Put-Up-With” post for GFB will be arriving at a later date.) But she’s not the only one. For other people it seems to be by choice. I haven’t had to beg for companionship on this journey and have somehow managed to avoid a single meal all by myself. A rotating cast of characters have made their way along with me and some have even offered their disappointment when confronted with the schedule of meals for the coming week. Of the people who don’t live with me, Mr. Meatball has been, with a healthy lead, the champion of gastronomic companionship and the most vocal analyst of my scheduling (among other things, including website interface, picture quality, menu ordering and his current cause— trying to convince me to put advertisements up on the site). But one of the most fun developments of all of this has been the interesting combinations of people that have found ways to join me for the project. This time, that combo means Mr. Meatball, his boss Shana (who he will point out has neither the authority to promote or fire him) and my much younger brother, Super Jake.
Sunnin Lebanese Café in Westwood, CA. Mr. Meatball and I went to school at UCLA just up the street and neither of us lived in Westwood, but he knows this area much more intimately than I do, since he had a real major (like business or poli sci or something) and actually attended classes. I was a theater major with an emphasis in playwriting and created independent studies in areas such as “The Afternoon Nap” and “Marinades: Making Your Dinner During Lunch”. He drives a Lexus and I ride my girlfriend’s exercise bike while I play video games, so I’ll let you try to figure out who came out on top (me). Seated in the corner of the small, cramped Lebanese café where everything is served in or on something disposable, I take a sip of their salty “yogurt drink”. I’m not particularly fond of it, but I keep ordering these things hoping one of them will hold up to the Pakistani version of the salt lassi I had at Al Watan in Hawthorne. Super Jake gives it a try and says “That really didn’t taste good.” Mr. Meatball goes with the ancient Lebanese specialty, and I hope I’m spelling this right, of “Diet Pepsi”.
Shana and I have had our eye on the fried cauliflower and when it arrives, it exceeds even our most overblown expectations. Seemingly fried un-adorned, then seasoned afterward, it arrives blisteringly hot (as it damn well should) and browned at the edges. One dip in the tangy tahini and then popped in my mouth, juggling it with my tongue and breathing out in short, quick bursts like I’m taking a Lamaze class, the eventual swallow is a triumph both for the restaurant and myself. Another appetizer of lentils, called mojadarah (spelled differently on their website menu and the physical one), is comparatively boring except for the fried onions on top. A sampler of fried stuffed things including lamb, spinach, sweet beef and creamy oregano are a roulette wheel of soggy versus crispy, but mostly worth eating anyway. Super Jake chows his way through them all fairly indiscriminately, but when given some flat bread with the lentils inside, takes a bite and says “I like the bread but not the stuff on the inside.” I dip it in tahini and it seems to work for him.
Since everyone else is getting some form of grilled or broiled meat, I decide it’s my obligation to go a different route and try to figure out how to attack the behemoth that is kebbeh bil sayniyeh. Described on the menu as “Two layers finely ground beef and burguk stuffed with minced beef, onions, and pine nuts”, after a few bites I decide that it should have read “Lebanese Meat Yule Log”. I’m fairly certain that it is a good execution of this dish, but I’m also pretty sure it’s a dish I’m not fond of. If this beefy loaf isn’t loaded with nutmeg and cinnamon, it is most certainly loaded with whatever is the Lebanese equivalent.
I steal bites of Shana’s well herbed kefta kebab, which tastes like the version of my dish that I wish I’d ordered, and Mr. Meatball’s combo grill, which boasts simply seasoned and excellently cooked beef and chicken. The tart, peppery salad on the side balances everything out nicely, but the real victor on the day may have to be Super Jake’s chicken shwarma sandwich, which takes everything I would want to eat with delicious marinated chicken, wraps it all up inside of flat bread and makes it ready for consumption. Every flavor comes through and I am very happy that on this day, he can’t finish his sandwich. I do my best to pick up the pieces.
Another night, another successful meal. Mr. Meatball and Shana have been enjoying public transit today, but not quite enough to keep from asking me for rides home. I oblige and Super Jake decides it would be funny to suck on his fingers and try wipe them on Shana’s arms. It turns out that he is correct. I take him home, give him a bath, read him a story and put him to bed. As he’s falling asleep I think about the food to be eaten tomorrow and wonder who’s going to show up this time. I hope it’s some truly eclectic group like folk hero Jason Bernstein, Jimmy Carter and Dr. Octagon. You never know.
Sunnin Lebanese Café
1779 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 3 appetizers, 4 entrees
Distance From My House: 3.1 miles