Los Angeles, California
Opening a Mediterranean eatery in the heart of L.A.s Fairfax District (across the street from cornerstone Canter’s Deli) takes balls of chickpeas, but that’s exactly what restaurant mogul George Abou-Daoud has done with the recent unveiling of urban garden. Abou-Daoud’s newest offspring is a bit of an odd duck in terms of the decor (to be honest, there isn’t much decor) – the only thing in the restaurant that appears to be ornamental is a battery of long-handled pots mounted on the wall high above the glass-walled food prep area (which stretches the length of the room). On the opposite wall, only a large menu takes up any serious real estate; the tables are simple wooden slabs with accompanying wooden block benches, and there’s been no expense spared on green paint. The risk associated with such austere surroundings is that the focus is placed squarely on the quality and presentation of the food, but here Abou-Daoud keeps it simple.
Chef Sam Seklawi delivers quality fare without catering to the Angeleno penchant of ramped-up takes on traditional dishes that are unrecognizable. Everything tastes fresh and clean, and there are subtle flavors that can only come from importing high-quality ingredients such as Aleppo pepper, sumac, cayenne and aromatic mint from the Middle East. Although there are dishes to appeal to the omnivore, urban garden’s forte is their vegetable-based (and even vegan) menu options, including firm and meaty dolmas and an outrageously delicious vegetarian kibbeh, teardrop-shaped, wheat bulghur and potato-encased lumps of joy filled with red peppers, toasted almonds, onion and chickpeas. The savory orbs will satisfy the most hardcore card-carrying carnivore, packing a vegan punch while not trying to mimic meat.
Also exceptional are the falafel – there’s nothing worse than taking a healthy bite of one of the chickpea croquettes only to feel like you’ve got a mouthful of sawdust, but urban garden’s veggie balls are moist, flavorful and satisfying. The crispy fried cheese rolls (packed with Mozzarella, feta, black sesame seeds and fresh mint) are enveloped in a thin, bronze wrapper that breaks away neatly without spilling its contents on your lap; these are accompanied by a zesty Aleppo pepper sauce that complements the rolls without overpowering them. The meat dishes are garden variety staples (beef kefta, lamb shawarma and rotisserie chicken) – although these are prepared traditionally and aren’t lacking in flavor, they take a back seat to the quality and taste of the vegetarian offerings.
urban garden is an ambitious addition to George Abou-Daoud’s restaurant empire, but if they can maintain the fresh, green quality of the food they should flourish despite being odd man on the block – after all, the only difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment call.
NOTE: This cost for this meal was provided by the restaurant. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.