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Persian Cats 

Pickled garlic, hot bread, gallons of rice and kebab's your uncle. Did somebody say fatwa?

Wednesday, Jun 24 1998
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Canary

Canary is an Iranian sandwich shop on Westwood's Iranian strip, a house of kebabs in the most kebab-intensive neighborhood in California. (As W.C. Fields once said of the garlic-packing town of Gilroy, you could marinate a steak just by hanging it on a clothesline here.) Kebab plates come with skewers of grilled lamb or chicken served with the usual accouterments of saffron-gilded rice, grilled tomatoes and a small green salad of exceptional freshness, dressed simply with citrus juice and a little oil. Also notable are Iranian-style sandwiches made with a split and grilled Hebrew National frank, a hollowed-out length of toasted French bread and condiments similar to those you might expect to find on a Chicago-style hot dog, only inflected with more garlic: The sensation is a strange cross between Jewish excess, Middle Eastern flavors and Cuban-sandwich texture. All sandwiches - also available with grilled lamb's tongue, grilled chicken or grilled beef - come with a fistful of freshly made potato chips. 1942 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 470-1312. Open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8-$14. No alcohol. Parking lot. D, MC, V.

Fanous

Location Info

Like many Iranian restaurants, Fanous has a small specialty in polo, the Middle Eastern cousin to European pilaf, great mounds of rice spiked with saffron and bitterish, ultratart dried barberries, colored green with cilantro. Fanous' polos, served with expertly grilled animal of one kind or another, are subtly different from the polos served at the famous Iranian restaurants on Westwood Boulevard, less fluffy somehow, more strongly flavored, with a clean, flowery basmati-rice top note and a vivid, oily chewiness close to that of the lamb pilaf served at the Uzbeki restaurant in Hollywood. Like most Middle Eastern restaurants, though, Fanous serves mainly kebabs: skewers of grilled chicken, skewers of slightly overmarinated filet mignon, great lengths of the extruded-looking ground-beef things called koobideh, chewy chunks of lamb colored the brilliant crimson of Punjabi tandoor meat, all served in the Iranian fashion, with a massive heap of white rice striped with saffron, and garnished with a broiled tomato. 711 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 242-9090. Open daily 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$20. Recommended dishes: sabzi polo; okra stew; lamb kebab. No alcohol. Takeout and limited delivery. Cash only.

Gerlach's Grill

This little carry-out place is run by a Japanese-influenced Iranian chef taking on an Italian-tinged California grill menu that happens to include tacos. Got that? Beyond the multiculti stuff, you'll find the standard array of kebabs: tender things made from grilled filet mignon; garlicky lamb kebabs; heartily spiced minced-beef kebabs called koobideh; black-edged chicken kebabs; tastefully underdone kebabs of tuna and halibut, crisped at the edges and soft, almost melting within. Kebabs here generally come with a big salad, a mountain of saffron-tinged basmati rice and a charred ripe tomato. If you linger by the pickup window, the owner may try to ease your wait with a complimentary appetizer in a Styrofoam cup. 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (626) 799-7575. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$21. Takeout and delivery. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.

Javan

Javan is famous in the local Persian community for its stews. There's one with lentils and shreds of lamb called gehmeh that resembles a French-fry-garnished Iranian cassoulet, and there's by far the best version in town of the Iranian chicken stew fesenjan, a thick, tan sauce that for once achieves some sort of balance between the sour-sweetness of reduced pomegranate juice and the mellow bitterness of ground walnuts. Still, the heart of an Iranian meal is rice, extravagant drifts of the stuff, flavored with sour cherries, with herbs, with enough saffron to flavor six pans of paella - and, almost as an afterthought, with grilled skewers of marinated lamb, chicken or beef. Zereshk polo is an enormous, saffron-yellow brick of rice frosted with a compote of bittersweet Iranian barberries, split in half, and filled with bits of charcoal-grilled chicken. Baghala polo, a dill weed-laced pilaf studded with baby lima beans, comes with either grilled whitefish or what may be the best lamb shank in Los Angeles, a big, soft thing, oozing lamb juices and garlic, served in a bowl of tomato-red lamb broth. 11500 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 207-5555. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$32; $4.95-$6.95 lunch specials. Full bar. Validated lot parking. Takeout and delivery. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Sallar's

Hey, man, it's a Shish Kebab Party, a big table filled with people, carafes of yogurt drink and raw red wine, big chunks of protein threaded onto skewers and grilled over hot charcoal, crusted from the fire and dripping hot juice into gargantuan hillocks of rice. The saffron rice is gilded with a splash of egg yolk; the kebabs might include bits of chicken, chunks of lamb, whole lamb chops, whitefish, filet mignon, even the odd skewer of shrimp or mahi mahi. The kebabs have been marinated with various things - lemon, onion juice - and are pretty much as delicious and uncomplicated as a food can be. Swirling Persian pop music pours from speakers overhead. The decor is cool, even elegant, all track lighting and plush booths, high ceilings and mirrors - but still, it's a pretty good place to come with a crowd: The sign above the door even says, "Shish Kebab Party." Strike up the ouds! 211 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale; (818) 500-8661. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$25. Full bar. Lot parking. Takeout and delivery. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Shahrzad

Shahrzad has kebabs - pretty good ones in fact - but they're about the least interesting food in the restaurant. Better to start with borani, what the menu calls "eggplant delight," an extremely tasty glop of fried eggplant topped with Shahrzad's signature tangle of blackened fried onion. Grape-leaf bundles, dolmeh, are stuffed with meat, raisins and pungent Iranian spices. But what sets Shahrzad apart is its daily specials, various braises and pilafs that are quite unlike anything you'll taste outside an Iranian home. Tahchin is an enormous, crisp-crusted brick of saffron-yellow rice, the size of a cinder block, stuffed with braised lamb and garnished with barberries. Baghala polo involves a nicely seasoned lamb shank completely buried underneath dilled, lima bean-spiked rice. Fesenjan, the popular Iranian dish of chicken sauced with a puree of pomegranate and ground walnuts, is less sweet than usual, and of clear pomegranate flavor. Karafs, described on the menu as "fried celery," is terrific, the pungency of long-braised celery tamed with lime and mint. 1442 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 470-9131. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 4 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $14-$30. Takeout and delivery. No alcohol. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

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