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Sheep Thrills 

In the spring, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of lamb

Wednesday, May 19 1999
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China Islamic

China Islamic may be the only Chinese restaurant I've ever seen where Pakistani customers sometimes outnumber the East Asians. As soon as you sit down, you are asked if you want sesame bread (you do), a thick, crisp disk of flatbread made to order. There are a number of cold dishes that go very well stuffed into the bread: translucent slices of pressed beef tendon; "home-style" roast chicken fragrant with spice; strips of rich, tender beef tripe flavored with a tincture of chile and soy. Like other Muslim restaurants, China Islamic has a minor specialty in lamb, sliced thin and fried quickly with green onions, garlic and crunchy bits of fresh ginger. Lamb-stew warm pot -- the meat red-cooked on the bone, chopstick-tender, and pungent with soy and star anise -- comes seething in a clay vessel the diameter of a basketball hoop. 7727 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 288-4246. Open Thurs.­Tues. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14­$22. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.

 

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Papa Cristos Taverna

At Papa Cristos, six bucks buys a whole grilled fish stuffed with garlic and herbs, or a giant skewer of spicy grilled beef, or a plate of spaghetti plus half a roast chicken, garlicky and crisp-skinned as the ones you find at Zankou. Six bucks will also buy three lamb chops, four if you're lucky, steeped in garlic and oregano and grilled quickly over a hot fire; crisp, brown, and edged with just enough fat to round out the lamb's sweet gaminess. These aren't the thick, prime loin chops you'd find at Michael's or Campanile, and they are usually cooked somewhere on the far, far side of rare, but it is hard to imagine more flavorful meat. After 15 seconds with a plastic knife, you will risk burnt fingers and eat them with your hands. 2771 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 737-2970. Open for lunch Tues.­Sun. Lunch for two, food only, $9­$12. No alcohol. Takeout and catering. Lot parking in rear. AE, Disc., MC, V.

 

Philippe the Original

Everybody who has lived in the city more than a year has heard how it was Philippe himself who invented the French-dip sandwich -- 80 years ago, when he accidentally dropped a sandwich into some gravy. The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn't really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to a city much older and much more attached to its distant past. The lamb sandwich is wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat, while all around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare as people hit a little depth charge of Philippe's hot mustard in their sandwiches. Philippe's is a fine place, too, for lunch, dinner or breakfast: crisp doughnuts, decent cinnamon rolls, and coffee for 10 cents a cup. 1001 N. Alameda St.; (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.­10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7­$12. Takeout. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Cash only.

 

Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori Restaurant

Every time I've gone to Shahnawaz, I've ordered mirch ka salan -- a thick, tan vegetable stew heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice. There's also nihari, a spicy beef stew flavored sharply with ginger; haleem, a gentle mash of pounded meat cooked with grain; and paya, a rich, clove-scented stew of beef and ox tendon cooked to a melting tenderness. On weekends, there's a very nice biryani, basmati rice cooked with butter and sweet spices and tossed with chunks of lamb. And consider the tandoori-mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches' worth of clove-scented minced-lamb kebab; a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef -- all for about $8. 12225 E. Centralia St., Lakewood; (562) 402-7443. Open Tues.­Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $10­$14. No alcohol. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, Disc., MC, V.

 

Shahrzad Flame

To most people, Iranian cuisine means more or less this: kebabs. Shahrzad has kebabs -- pretty good ones in fact -- but also long-braised celery stews; giant green mounds of dilled rice pilaf topped with chunks of crusty grilled whitefish; enormous, crisp-crusted bricks of saffron-yellow rice that are stuffed with braised lamb and garnished with bittersweet barberries, a native Iranian fruit. Bagali polo involves a nicely seasoned lamb shank completely buried underneath dilled, lima bean­spiked rice. But what really sets Shahrzad Flame apart is the hot tanori bread, baked to order in a spherical, tandoor-type oven that looks like a giant blue eyeball. 1442 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 470-9131. Open daily 11:30 a.m.­ 11:30 p.m., Fri. till 4 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $14­$30. No alcohol. Takeout, delivery, catering. AE, Disc., MC, V.

 

Tung Lai Shun

The first thing you notice about Tung Lai Shun is the enormous rounds of freshly baked sesame bread that seem to be on every table, wedges of which you drag through sauce, or stuff with terrific chopstickfuls of beef fried with green onions. While you're waiting for the bread to come -- it can take 20 minutes -- you nibble on cool, slippery slices of garlicked ox-tendon terrine, or thin, cold slices of delicately spiced beef, or chunks of cold braised lamb in an unctuous garlic jelly. Later on, string beans, crisp and melting, come fried with hoisin and crumbles of ground beef. The duck is ruddy to the bone and as smoky as Texas barbecue. Green-onion pies are 45-rpm discs of crisp, griddled dough, at their best when dipped in a tincture of chile and vinegar: easily the best green-onion pancakes in town. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 118C, San Gabriel; (626) 288-6588. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14­$20. No alcohol. Parking in mall lot. MC, V.

 

Uzbekistan

When you are not in the mood for spleen -- that's what's ground into Uzbekistan's savory hasip sausage -- there are always chanum, floppy open-faced Uzbeki dumplings filled with a potato purée. Or lamb chops. Or a strangely charred stir-fry of vegetables served in a smoking-hot cast-iron pan. Or plov, the grandfather of all rice pilafs, dense and slightly oily, more like fried rice than ordinary pilaf, spiked with diced vegetables and crisp-edged chunks of lamb, flavored with a peculiar sort of Uzbeki cumin seed that is halfway between cumin and caraway. Don't miss the plov! 7077 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 464-3663. Open daily 11 a.m.­mid. Dinner for two, food only, $22­$30. Full bar. Takeout, catering. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.

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