Oasis will surprise you. Yes, this Mediterranean restaurant has hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves and other dishes you would expect from that part of the world.
But there isn’t a clue, not on the sign outside or on the menu, that Oasis is Jordanian — the only Jordanian restaurant in Los Angeles. Chef-owner Ahmad Abulfeilat explains that most people have no idea what Jordanian food is and are not likely to take a chance on something they don’t know.
So it’s good business to call his food Mediterranean, even though Jordan doesn’t touch that body of water. It’s inland, separated from the coast by Israel. Other countries around it are Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The Jordanian food that Abulfeilat cooks is sumptuous and complex. It's also home-style, based on recipes from his mother and a brother who is a restaurant consultant in Amman, combined with his own touches.
Born in Karak, Jordan, Abulfeilat wants customers to feel as if they are eating in a home, and this is a very nice one, with white tablecloths and golden napkins. Son Hanny runs the front of the house.
To eat Jordanian style, go to the menu section headed twagen. These are the big, meaty dishes for which Jordan is famous. Here you will find mansaff, the Jordanian national dish and a must for festive occasions. The characteristic flavor comes from jameed, which is yogurt made with dried sheep’s milk.
Tender lamb shoulder is boiled with jameed, then placed on a bed of rice and sprinkled with golden almonds, pine nuts and pistachios. The dish looks creamy because jameed is spooned over it and also served on the side so you can spoon on even more. Underneath is a thin, crisp layer of lavash. To reduce the gamey flavor, Abulfeilat soaks the lamb for hours in cold water before cooking it.
Oozi is lamb and rice again, this time marinated lamb shank baked with onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery, peppers, cinnamon and dried lemon. The rice underneath contains carrots, peas and thinly sliced beef — in Jordan, it’s common to combine two meats in a dish.
Vegetable twagen include bamya (okra) and fasoulya (green beans), each cooked with lamb, onions and tomato sauce.
Prefer chicken? Then get musakhan, half a chicken slow-cooked with onions and spices including sumac and cardamom. The chicken is placed on flattened pita and topped with onions and pine nuts. The yogurt sauce tzatziki comes on the side.
Still more twagen are koshary, a meatless combination of lentils, elbow macaroni and rice, and kabsa, an ornate rice and meat dish that Oasis makes only for special occasions.
Just mezze alone can make a generous meal here. The special Jordanian touch for hummus is combining fava beans and garbanzos. One variation is to top it with beef and/or pine nuts browned in ghee made by Abulfeilat. It takes him three days to make the hummus from scratch.
Falafel balls look pretty with a coating of sesame seeds. You eat them with tahini sauce. Pastries include coiled cheese rolls filled with feta and cream cheese and spinach pies that are tangy with sumac and lemon juice. Turnovers called samboosa would be fried in Jordan, but Abulfeilat will bake them if requested. They’re filled with beef, lamb and pine nuts.
Kebabs, universal to the region, are seasoned Jordanian-style with different spices for chicken and lamb or beef. If you order enough of them, they come in an impressive golden box. The box is a working grill, but it’s used only for show.
Even baklava is made in-house. It’s filled with walnuts, pistachios, cashews and pine nuts and soaked with cinnamon-flavored syrup rather than the honey used in Jordan. And there’s a lovely, milky pudding scented with rose water, called muhalabieh.
Abulfeilat admits that Jordanian food can be heavy, but he lightens it for Western tastes. Open on La Cienega Boulevard since February 2017, the restaurant caters, and not just from the menu. If you want to awe your guests with a whole roast lamb filled with rice, more lamb, mixed nuts and even stuffed grape leaves and stuffed zucchini, this is the place to get it.
Oasis Mediterranean Cuisine, 1663 S. La Cienega Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 276-2747, gooasisla.com. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.