Zahle in the Valley: The Middle-Eastern Polish of Alcazar Express
Since it opened a few years ago, Alcazar has been the go-to Lebanese place in the Valley, a pleasantly scented patio with great chicken kebabs, fried fish with tahini and oceans of specially imported arak, a place that a Beirut-loving friend dubbed Zahle in the Valley. The new Alcazar Express, squeezed into a narrow Westwood storefront near the top of what is sometimes called Tehrangeles, is nowhere near as grand as the Encino Alcazar. If you’re looking for hookahs, wine or live music, you’re probably better off at the original. The grilled meats tend to be a touch less accurately done.
But the menu, especially the several pages devoted to mezze, the procession of salads and small dishes that make up the first few acts of a Lebanese meal, seems almost more ambitious in this context — it’s almost as if flavors of the chunky hummus with garlic and whole chickpeas, the thick Lebanese yogurt with fried bits of Armenian sujuk sausage, and the succulent lamb’s tongue sautéed with lemon are too big to be contained in the confines of this dining room. The crisp falafel, served atop an almost-delicate chopped-vegetable salad bound with tahini, is very good, if untraditional, and the cheese-stuffed bourek are as thin as pastry cigarettes. The texture of garlic sauce served with the grilled lamb chops may be closer to a silky, fluffy sauce raifort than to the pungent ointment you know from Zankou. The buttery baklava pastry is so thin that it melts away the second you touch it with your tongue. Alcazar Express may look a bit like a corner kebab stand, and it is not inexpensive, but even in its first weeks, the Middle Eastern/Armenian cooking is the most polished on the Westside. 1303 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd., (310) 914-9777, al-cazar.com.
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