The Hummus Bar & Grill (18743 Ventura Boulevard, Tarzana; 818-344-6606), an Israeli restaurant that opened just over a year ago, is a lively spot, with conversations (many in Hebrew) and the slapping sound of hands shaping fresh laffa dough filling the air.
For just a buck, every table gets a refillable basket of freshly baked, puffed-up laffa, an Iraqi pita-like bread, and that's the kickoff to an extensive menu of Middle Eastern specialties, many $12 or less. It's a great place to be a vegetarian, given the array of hummus dishes, hearty meatless selections such as falafel and portobello mushrooms, and more than a dozen terrific house-made salads. There are plenty of options for budget-conscious carnivores, too, including skewered chicken thigh or lamb dinners for $9.99 and $10.99, respectively.
By Linda Burum
Follow the aromas -- and the crowds -- to two shipudiot, or skewer houses, along Ventura. The lure? Kebabs, a dazzling assortment of Israeli salads and dips and oven-fresh flatbread.
...Hummus Bar & Grill offers its own take on the shipudia meal in a slightly less flamboyant style and with lower prices.
When it opened in 2006, it seemed to have dipped into a trend taking hold at the time in Manhattan. The limited menu offered hummus and more hummus. It still serves six variations -- such as with grilled beef, or mushrooms.
But sprawling L.A. is not Manhattan, and so about a year ago, new owners broadened the menu, turning the stylish spot into Hummus Bar & Grill. This bright, animated place has the requisite patio seating. There's a long bar where you can sit and watch a baker pull rounds of laffa off a rotating grill to dip into spicy tomato purée and the dozen other salads and dips.
True, you're served fewer of these mezes than at Itzik's, but the prices are $10 without an entree and only an extra $6 with one. The selection includes, among other things, chopped liver sweet with caramelized onion, guacamole-like mashed avocado, egg salad, beet and carrot salads, tabbouleh and baba ghanouj.
All the expected kebabs from lamb and beef to foie gras and chicken hearts are here. As at Itzik's, the price escalates (but not as high) should you select filet mignon medallions or aged rib-eye, both $26.
A cone of shawarma rotates slowly in the open kitchen. It's made from turkey with a bit of lamb fat threaded throughout, which is typical in Israel, says an expat. Layer it into a swatch of warm laffa drizzled with tahini to alternate with varied bites of salads and you're in shipudia heaven.
Tarzana hummus bar a neighborhood find
By Natalie Haughton, Food Editor
The Hummus Bar & Grill, a neighborhood Middle-Eastern restaurant taken over by new owners in a strip mall in Tarzana 14 months ago, buzzes with dinner diners even on weeknights. Go early to snag a table or expect a wait at this popular no-reservation spot.
The star here, greeting you once seated, is a large round of piping hot laffa, a slightly chewy flat bread (made with yeast) similar to a pita bread, puffed and browned, slightly pancake-looking on the bottom, fresh from a taboon oven. Four little bowls - of green pickles and olives, a cabbage mixture with radish and celery pieces, garbanzo beans topped with tahini sauce and a salsa - are delivered by a friendly server to accompany it and to nibble on while perusing the tempting array of menu selections. There are lots of vegetarian as well as grilled meat possibilities here.
With any entree, order the assortment of house-made salads (all 11 to 13) for $5.99 per person. Otherwise it's $9.99 each. A tasty must-have route to go, they make a terrific grazing feast. Refills are available with no charge. But with only two diners and other items, it was difficult to make a dent in them (you can package up and take home any extras).
Among them were shredded carrots, tabouli (with lots of chopped mint), chicken livers (mashed up for good texture, but with mild, not overpowering liver flavor), egg salad, avocado-like dip (mashed), chopped beets (tart with lots of vinegar), baba ganoush, corn kernels (zipped up with chopped fresh dill and diced red pepper pieces in a mayo mixture), a pureed Turkish red pepper mixture (hot and spicy with cayenne pepper or something similar), fried skin-on eggplant pieces (tasting almost candy-like) topped with tahini and a mock liver mixture made with eggplant. This was bitter with sweet overtones and our least favorite item in the lineup. The majority delivered excellent, appealing flavor with lots of freshly chopped herbs.
Once the laffa round (softer and more doughy when hot; more cracker-like as it cools) is almost finished, a fresh one arrives without asking, a much appreciated touch.
Hummus comes five ways - centered with tahini and olive oil ($5.99 per plate), garbanzo beans, pine nuts, mushrooms or beef. The kitchen is skilled at turning out a mild-flavored, smooth, creamy concoction. A good-size portion for sharing with two or even four. Next time we'd skip the olive oil in the house version (with tahini and olive oil) to lighten up the eating quality.
From the grill, it's feasible to get skewers of either beef, chicken, lamb and more (you can order one $13.99 for beef filet and $12.99 for lamb - or two a better buy, if sharing), along with a sprinkling of other items like an aged rib eye steak, lamb chops and such. The beef and lamb chunks (five to a skewer) came medium as ordered and were tender and tasty. The couple at an adjacent table said the marinated chicken breast skewer, a special, was a hit. All grilled items come with a choice of two generous sides. The well-seasoned fries along with a cucumber-tomato salad and a red cabbage slaw (very tart and vinegary) were delicious.
Other dinner possibilities include salads (Israeli, Grilled Chicken), a falafel plate, grilled eggplant, sandwiches and more.
Stuffed, dessert was a pass. But in case you have room, a caramelized banana cr me brulee, bavarian cream, chocolate mousse or mallabi (like a pudding) are available.
It's easy to over-order here, so be realistic about how much you can consume. Don't expect much in the way of atmosphere, but do expect helpful, friendly servers and some appealing food options, making for a good experience.