17239 Ventura Boulevard
Encino, CA 91316
818 789 0991
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Date of Visit: August 18, 2009
The western fringe of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley is a wonderland for Middle Eastern cuisine. You’ll find dozens of Armenian, Israeli, Persian and Lebanese dining options, and when kebabs and falafel just aren’t enough, head to Alcazar. Vatche’s nine-year-old restaurant sells a long list of Middle Eastern classics. What distinguishes Alcazar from L.A.’s other Middle Eastern restaurants are their more challenging cuts of meat like livers, tongues and “fries.” The “international singer” Vatche croons in eight languages, so you know the man has range, and that also applies to his food.
Alcazar’s design was inspired by a palace by the same name in Sevilla. In the main dining room, colorful murals flank a stage that frequently hosts live entertainment. On weekends, Alcazar has been known to draw big crowds for musicians and belly dancers. Out back you’ll find a patio that faces the shopping center’s courtyard.
Every meal at Alcazar begins with ultra-tart pickled vegetables, intensely flavored olives and standard-issue, store-bought pita. On the weekends, they upgrade to fresh-baked sajj, a flatbread topped with zaatar, cheese and basturma.
Mattatouille and I shared three different dishes. Each organ meat is available in two different preparations. Our choice for Sawdat Djej ($8.95) – sautéed chicken liver – involved pomegranate juice and garlic. The chunks were definitely rich, but had great depth of flavor.
Beyd Ghanam ($8.95) was the day’s most daunting dish, lamb fries sautéed with tangy lemon sauce, firm pine nuts and dusted with summak. It’s hard to tell from their appearance, but “fries” are actually testicles. The surprisingly delicate slices weren’t gamy in the least and had silky, supple texture. Thankfully there was no visible evidence of the meat’s origin.
L’sanat ($8.50) was an amazing dish, tender sautéed slices of lamb’s tongue with caramelized ends and an intoxicating blend of oil, lemon and garlic. The topper was the onions, whispy strips that soaked up the flavor from the dressing.
With all or our organ meat dishes, there was nothing to cut the richness. Even a plate of rice would have helped to temper the weight of our undertaking.
In the future, I might build up the nerve to eat Alcazar’s K’Khaat, beef brain dressed with garlic, lemon and oil. I’m also interested in trying their sajj. Sajj may not be so challenging, but it’s fun to say and sounds even better to eat.