Carousel focuses on Armenian-Lebanese comfort food near Glendale's Alex Theatre.
Greg and Rose Tcholakian opened their Lebanese kebab house in the back corner of Hollywood’s Hye Plaza in December 1983, deriving the name Carousel from a popular restaurant in Beirut. Their son Mike opened this larger more elaborate branch in downtown Glendale in December 1998, near the Alex Theatre, complete with decorative scimitars, an expanded menu and weekend entertainment that includes sahlala dance teams. There were no dance teams on this evening, but plenty of flavorful Middle Eastern comfort food.
The feast began with a silver tray of pickled turnips, mixed Mediterranean olives, mild white Lebanese cheese slabs, Fresh Vegetables (carrots, cucumbers and mint). A big bowl of Tabbouleh combined chopped parsley, cracked wheat, tomatoes, onion, lemon juice and olive oil. The best bowl: Muhammara, a spicy dip made of crushed walnuts, red pepper paste and pomegranate juice.
Carousel makes a high-grade Hammos, crushed garbanzo beans blended with sesame oil (tahini), lemon juice and garlic, then dusted with paprika (red) and chaimen (green) and drizzled with olive oil. Kebbeh Nayyeh (Chi-Kofta), a Lebanese steak tartar pancake, was silky and fresh. With raw beef, it better be. This variation came topped with olive oil and ringed with diced parsley, onion and tomato.
Carousel’s dips and salads are solid, but it’s hard to compete with their fried appetizers, especially Fatayer (Cheese Boreg), feather light turnovers filled with three cheeses – white Lebanese cheese, feta and Jack – and topped with finely chopped parsley. Kebbeh Maklieh (Kofta) were dense, greasy spheres formed with ground beef and wheat, stuffed with sautéed beef, onions and pine nuts. Carousel’s Falafel was unique, relatively moist fried chickpea donuts studded with sesame seeds, plated with lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and tahini sauce.
Carousel has developed a reliable repertoire, but the Tcholakians recently added Manté (Shish Barak) to the menu, and it’s a direct hit. They bake thin-skinned beef dumplings, then slather with tomato sauce and tangy yogurt sauce. Just remember to eat the dish quickly. As the “meat pies” cool, yogurt congeals and skins harden.
This photo of the Soujuk Flambé doesn’t do the dish justice, since the flash negated the blue flame that surrounded the skewers of house-made Armenian beef sausage. The soujuk were pre-cooked in back, so there was no need to douse the skewers with flaming Arak, but it sure was dramatic.
The first stage of the feast also featured Fattoush Salad – sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, parsley, fresh mint, spices and toasted pita, mixed with a lemony dressing; Muttabal (Baba Gannuj) – roasted eggplant mixed with garlic, sesame oil and lemon juice; Labneh Khaleejhi – yogurt cheese mixed with garlic, pickled jalapeño, diced tomatoes, and topped with olive oil; and tangy Sarma (Stuffed Grape Leaves) with rice and vegetables.
Yogurt Kebab featured juicy ground beef sausages slathered with tangy yogurt sauce and pine nuts, dusted with sumac and herbs and plated on served on a bed of crispy pita chips. This dinner was a winner I terms of flavor and textural contrast.
Lamb Kastaleta – center-cut lamb chops – were luscious, with a nice char and hardly any gaminess. As with most kebabs at Carousel, the chops came with roasted tomatoes, sliced jalapeños and a parsley garnish.
Typically, removing the bone and skin from a chicken is a recipe for blandness, but the Carousel chefs are skilled at grilling yardbird, so Chicken Breast Kebab (Shish Tawook) remained juicy, with a nice char. Of course there were plenty of roasted tomatoes and jalapeños, plus pita painted with zesty tomato sauce.
Kebabs came with healthy servings of buttery bulgur strewn with fried pita chips and rice pilaf sprinkled with fried garlic.
A dessert platter featured surprisingly light pastries crafted with creamed cheese, pistachio, rosewater and orange blossom oil. My favorite was the Ossmanlieh (Knefeh B’ashta), capped with a crispy bird’s nest-like thatch of fried dough strands. Ash El Sarayya was simpler, just dough-wrapped cream. Halaweh B’Jheben combined semolina, Lebanese cheese and fresh cream.
Carousel is clearly one of the better Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles. The food is equally good at the Hollywood original, but the atmosphere in Glendale is far superior.