Massoud Sabzerou, who was born and reared in Iran, is now Isaac Sabzerou, who presides over the tiny kitchen of a fast food place in downtown Los Angeles
Sabzerou, a Jew, switched to the name Isaac when he went to Israel, where he ran a falafel stand in a small town near Tel-Aviv.
Now he is making falafel and some other very good dishes at the Grill Table, which opened recently on 9th Street.
The menu is mostly Israeli. But Sabzerou also prepares some Iranian specialties, chiefly wonderful, tangy grilled chicken that is marinated for 48 hours with lemon juice, onion, garlic and a host of additional seasonings. There is also Israeli-style barbecued chicken. And Sabzerou has adapted to his neighborhood by creating a low-calorie, boneless, skinless chicken dish that he has dubbed--guess what?--chicken Isaac.
Sabzerou's neighborhood is the downtown apparel district. That means he must please a fashion- and figure-conscious crowd. It's common to see smartly clad women from the nearby California Mart hunched up to the counter, fine leather boots balanced on the brass rail, as they tuck into pita sandwiches or crunchy falafel that Sabzerou insists is the best in Los Angeles.
To make the falafel, Sabzerou grinds garbanzo beans with green peppers, cilantro, parsley, black pepper and salt, then deep-fries little scoops of the mixture. Big spenders willing to pay $3.60 for a complete falafel plate get the falafel, hummus , a large serving of rice, two salads, pickles, a Middle Eastern-style eggplant mixture and a pita bread. Small spenders can have falafel and salad in a pita for $2.25 or in a bowl with a choice of salad or rice plus a pita bread for $2.35.
All entrees ordered by the plate come with two salads. Coleslaw is one. Lettuce and tomato topped with a yogurt-like dressing made by Sabzerou is the other. And all the plates include rice plus the pita bread. Recently, Sabzerou has been making Iranian-style rice mixed with peas and enough dill to turn it green.
The eggplant, available as a side dish for $1.15, is fantastic. Sabzerou mixes green pepper, tomato and spices with the charred, peeled eggplant, cooks the mixture and serves it cold with a spoonful of tahini. Like everything else, the tahini (ground garbanzo beans mixed with sesame oil) is made by Sabzerou. For hummus , he mixes ground garbanzos with the tahini, seasoning this Israeli-style with an ingredient that he insists on keeping secret.
Falafel stands in Israel also offer shawarma (meat grilled on a vertical spit) and so does Sabzerou. His vertical spit spears thin slices of marinated lamb and turkey. Again, it's wonderful.
Sabzerou has catered to American tastes by adding a grill burger ($3.45 for a plate). But he has kept faithful to his background by seasoning the meat Iranian style, with a dash of tomato sauce, onion and baking soda to make the meat fluffy.
The Grill Table is open only for lunch. The Spartan room includes a few tables in addition to the counter. If the ambiance is too bare or the room too crowded, Sabzerou will pack the food to go or have it delivered in the immediate vicinity.
In addition to being a good cook, Sabzerou is a generous man, judging by the amount of food he serves for a pittance. At the moment, the top price at the Grill Table is $3.95 for the chicken grill and shawarma plates. Like the falafel, some of the entrees are served in a pita sandwich or in a bowl at more modest prices. The barbecued chicken, which costs $3.70 for a plate, drops to $2.45 in a pita sandwich and to $2.35 in a bowl with salad or rice and a pita bread.
The Grill Table, 103 East 9th St., Los Angeles; (across from California Mart); (213) 622-3343. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cash only.