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A Hidden Standout

The almost perfect bargain dishes at Moon Mart Kabab are worth the search.

November 24, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At a recent lunch, the entire bill for three at Moon Mart Kabab was less than what I've paid for a few bottles of mineral water at a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant. Not only that, Moon Mart's food was far better.

This partially hidden Glendale cafe--the front sign is obscured by overgrown plants--is tiny, with just five tables in the straw-yellow dining room and four others in a peaceful courtyard just beyond the front door. It's rather plainly decorated. The dining room features an enormous painting of a potter finishing an earthenware jug, and there's a little moon painted on the window just above the front door.

The menu is also tiny: seven salads and six kebab choices. On weekdays, the Persian-Armenian family that owns the cafe adds daily specials. Wednesday, for instance, is the day for meat-stuffed vegetables (dolmas) such as eggplant or green pepper. On Thursday, you'll find abgosht, a hearty stew of meat, garbanzo beans and tomatoes.

A few of the salads (all served in plastic bowls) are good enough for a pasha. Salad Olivier is a creamy potato salad mixed with lots of chicken and a few capers. Shirazi salad is chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with a sneaky sharp bite.

Bademjan is an eggplant puree mixed with onions, tomatoes and olive oil, ideal for smearing on the paper-thin lavash bread that comes with everything. Mast-o-khiar is a refreshing cucumber and yogurt dip that you'll want to keep around for your main courses.

The kebabs are tender and masterfully grilled and come to the table well seasoned from various marinades. Heading the list is the lamb kebab, possibly the best in Glendale. The tender, gamy meat, blackened around the edges and juicy pink in the center, is even better with a sprinkle of tart ground sumac berries (somagh).

The ruddy, fork-tender boneless chicken kebab is just about perfect. Luleh kebab, a long cylinder of grilled ground beef, has an intense beef flavor. Only the shish kebab, made with what I'm guessing is sirloin, fails to please utterly. The flavor is definitely there, but the meat can be a little tough.

All kebabs come with a heap of basmati rice, a broiled tomato and a pile of Shirazi salad, so no one leaves hungry. There is no dessert as such, but you're entitled to a tiny complimentary glass of strong Persian tea and its perfect accompaniment, a large medjool date on a toothpick. Moon Mart Kabab is a standout on a street with nearly a dozen places to get Persian-style broiled meat and rice. I'll bet you won't have trouble spotting it on a second visit.

BE THERE

Moon Mart Kabab, 400 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale. Open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Parking in lot. No alcohol. All major cards. Dinner for two, $15-$21. Suggested dishes: Salad Olivier (potato and chicken salad), $2; bademjan, $2; luleh kebab, $5; lamb kebab, $7. Call (818) 241-2314.

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