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RESTAURANTS

Zov's Middle Eastern flavors are spreading

December 27, 2007|Katherine Tulich

FOR 20 years Zov's Bistro, Bakery and Cafe has not only been an Orange County institution, but a nationally recognized and awarded restaurant. Though founder and chef Zov Karamardian could easily sit back and rest on her culinary laurels, she has pushed on, opening two new O.C. locations. Earlier this year, Zov's Newport Coast opened its doors and, more recently, Zov's Cafe and Bakery set up shop in Irvine.

Though the flagship Tustin restaurant is renowned for its fine dining experience, the Irvine and Newport Coast locations have expanded the cafe side of the business. Says Karamardian: "Fine dining is not easy to reproduce in many locations, so these locations offer more informal dining that is casual and family-oriented."

For years Zov has enticed novice palates to the delights of Middle Eastern cuisine. Born in Israel to Armenian parents, she launched a catering business specializing in the food of her heritage. The success of the business led to the opening of Zov's Bistro, which was later expanded to include an award-winning bakery and cafe.

"In the beginning, there was not a lot of interest in the food, but I think we gradually educated people to the wonderful robust flavors," says Karamardian, who has picked up numerous awards along the way, cooked alongside her mentor Julia Child and has had her dishes widely recognized in such publications as Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.

The newly opened cafes serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and offer a wide selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees that showcase seasonal ingredients and Zov's contemporary Middle Eastern dishes. Breakfast items include gourmet omelets and frittatas, as well as standbys like waffles, pancakes and oatmeal. For lunch and dinner there are delicious meze plates including hummus, baba ghanouj and lahmajoun (flat bread with spicy beef, diced tomatoes, feta and Parmesan), sandwiches such as the familiar BLT and turkey club, as well as grilled lamb, grilled eggplant and tahini pita with grilled chicken, tomato, cilantro relish, shredded cabbage and tahini sauce. Entrees include falafel-crusted whitefish, lamb tagine, chicken kebab and lamb shishlik.

"The idea is to have a place where families and friends can come and dine, feel relaxed and have a great meal," says Karamardian. Zov's Newport Coast, 21123 Newport Coast Drive, (949) 760-ZOVS; Zov's Irvine, 3915 Portola Parkway, (714) 734-ZOVS; www.zovs.com

-- Katherine Tulich

theguide@latimes.com

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