“Open Sesame” are the magic words that will open your taste buds to the delicious experience of Lebanese cuisine in Los Angeles.
It sounds like baa-baa-ga-nush and you smile hearing it, saying it, and especially eating it. Spelled baba ghannouj, this creamy dipping sauce, a Lebanese appetizer made from fire-roasted eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, is just one of the delicious items on the extensive menu at Open Sesame at 7458 Beverly Blvd., an offshoot of the popular restaurant in Long Beach.
Although somewhat familiar with Mediterranean-style-food — pita sandwiches, falafel patties, hummus — I had never partaken in truly authentic Lebanese cuisine until I dined at Open Sesame and discovered it goes far beyond the standard fare.
My experience started with a warm greeting from manager Nagy Elguindy, who gave me the choice of either the outdoor patio for dining al fresco or the rich red ochre and gold interior, before graciously explaining the many exotic choices on the menu.
Open Sesame offers a full bar, but has just as many exotic beverage offerings of the non-alcoholic variety. You don’t have to settle for a boring ice tea or Coke. How about a Jalab made with rose water and grape syrup infused with incense and topped with slivers of pine nuts and almonds? Or an Indian Summer, made with carrot, lemon, orange and muddled mint? It’s a treat to find a restaurant where those who don’t imbibe can drink something that’s just as intriguing as a cocktail from the bar.
A focus on healthy, yet delicious food is at the heart of the food at Open Sesame. The restaurant’s founder, Ali Korbeissi, says the recipes are all prepared from scratch and hold fast to Lebanese authenticity and tradition. The naturally nutritious nature of Lebanese food makes it easy to select vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items from the menu while leaving plenty of delicious options for the rest of the world. And to make it easier, the menu notes vegan and vegetarian items, removing the need to ask the waiter 20 questions before ordering.
For those like me, who are gluten-free, a restaurant where the kitchen doesn’t have to do backflips to accommodate me was a welcome relief. I had no problem selecting a wide variety of appetizers and sharing them with my “can eat anything” friend.
We enjoyed delicious chunks of crispy fried potatoes served with a spicy chili sauce and a highly-addictive fluffy white garlic sauce; delicious cauliflower sautéed with pine nuts and almonds and served with a tahini sauce; a classic hummus, but fresher and better than any I’ve ever tasted; the make-me-smile baba ghannouj; and a dish of tabouleh made with chopped fresh parsley, fresh mint, green onion, extra-virgin olive oil and bulgur (which alas, makes it not gluten-free, but my friend raved about it).
We were getting full on the appetizers, so instead of ordering entrées, which come with pita bread, choice of salad and hummus or baba ghannouj, we ordered a la cart: French-cut lamb chops that had been marinated in fresh lemon juice, garlic and extra virgin olive oil; skewered cubes of marinated melt-in-your-mouth top sirloin steak; and chicken tawook, tender charbroiled marinated chicken breast.
The meat dishes were served on a bed of kabob salad made from rich green parsley, onion and spices. The lamb chops were moist and flavorful, as were the steak and chicken. Although usually served with basmati rice which contains wheat vermicelli, to accommodate me, our waiter, appropriately named Angel, provided tasty rice cooked with green bell peppers, onions, carrots, raisins and spices.
To finish our culinary adventure, we sipped strong Turkish coffee infused with cardamom, a spice made from the seed pods of plants from the ginger family that contrasted nicely with creamy Lebanese ice cream with Ashta, a flavor that recalls hints of pistachio, rosewater and almond.
Prices are very reasonable with most appetizers in the $5 – $8 range and full dinners from $15 – $26. Stop in for lunch for specials like pita sandwiches or less expensive versions of the dinner entrées at $10 – $15.
The experience piqued my interest in Lebanon, a country I knew was “somewhere” in the Middle East. After reviewing its noteworthy history, it’s no wonder that its cuisine is so remarkable. Bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south, Lebanon dates back more than 7,000 years, pre-dating recorded history. It’s still one of the most religiously diverse countries in the Middle East and has been influenced by various civilizations for thousands of years. The capital, Beirut, was once referred to as “the Paris of the Middle East,” and after dining at Open Sesame, I can see how its cuisine must have been a contributing factor to the moniker.
One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is its tremendous cultural diversity and the opportunity to taste and enjoy cuisine from all over the world. I’m adding Open Sesame to my short list of culinary destinations – the kind that makes you feel like you’ve left Southern California behind and stepped into a cozy bistro in a far-away land.
7458 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Open 11 a.m – 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Join us at Open Sesame on Sunday, July 20 from 5–7 p.m. for a special SingularCity dinner party featuring delicious Lebanese cuisine.
Tickets are $25 plus tip and include the dinner, served family-style, with appetizers, main course, dessert, non-alcoholic beverages and one cocktail/beer/wine per guest.
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