Sham Mediterranean Cuisine
716 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
It’s a little ways to the new year, what without even having gone through Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas yet, but if the Beverly Center can get away with hanging snowflakes and tinsel in October, I can talk about New Year’s Resolutions.
Actually, I’m not quite to the point of setting new goals, as I am still trying to hack my way through the ten delicious resolutions I set for this year. I probably should have done a mid-year status check back in July to see that I had not even gotten past no.1 to give myself more time to catch up, but we know how that goes.
Anyway, this year, I still have a little bit of time to teach myself about my own cultural cuisine, Korean. Sure, I know how to make all the basic things like galbee, bulgogi, jahp-chae, all the Korean stuff for which non-Koreans always request a recipe. LOL! But now it’s time to get into the hard core stuff. Like kimchee.
Are we fucking insane?
I’m not going to make kimchee. There is no way I’m risking a $25 manicure by digging a little hole in a backyard that I don’t have to bury a clay jar full of cabbage and enjoy its fermenting fragrance for a year. I don’t have a $25 manicure, but burying something in the backyard reminds me a little too much of my long-gone pet goldfish.
Really though, I did tell myself that I would try my kimchee-stained hand at more complicated Korean foods, but I hardly even got to teach myself by eating out at Korean restaurants. I think I went out once over the summer to Koreatown. With a bunch of white folk.
So once again, instead of digging down deep into my own roots, I will do what I have always done, and adopt someone else’s culture!
Latkes come later. Besides, I’ve been there. I’ve done that.
Let’s go with Syrian.
I didn’t even know that Syrian was a cuisine, but apparently, it is. You would never know it, because Syrian, like Korean, seems to ride on the more popular coattails of “Mediterranean.” Korean is not Mediterranean, by the way. I was talking about Koreans underhandedly folding their stinky kimchee into Japanese uni, as if raw sea urchin gonads could mask the smell. That’s like trying to hide cilantro in guacamole.
We went to Sham Mediterranean Cuisine, which is, in fact, a Syrian restaurant. “Mediterranean” is in the restaurant’s name, and though I thought we were going to be eating hummus, pita and something with yogurt, we ate…hummus, pita and something with yogurt. Syrian food is Mediterranean. Sicilian food is also Mediterranean. So, Sham Mediterranean is like calling Korean food and Japanese food “Asian.” Okay, I get it now.
I had seen the sign for Sham may times. The bright blue and white rectangle with its name boldly printed in black is hard to miss when driving through the area. However, it never occurred to me to go in and try it. Sham was just one of those places I saw on my way to somewhere else along Lincoln Boulevard (Bodega Wine Bar, Warszawa), or on a back route to the Promenade (I’m not naming any names). Aside from its sign, Sham’s storefront is dark, narrow, and rather non-descriptly blends in with the rest of the stores and restaurants pressed up against each other on the block.
It wasn’t until I saw a commercial for Sham on TV that I made a mental note to try it. Someday. I wasn’t exactly jumping up from the couch and grabbing my purse to run over to Sham. Local restaurants that advertise on TV make me roll my eyes and feel sorry for them because the only restaurants that advertise on TV are the Olive Garden and Red Lobster. However, I love Mediterranean food and you can never have too many options for hummus.
He said, “I feel like Mediterranean.” It was a golden opportunity, which I seized because I am an opportunistic girl like that.
I said, “Let’s try Sham.”
Sham is very different on the inside than what it appears to be on the outside. Even though the restaurant’s façade is all floor to ceiling picture windows, they are either tinted or dirty or both because only several window-side tables are visible. The tables look rather flimsy and though they are draped with tablecloths, the cloths are topped with thin sheets of glass to make for easy wipe-down. Those glass tops, often present in ABC Chinese Food, are a hallmark of, well, an ABC Chinese Food-type of restaurant. I am quite certain that if people looked beyond the tiny pedestal with paper take-out menus that stands in the doorway and pathetically begs passers by to stop and come in, Sham wouldn’t feel the need to run low-budget commercials on local access cable TV at 3 am.
The interior is beautiful, in a kind of ornately cheesy way. Now I know I am mixing up all my cultures, ethnicities, histories and will probably end up offending someone, but Sham's interior feels like a harem palace in a desert oasis. The kitchen is partially open, seaprated from the dining room by a low wall covered with cooling blue, brown and white tiles. Two enormous inset arches with intricately sharp, yet curved designs that are lit from the backside face each other from both the side walls. A chandelier with the same sort of pattens hangs from a similarly ornate mount on the ceiling.
We sat at one of the front tables, just under the glow of the red and blue neon “Open” that was filtering through the window. That’s not an expression of any sort of opinion. Just a statement of fact. However, it is my opinion that it was romantic (but let’s save dessert for the end).
We peered through the low (but red and blue-hued) light at the menu. As we now know, “Mediterranean” is a broad term that refers to “The Mediterranean.” That means Mediterranean can be Greek, or Mediterranean can be any of the cultures that are Mediterranean but we sometimes call “Middle Eastern,” like Syrian and Lebanese, because we are geographically retarded and linguistically ignorant. If you ever studied for the SA
T, you’d be able to figure out that there is some sort of etymological relationship between Middle East and Medi-terra-nean.
(Holy shit. Someone please shove a kimono in my mouth to shut me up. I sound exactly like my Dad.)
We ordered things to share. One of the reasons I love this Boy is the way he eats when we go out. Granted, Mediterranean food is definitely a cuisine of sharing, so it was easy, but even in a restaurant that serves food in the Frounsh style, where each person gets his or her own plate, we order for the table. A petite filet for you and a teeny tiny piece of grilled halibut perched atop a dollop of pureed peas for the lady? Yes, and put them both in the middle of the table because we're sharing.
Sham's pita bread is thin and light - definitely different from the thick, soft, doughy pita breads in Greek cuisine. Then again, I am a carboholic, so pretty much any bread tastes damn good to me. I suspected that they baked it fresh in the oven that was roaring in the back of the restaurant (and apparently, my suspicions were accurate). Yogurt salad was cool and refreshing. It's funny that a large bowl of yogurt is called a "salad" because we really used it as a sauce and a dip for the pita bread. Perhaps calling it a salad made me feel better for eating the yogurt straight out of the bowl with a spoon.
We ordered one each of the tiny filled pastry, fattaier. The pyramidal spinach-filled fattaier was good, but I could have shot at least three of the fat, bullet-shaped feta cheese-filled fattaier. Maybe four. Or five. Hell, I could have made an entire meal out of a half dozen of them, split open, yogurt spooned into each half.
We also shared a plate of shawarma. We did it as a combination because I don't love eating small furry white baby sheep. The chicken had good flavor, but it was dry, even with generous scoops through creamy hummus or dousings with yogurt. The Doll didn't think twice about turning the plate around so that I could poke through his half. He ate all the chicken. Did I call him Doll? He calls me "Princess."
There are a few desserts on Sham's menu. We headed home instead. ;)
** a year ago today, curry was the treat, tofu was the trick **