10445 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90034
We all have our "color" in Trivial Pursuit. Some of us Roll Again over and over until we’re assured a landing on orange, which always seems to be biased toward my guy friends with a greater emphasis on Sports over Hobbies. Many of us nerds are able to answer every single green Science and Nature before the questions are even read through completely, but would just pass the dice in surrender without even hearing the question if it’s brown, Arts and Literature. Here in LA, anyone who’s anyone knows everything about pink, Entertainment. Does anyone ever pay attention in History class? Apparently there are some dorks who do, because they rule on yellow.
What about blue? Back when it was first created, blue was Geography. But then U.S. gamemasters took Trivial Pursuit over from the Canadians, and must have realized that Americans just don’t know enough about world geography if we’re educated through the U.S. public school system. In the newer versions, blue is now People and Places, because, well, does anyone really know in which body of water is Christmas Island? What about which two countries the Himalayas serve as a border? And did we all know that Lebanon touches the Mediterranean?
No, we all don’t know that Lebanon is Mediterranean, at least I didn't. Which is why I was wholly enlightened when I went to Gaby’s Mediterranean on Venice Boulevard in Culver City and ate Lebanese. No wonder I could never sweep the board in Trivial Pursuit.
Gaby’s doesn’t look like much from the outside. In fact, if you aren’t specifically looking for it, you would never notice the white sign that blends into the landscape along Venice Boulevard. The restaurant is mostly a covered patio that, if not for the white trellises and greenery around the perimeter would be quite chaotic with the occasional homeless man pushing a noisy shopping cart along the sidewalk and traffic speeding up Venice Boulevard not three feet away. There’s a tiny building that houses the kitchen and a few “inside” tables, but I doubt anyone sits there except servers taking a momentary load off.
At lunch time, Gaby’s is busy with a broad range of clientele. A large group of business casuals that must have been out celebrating a co-worker's birthday or perhaps having their weekly lunch outing sits alongside the side wall at a long, wobbly, uneven table made by pushing four-tops together. A table of Harley-Davidson types, another table of cubicle-mates, a mismatched couple that looks suspiciously like a top-secret lunch romance rendezvous, and a few other random, non-descript customers. One of the servers invited us to take a table anywhere.
We were looking through the menu, and somewhere during our discussion of sharing an appetizer and trying one of the lunch specials, a server brought over a small, paper-lined basket of pita bread. Alongside it, a plate that seemed somewhat shallow for what it was practically spilling over its edges onto the glass-protected table-top – deep green olive oil with fresh chopped onions and tomatoes, herbs, and a tiny seed that I couldn’t recognize. The pita bread was thinner than I’m used to, but I think I liked it better, especially served warm and dredged in the herb-infused olive oil mix - zaatar. I ate the wedges of pita bread like they were tortilla chips. By the handful. Naughty!
Everything on Gaby's menu looks incredible, and that’s not just the monthly hormones talking. In the end, we decided to share the Mediterranean Feast for two because it had a little bit of everything, a lot of which sounded familiar, but different. When the order came to the table, we were a little *whoa*ed with the amount of food.
Tabbouli is on one separate plate, a pile of parsley, glistening green with olive oil and vinegar and bejeweled with tomatoes and onions. Parsley, and in fact, that whole family of related herbs, has never been high on my list of flavor favorites, but without taking into account my own preference, the tabbouleh was done well. Hummus is on another separate plate, an enormous, creamy pillow of golden velvet with tiny pockets of olive oil, parsley and parpika. A few remnant pieces of pita bread had been spared from my earlier attack, but I didn’t bother. I sunk a spoon into the hummus and took a bite. Tangy hints of lemon hit my tongue, fragrant garlic floated up through my nose into my head, creamy smooth; it was delicious. Even better is the baba ghannouj, a roasted eggplant puree that I didn't recognize as such at first. It was a totally smooth, light ivory color and when I've made it at home, it's always been chunky and darker beige.
I can’t remember the order in which I ate each of the items on the plate. I think I split each one open first j
ust to see what was inside, ate a half piece first, then went ‘round again and ate the other half piece of only a few. I was already getting full. Damn, those pita, damn them to heck! They were all good to varying degrees, except the stuffed grape leaves, which I know as “dolmades,” but I believe they were spelled slightly differently on the menu. Whatever they are called, Gaby’s stuffed grape leaves by any other name still tasted as nasty. (What's the Lebanese word for "nasty?" Wait, do people from Lebanon speak Lebanese or am I just *sigh* stupid yet again?!?) The leaves were tougher and more fibrous than I’ve ever had before, and the rice filling inside was so tart that it made my entire face pucker and crinkle long before I could register any flavor.
The filling inside the fatayer, a triangular shaped pastry filled with spinach, was also a little too tart for my taste, but perhaps that is only relative to what I was expecting – something saltier, creamier, cheesier like a Greek spanakopita. The spinach pastry too, I didn’t finish.
Another appetizer made with the same pastry as the spinach was shaped like a pinwheel and filled with ground meat - sfeeha. Everything at Gaby’s has some sort of obvious lemony tang, but if this one did, I didn’t detect it under all the herbs and spices that reminded me a bit of the flavor of the shaved meat that makes up gyros. Not spicy heat, but just spicy. The pastry is a little dough-y for the lighter, uber-lemony spinach filling, but seemed to match the meat.
What I thought were a lot of falafel were actually two totally different things. One was, indeed falafel. The other ball was darker in color and had a smoother surface.
Splitting this one open with my fork revealed a dark, steamy meatball interior made with ground beef and pine nuts. It was spiced similar to the meat filling in the pastry, but darker. Can something taste dark? I guess it can, because kibbeh, this deep-fried meatball, tasted darker and more evil than the sfeeha.
Of course, falafel is something with which I am very familiar. I don’t get cravings, I don’t have to go out of my way to eat it, but when it’s available, I enjoy it. I must have gotten used to the taste of the cold, rather dry, dense, crumbly and somewhat bland falafel sold in the food bar at Whole Foods – are they not deep-fried? Gaby’s falafel are definitely deep-fried, holding together with a thick, crunchy exterior that cracks with a fork. The inside is soft, fluffy, and flavorful without tasting too much like a weed garden.
Throughout the meal, service was a bit slow. There’s no lack of waitresses, but it seems that rather than anticipating a diner’s need, they wait to be asked. When you do ask, they either forget or...they forget. They need to be reminded at least once, probably twice, and if it’s actually busy, then maybe three times. But it’s okay (for now, that is). The servers are pretty. Not everyone can be smart and *flips hair* beautiful like me.
I got a good first taste of Lebanese food with Gaby’s, and a nice little lesson in what "Mediterranean" encompasses. It’s a lot more than my little narrow-geography of a brain knew before. Too bad they didn’t teach geography with food in elementary school. I’d be Rand F**king McNally.