If you want to understand Adana, a Middle Eastern restaurant in an industrial corner of Glendale, you should probably order what the menu calls the cheese platter. At $11, it is by far the most expensive appetizer, although it resembles a plate that many Iranian restaurants put out on the table free — slabs of milky feta, stacked like bricks in an ancient wall, fragrant heaps of mint and purple basil, and crisp wedges of raw onion mild enough to eat like an apple. There is a little bowl of a spicy condiment so subtle and delicious that it took me a couple of minutes to realize that it was a version of the olive dip I buy nearly every week from my favorite Armenian butcher.
And you could probably spend an afternoon wrapping different combinations of these things in scraps of pita bread like Iranian tacos, first cheese and herbs, then olive dip and herbs, onion dusted with salt and tart sumac powder from shakers on the table, then everything at once. You could be drinking mint tea with this, or strong black tea, or an oddly refreshing drink made with yogurt, cucumber and dill. You want for nothing more. Yet Edward Khechemyan has just started. You will be eating for hours to come.
The exact provenance of the restaurant is hard to place. Khechemyan's appetizers are mostly from the repertoire of Armenian meze, but his main courses and sweets lean toward Iran, and he talks a lot about the flavors of Georgia. The menu is in English. The name of the restaurant is that of a Turkish city (one from which the Armenians were expelled in a particularly nasty way). The kitchen staff and many of the customers talk to one another in Armenian. The music trickling across the dining room is what used to be called semiclassical. You can get a burger or a Philly cheesesteak if you are so inclined.
You could probably spend half your life in Armenian Glendale without running across Adana, which has a much lower profile than places like Raffi's or Carousel. It's in an obscurely marked storefront in an odd part of town. It got a small hit of publicity a couple of years ago when Mark Bittman ran some recipes in the New York Times Magazine, but I have more than once been the only person at the restaurant, holding down a table in the formal-ish dining room like a guest in a forgotten Middle European hotel.
Yet Khechemyan's cooking is extraordinary, especially the cold appetizers: luxurious swirls of the thickened yogurt labneh; a parsley-intensive version of the bulgur wheat salad tabbouleh with an almost ethereal fluffiness; spicy cabbage rolls stuffed with a kind of bean ragout.
If you like eggplant, you can have it Iranian-style as kashk e bademjan, sliced, fried and topped with thickened whey and fistfuls of long-cooked onions; Lebanese-style as the smoky tahini-laced dip mutabbal, like baba ghanouj; or Armenian-style, ground with tomatoes, garlic and peppers as igra, eggplant caviar, similar to the Turkish ajvar.
His stuffed grape leaves are probably the best I've ever tasted, tender as pastry, slightly soured with green grape juice instead of vinegar, and rolled around herbed rice you could swear was flavored with lamb, although it is wholly vegetarian. (Adana is about as vegetarian-friendly as it is possible for a restaurant to be. Of the meze, perhaps only a suave, cream-glazed scoop of the chicken-potato salad olivieh contains meat.)
You've probably had fattoush, the Middle Eastern salad of toasted bread with vegetables and greens, but Khechemyan's version is extraordinary, made with purslane, both leaves and chopped stems, dressed lightly with lemon and oil, tossed with herbs and crumbles of feta and served with cracker-crisp triangles of toasted pita ringing the plate, ready to be crumbled into the salad. Adana also makes an Armenian-style salad with perfectly ripe avocado, minced onion and drifts of parsley — not often found in Armenia, but somehow exactly right.
Your table will be lined with dishes; I have taken home as many as a dozen takeout containers from meals here. Further food will seem impossible. But there are the soups to consider: cumin-inflected lentil soup, perhaps, or a cold soup made with yogurt, barley and mint. There are wonderful versions of the classic Iranian rice dishes. I like the airy, saffron-zapped shirin polo, flavored with sweet orange peel and almonds, and the albaloo polo made with sour cherries.
And you really should try Khechemyan's slow-grilled meats, especially the chicken kebabs, the salmon and the profoundly marinated Cornish hen. I'm not sure I have ever praised a chicken kebab before.
Extraordinary Middle Eastern cooking in an industrial quadrant of Glendale.
6918 San Fernando Road, Glendale, (818) 843-6237
Appetizers, $5-$11; soups, $6; kebab plates, $14-$19
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Lot parking.
Cheese plate; kashk e bademjan; dolmeh; fattoush; shirin polo; chicken kebab