is a dish of geological depth, a dip of distinct strata. Slicked across its top is a layer of yogurt puddled with olive oil and dusted with cumin and paprika. Pine nuts dot the surface like pale pebbles. Embedded in the warm hummus below are fragments of crunchy pita.
It's an elaborate rendition of the Middle Eastern meze, but not an untraditional one. At Olive Tree, the
hummus is both staple and symbol, representative of a certain kind of detailed and familial Levantine cooking lost among the monotony of low-cost shwarma shacks.
Olive Tree isn't a complicated place. Nor is it a secret to those who regularly bowl down Brookhurst Street, the arterial passage through
's Little Arabia. All the dishes you've come to love are here — classics soon to be fully absorbed into the American appetite — but owner Abu Ahmad's 5-year-old restaurant is not one you go to for the familiar.
Olive Tree also explores the underserved and overlooked regional recipes of
, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. They're the dishes of weddings and homecomings, celebratory meals delivered here via a set schedule of daily specials.
welcomes you to the working week, a heap of rice studded with either chicken or lamb and slivers of eggplant so soft they border on baba ganoush. By Wednesday there's stuffed chicken. The petite bird is packed with cinnamon- and cardamom-spiced basmati rice, the remaining grains used for a bed on which the chicken rests. The stuffed chicken isn't of a particular provenance, however — its spice trail passes through the entire Middle East.
is more distinct. Lamb shanks and ribs are slow-cooked in
— a brick of sun-dried sheep's milk yogurt rehydrated with a few splashes of water — and served over rice. The broth is amplified to the outer limits of tanginess by the
's acidic, buttermilk-like bite.
There's no rest for the weekend — Sunday, for example, sees Palestinian
, chicken baked with onions and sumac — but Olive Tree's everyday menu isn't without its own surprises. Alongside the cast of kebabs is
, roasted lamb spleen shocked with garlic, cilantro and a flash of chiles. It's part pâté, part blood sausage, an unctuous and creamy meat black as a desert night.
Like so much offal, a whole plate of
can be enervating. But piled into a pita sandwich it's thoughtfully subsumed, an earthy, meaty spread, texturally complex and rich.
And the kebabs are worthwhile too. Try them all with the combination plate: charred cylinders of ground beef, blackened blocks of lamb, tangerine-tinted chicken and blistered vegetables. Then turn it into a feast with
, a garlic-spiked fava bean dip that's the Levantine response to refried beans.
Around the restaurant's few tables are cab drivers, couples and neighborhood kids all organizing their days according to the itinerary of the kitchen. And it's no wonder why: Portions are sized to feed a family, a menu that encourages return visits.
Olive Tree might become a habit, but nothing here is routine.
512 S. Brookhurst St., Suite 3,
, (714) 535-2878.
Meze, $3.50 to $9.99; sandwiches, $4.99 to $5.50; entrees, $6.99 to $14.99; daily specials, $10.99 to $13.99.
Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lot parking. Credit cards accepted.