Dining Out: Small plates, big taste at Sustébia

Define "Sustébia"

a) Portuguese for "sustenance"

b) A new restaurant in downtown Glendale

c) A mellifluous but meaningless word

d) The latest Phil Collins song

e) b and c

If you answered "e," you are correct. Much like the fusion food they serve at this new eatery, Sustébia is a fusion of sounds, one of them being the "ste" of owner Stephanie Alishan's name. Alishan, together with chef Diana Gasparyan and executive chef Suzay Cha, have forged a small-plate concept fusing the cuisines of Asia, Mexico and the Middle East.

Suzay Cha, a veteran of Los Angeles's Cicada Restaurant and Mandu Suzay in Orange County, brings her famous Asian dumplings (mandu) and slaws to the mix here. Alishan and Gasparyan bring a Middle Eastern sensibility. The Mexican influence is (happily) all around us in Southern California and the classics like tacos and quesadillas translate easily into small plate foods.

Alishan confirms that Sustébia is attracting regulars from the neighborhood looking for mid- to late-night meals. There's a big new apartment building across the street and lots of pedestrians on the jacaranda tree-lined Maryland Avenue. Their website declares Sustébia to be "a sanctuary of warmth and relaxation." The decor would suggest otherwise. The sparsely decorated gray and white walls are chilly and the chandelier hanging from florescent ceiling panels is a travesty. But the place has definite potential. The pretty marble bistro tables and French cafe music are a start.

Sustébia's menu claims "culinary uniqueness without breaking your budget." With this I can wholeheartedly agree. The food is really different yet comfortingly familiar. For instance, the sangak quesadilla ($6.25) is unusual and decadent. Middle Eastern whole wheat sourdough flatbread (sangak) is fried like a Chinese pancake, its crispy exterior clutching three gooey cheeses. I would like to buy a Costco-sized jar of the jalapeno cilantro sauce that comes on the side.

The mandu, pan-seared potstickers, are hot and tasty as well, stuffed with chopped veggies and drizzled with house sauce ($6.25 for 6). The hummus duo is pleasant, particularly the bright red scoop with its concentrated flavor of sun-dried tomato ($4.15). Continuing with vegetarian-friendly choices, the bowl of Cheesy Mac ($5.75) is as creamy, tangy and comforting as you'd expect.

For meat-lovers, the Greek sliders are pretty amazing ($7.50). Ground beef patties are stuffed with feta cheese then spread with cucumber, yogurt and caramelized onions before being placed on sweet buns. Still, my favorite was the steak wrap ($8.25) with sweet red peppers, house-made coleslaw, and a squiggle of the cilantro sauce I love.

The only thing I didn't "get" was the spring roll ($5.95). Maybe my decision to try the pan-seared option was a mistake. The crispy coleslaw was no longer crispy and the rice paper wrap was too elastic to deal with. The sliced beef inside was tasty as was the peanut-y sauce, but taken as a whole, it tasted like a corned beef and cabbage roll. Not bad — just not expected.

Chef Gasparyan makes specialty desserts when farmer's market scores warrant them. In the meantime, get the chocolate cake with peanut butter cream ($4.25). The cream is dreamy. Denser than whipped cream, icy cold and with just the right amount of peanut flavor, it's terrific on the chocolate cake.

Next time you're out on the town in Glendale and want a unique bite that won't break the bank, check out Sustébia. The bill for six items including dessert was only $35. Three of us were full and satisfied by the end. And parking in the Maryland lot across Broadway is free. At this point, they neither serve alcohol nor allow you to bring your own. But that will change in the near future. Much is changing in downtown Glendale and if Sustébia plays its cards right, it will likely be a part of it.

What: Sustébia

Where: 105 S. Maryland Ave., Glendale

When: Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 10 p.m.

Prices: Small plates, $4.15 to $8.50; desserts, $4.25

More info: (818) 396-5770, sustebia.com


LISA DUPUY has written about area restaurants since 2008. Send her the name of your favorite diner at LDupuy@aol.com.

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