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OC LIVE : RESTAURANTS : Alpine Goes Beyond German; Sahel Puts Persia in Naples

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Something old, something new. That’s the recipe at both an established German restaurant and a fresh-faced Persian eatery that does wonders with traditional kebabs.

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The Alpine Inn, sporting a new, expanded menu, is a venerable Garden Grove institution, more or less a neighborhood cafe crossed with a Bavarian hunting lodge. It is woodsy, clubby and softly lit, decorated with beer steins and a mounted deer’s head.

German food long has been its specialty, but the Inn has an international pedigree. Owner John Kauffman is a native of (don’t let the name fool you) Greece. The chef is Italian, and the hostess with the lilting accent is Swedish.

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The specialty dishes are German enough to make you want to yodel anyway. The food is resolutely Teutonic: simple, tasty and a bit on the heavy side.

The Inn’s sauerbraten, vinegared pot roast, is good enough to fool someone’s omi (granny). The properly sour meat is served in four thick, juicy slabs drenched in thick gravy, alongside either buttery spaetzle dumplings or al dente egg noodles. You also have a choice of vegetable (choose red cabbage, which has some sweetness, over the extremely sharp sauerkraut).

The rest of the German menu (“Continental Entrees”) is small but steady. The best item might be jaeger schnitzel, delicately breaded fried veal topped with a rich mushroom gravy. The wurst plate combines two sausages of your choice (veal bratwurst, Polish sausage and knackwurst all are perfectly plump and steamy).

I was less impressed by the schweinebraten , a pork roast without much flavor, though nicely tender. The house specialty is a hearty chicken stew with dumplings.

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Kauffman recently has expanded his menu to include such non-German items as chicken piccata , veal Marsala, filet mignon and fresh seafoods. (“There just weren’t enough people coming for the German dishes,” he explains.) The chef does them all well, using first-rate ingredients, particularly the beef. The halibut steak is irresistible, prepared in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, basil, white wine and butter.

No matter what you order, you are bound to eat too much of the excellent house brown bread, which is redolent of molasses and aromatic spices. And by all means save room for one of the county’s best pieces of strudel, hewn from a giant strudel log cleverly displayed by the entrance to the main dining area.

The Alpine Inn is moderate to expensive. Continental entrees are $8.95 to $12.95. Dinners are $9.95 to $29.95.

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S ahel means “shore” in Farsi. It is also the name of one of the Southland’s best new Persian restaurants. Owner Zahra Nabi chose the name because of her restaurant’s location, the Naples area of Long Beach.

From outside, this looks like an upscale bistro: postmodern architectural lines, concrete floor, salmon-colored walls and plenty of room between the tables. Inside, you catch the winds of the Middle East--the heady scent of grilling meat, a suspicion of rose water, the perfumes of brewing tea.

Nabi has decorated Sahel with gallery-style photos depicting rustic scenes in modern Iran plus shots of a massive, impressive mountain somewhere in the country. This is a casual, family-style place, and the portions are on a massive scale themselves.

I like to begin a Persian meal with a bowl of cool yogurt. Mast o khiar is flavored with dried mint and fresh cucumbers--a really cool customer.

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Nabi’s homemade stuffed grape leaves ( dolmeh ) are unlike the kind familiar from Greek and Armenian restaurants. These little surprise packages are filled with ground beef, rice, onions, tarragon and basil . . . and yellow split peas.

Sahel’s undisputed superstars, however, are the kebabs. I’ve sampled kebabs in at least a dozen local Persian restaurants, but the open-flame treats that Nabi and her crew put together are simply the best around.

Shish kebab is large chunks of marinated filet mignon skewered with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes and broiled nearly black (but still tender).

The boneless chicken kebab is ultra-juicy leg and breast meat. There’s also a version on the bone--actually, Cornish hen cut into square hunks.

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You have more than a dozen kebabs to choose from: whitefish, lamb, ground beef, ground chicken and various combinations thereof. All come with a veritable mountain of fluffy basmati rice and the trademark Iranian charbroiled tomato.

Even though Sahel’s plain rice is masterful, I can’t say the same for the menu’s many pilafs, which taste as if they were finished off too quickly for the rice to absorb the flavorings. Baghali polo is dill weed and lima bean pilaf smothering a stewed lamb shank. Albalu polo is sour cherry pilaf with stewed chicken.

I do like Sahel’s fesenjan , though, even if it is 85% sauce and only 15% chicken. The sauce is terrific--ground walnuts, chicken stock and pomegranate juice, a thick puree that has to be one of the food world’s great indulgences.

For dessert, try the tiny baklava, four squares of pistachio paste layered into honeyed pastry dough, and a thimble of fragrant, seductive Persian tea.

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Sahel is moderately priced. Appetizers are $1.95 to $3.95. Kebabs and chef’s specials are $7.95 to $12.95.

* THE ALPINE INN

* 13432 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove.

* (714) 530-3282.

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* 5 to 10 p.m. nightly.

* All major cards.

* SAHEL

* 5470 E. 2nd St., Long Beach (in the Naples section).

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* (310) 439-6161.

* Sundays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays till 11 p.m.

* American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa.


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