Spice is key to Skaf's Lebanese fare

If you've been searching for the best Lebanese food in town, you're getting "shawarma." In fact, if you go to Skaf's, you've hit the spot.

Skaf's Lebanese Cuisine is not just a good Middle Eastern restaurant. It has just made it to my Top 10 list of favorite Glendale restaurants. They take great pride in preparing their fresh, flavorful dishes, and the prices are reasonable.

How does Lebanese food differ from other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare? It's all in the spices. Armenian, Persian and Greek restaurants all have kebabs and hummus. But what makes Lebanese food stand out are the complex seasonings like sumac and cinnamon, cloves and fenugreek, as well as flavors like pine nuts and pomegranates. And at Skaf's they're handled with care.

Their chicken shawarma is formidable. Sliced off a vertical broiler of stacked, marinated chicken, the succulent, garlic-infused pieces invigorate your mouth with a litany of spices before going down in a satisfying blaze of glory. I got mine on top of a Fattoush Salad ($6.95 plus $4.95 for the chicken) and it was a sprightly, crunchy, fresh bed for my poultry.

Or, if you like sides, choose your shawarma plate style ($11.95). You then get your own personal bowl of light, nicely seasoned hummus, a wonderful rice pilaf, pickles and a dish that was a revelation to me — cabbage salad. It may sound humble, but this salad is fabulous. The raw cabbage is coarsely chopped and marinated in a minty, garlicky Lebanese dressing that softens and flavors it to perfection. These sides come with all of the plates and daily specials, and you can't go wrong with any of them.

The kebabs ($11.95 to $16.95), especially the chunks of rib eye steak, are tender and have a marvelous fire-grilled aroma and taste. They come with a really nice garlic sauce. Their kibbeh, a Lebanese paste-like mix of meat, burghol (a.k.a. bulgur), onions, pine nuts and spices, comes in many forms. It can be shaped into small fried footballs, baked into a pretty pie or served raw.

Traditionally, kibbeh is made with ground lamb. At Skaf's they use gorgeous, lean ground beef. But as fresh as it was, the raw kibbeh (Kebbeh Nayeh, $9.95) was more than this American palate could handle. Baked in a pie, though, it was splendid —an earthy, robust and somewhat dense sensation. Another earthy, deeply satisfying dish is the foul (pronounced "fool"), a warm blend of fava beans, garlic, lemon and olive oil ($6.95). My husband calls it Lebanese chili. I call it wonderful.

LISA DUPUY is a writer living in La Crescenta. Her family lived in Beirut, Lebanon, during her father's days with Pan American Airways.


What: Skaf's Lebanese Cuisine

Where: 367 N. Chevy Chase Drive, #A, Glendale

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Prices: Soups, salads and cold and hot appetizers $4.25 to $10.95; plates $9.95 to $16.95; daily specials $13.95 to $25.95; and sandwiches $4.95 to $5.95

Contact: (818) 551-5540

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