When you walk into Raffi’s Place in Glendale, it’s hard to ignore the awards on the wall. There must be 10 “Best Restaurant” certificates. Internet foodie chat rooms are filled with gushing compliments about this restaurant. With such high expectations, it was hard to judge the place fairly. But after going twice, for dinner and lunch, I feel I have an objective perspective to share with you.
There are good points and bad points about Raffi’s Place. In a nutshell, the good points are charming atmosphere, delicious Persian barbecue and the best rice I’ve ever had. The two bad points are spotty service and high prices. Let’s delve into the positive side.
The atmosphere at Raffi’s is pretty special. Most people choose to sit outside (a wise choice, as the inside is rather drab) where a large twinkle-light-encrusted tree holds court over all the diners. It’s less a patio and more a wide alley between buildings with umbrellas and a bubbling fountain creating intimate dining spaces. The white linen tablecloths, sparkling glassware and spirited conversations make you feel as if you’re at a lovely wedding in an old city somewhere in the Middle East.
The menu is simple, with the focus on preparation. There are 14 plates with choices of beef, lamb, chicken and fish. One can get beautifully charbroiled kebabs ($14.95 to $19.95) in which chunks of marinated filet mignon, chicken breast, lamb or mahi-mahi are skewered with tomatoes and green peppers. The cuts of meat are good but not exquisitely flavorful or tender. I prefer the Koobideh ($11.95) where the beef or chicken is ground with interesting spices and then grilled.
One of their more unique items is called Baghalli Polo ($13.95), a special mixture of lima beans, dill and rice topped with slow-cooked tender lamb shanks. But my favorite choice is the white fish kebab ($18.95), a gorgeous piece of fresh fish with that fragrant charbroiled flavor. I was surprised to learn that they don’t use any special wood or charcoal to barbecue their dishes, just a plain old gas flame. It must be Raffi’s secret technique/ingredient that makes it taste so good.
There are two other items so special that they could bring me back again and again. Upon being seated, a heaping plate of fresh lemon-scented basil, mild onions, parsley and radishes appears, followed by flat bread and butter. This is a thrilling combination in itself, but when the main course arrives, it’s a wonderful and healthy accompaniment.
And with every meal comes rice. You may think all rice is the same, but I would strongly disagree. Some is mushy, some is too sweet, some has no flavor at all. The rice at Raffi’s Place is a) pretty with yellow-colored rice sprinkled on top, b) the perfect texture with delicate, individual basmati grains, and c) fragrant and delicious with a buttery flavor.
You may have noticed the prices listed in the previous paragraphs. They are surprisingly high at Raffi’s Place. Admittedly, the food is well-prepared and the portions are large, but chicken, tomato, pepper and rice for $17?
Yes, the ambience is nice, but one does sit on plastic chairs. I assumed I was paying for top-notch service. While the waiters look professional in their starched white shirts, the attention diners get is inconsistent. On my first visit, three waiters approached providing conflicting cocktail information and then disappeared for quite a while. My friend never did get her wine. And at the end of the evening, after trying to flag down a waiter for 20 minutes, we finally took our bill to the hostess. The service on my second lunchtime visit was much better but not exactly friendly.
Raffi’s Place is a nice spot to take out-of-town guests or 20 business associates for a higher-end alfresco dining experience. It has a “this is where the action is” feel to it and some of the best Middle Eastern food in Glendale. The only thing is, expect to pay for it.
LISA DUPUY enjoys reading cookbooks in her spare time.