FalafelQuest© is back! Bit of a hiatus after the last post, as it turns out that Highway 395 and the Eastern Sierras aren’t really the best place to find falafel, so we had to take a break … which was maybe a good thing since our last post featured three very sad falafel experiences. Not so this time!
Before getting into details, it seems like a good idea to try to expand our food writing game by bringing in the amazing eloquence of the late great Jonathan Gold. While I couldn’t find any Goldwords about actual falafel, I did find this in a review of Kobee Factory & Syrian Kitchen:
Still, those kobee — they’re fairly extraordinary, juicier and looser textured than what you might be used to, gently spiced, seasoned with citrus and pine nuts. The barbecued kobee, black grill lines neatly bisecting the round capsules, are unique to Kobee Factory, at least in this area, and the crackly edges have a textural resemblance to the corners of well-baked cornbread — it’s the experience without the grease. You may slightly prefer the fried kobee, which give a compelling illusion of lightness when the thin, supple crust all but dissolves under your teeth.Jonathan Gold, LA Times (emphases mine)
Now that’s food writing! Textured, visual, comparative: check, check, and check! Let’s see if we can try to emulate Mr. Gold.
For lunch on Friday the 17th, we wandered all the way to Foothill/Route 66/across the street from Target for lunch at Cafe X20, a solid Mediterranean place we hadn’t eaten at in several years … and it was good, in fact our best falafel of the summer to that point. Cafe X20 has become a bit of a chain, with six locations spanning from Pasadena to Rancho (that’s Cucamonga, of course). We got the falafel plate (pictured above, $17) and a side of the lamb hummus.
The plate was good–the tzatziki thick as Greek yogurt (the likely base) and had not only the requisite cucumber, garlic, and dill flavors, but also a wonderful spike of mint. The falafel itself was very good–our first donut-shaped falafel, the effect of which increases the surface area, making the crunch more pronounced (and the interior a little scanter). The coloring was standard falafel: the green/pale brown of parsley, cilantro, and those ground soaked chickpeas. These weren’t too greasy, and the flavoring was balanced–on par with if not even better than Saca’s.
- Texture: 3.5/5: very good, and the filling wasn’t overly tight, which we’re learning is important … but the donut-shape makes these actually too crunchy, more like fried falafel nuggets than bringing forth the truly pleasant falafel dual-textured snap/give/pillowy experience.
- Spice: 4/5: well-spiced, nicely balanced, nothing overly pronounced.
- Herbaceousness: 4/5: fairly green tasting, fairly green colored.
- Value: 3/5: $17 for four fairly small falafels, chicken-broth rice (meh), very bland garlic paste, a few bites of salad, and delicious tzatziki seems a bit much considering we were eating in La Verne.
On Saturday the 18th, we took a trip with friends down to Long Beach, and we had a late lunch at Ammotoli, a member of this year’s LA Times 101. Ammatoli is specifically Levantine food (the Levant is the eastern region of the Mediterranean and includes Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and other nearby countries; the word means ‘rising’ and refers to the place the sun rises). We ordered the six-part mezza ($48), which came with fried potatoes in a lovely nuclear-orange hued spiced oil, cubes of glistening red beets, tongue-puckering dolmas, a lemony and slightly sweet tahini sauce, a greenily spicy hummus (we think fresh serranos), a very good tabbouleh, and the falafel:
It’s worth noting that a falafel plate can be bought at Ammatoli for $14. That’s right: $14, less expensive than many of places we’ve so far been this summer. At one of the best Mediterranean restaurants in LA County? Yes plz. To the falafel rating:
- Texture: 5/5: and here we go. These were the size of a sports ball that doesn’t exist, larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball (not quite a racquetball) … not too big, not too small … let’s go with a whiskey ice ball for the shape, why not? And they were fried lightly (almost no grease)and just enough to give the surface that excellent brûlée-like crackle which then gave way to a very loose soft and still-steaming filling. Perfecto.
- Spice: 5/5: well-spiced, nicely balanced. Cumin, coriander, and cayenne (along with of course pepper and salt) are the traditional spices for falafel, and they were great here, especially as the cayenne was a bit more pronounced, giving just the slightest shadow of a heat bloom that emerged after the falafel was gone … and that’s the magic of heat in food, that it lingers; the meal is over? No, the meal isn’t over after all.
- Herbaceousness: 4/5: the herbs again were balanced–we still haven’t gotten a green-falafel-bomb, but hopefully we will, just for variety sake.
- Value: 5/5: Again, if you can get seven of these outstanding falafels with sides of hummus and tabbouleh for $14? Absolute bargain.
And today, Sunday the 19th, we headed just about a quarter mile east of Cafe X20 and got takeout from Kebab G Stop. Why is it called “Kebab G Stop?” What does the “G” stand for? And why does it, combined with the word that follows, evoke lude notions? Just … spot. Er, stop.
- Texture: 1/5: back to the donut-shape, which already leads to too much surface-to-interior ratio … that the batter was also overly mixed (read: too tight) and, too, that these were overly fried (look at that dark color) made them less than tasty crunch nuggets.
- Spice: n/a: basically the texture overrode the flavor.
- Herbaceousness: n/a: brown?
- Value: n/a: $13 for the falafel plate, which is five of overdone crunch nuggets, dull chicken-broth rice, a very bland tzatziki, and a too-sweet walnut-red pepper spread (muhammara, we think … but this wasn’t very good).
Two steps forward, one step back! We’re appreciative of the recommendations we’ve received and are very much looking forward to venturing further forth this summer (and hopefully getting falafels with you all!). Our current but growing list includes Haifa, Saffy’s, Dune, Famous Shish Kabob, Hummus Labs, Father Nature Lavash, Skaf’s Lebanese, Falafel Arax, Joe’s Falafel, X’tiosu Kitchen, Ta-eem, and Carnival. We probably can’t get to them all, but we can try, and hopefully some will get a little more out there with their falafel recipes, adding surprising spices (aleppo? sichuan peppercorns? zaatar? kashmiri chili? asafetida?) and/or herbs (mint? oregano? thyme?). Today’s last word: Onward!