Thursday, June 09, 2005

Plug One, Plug Two: Skaf's Lebanese Grill (Again)

When I quit or if I get fired from my current job, I will have very few reasons to visit North Hollywood. One, I'd go back to throw eggs at my office building ('cause I'm so mature). Second, I'd like to visit the Wat Thai Temple and its food stalls one of these weekends. And last but not least, I'd go back to eat at my favorite Lebanese restaurant, Skaf's Lebanese Grill.

Now you may have already heard me plugging Skaf's a couple of times before. When I first started writing this blog,
I wrote about the Combo Grill plate I took home one day. I also wrote about spotting the Bizarro alter-egos of coworkers here. Well, ya know what? I'm gonna write about Skaf's again. Because I love this place. I mean I loooove this place. That, and I've never really done a full writeup on them. So if you don't feel like listening to me plug Skaf's yet once more, then go home. Come back tomorrow or something.

Still here? Well allright then.

You wouldn't normally patronize Skaf's unless you heard about it from someone else. This place is tucked away in some typically seedy North Hollywood mini mall, next to a "we-insure-anyone" makeshift insurance agency and a 7-eleven. There is almost always some form of vagrancy outside, and it's not just your typical homeless guy asking politely for change, it'll be some drugged out craaaazy mumbling guy. Whatever the case, the world outside Skaf's ranks high on the sleaze-factor scale.

But once inside the small, modest, but clean family-owned eatery, you're greeted with warmth by the "Skafs." Mr. Skaf (I think that's his name, I've never been introduced to him formally but we'll just call him that for now) and his sons will seat you immediately and if there isn't a normal table available, they'll try to pull a Rubbermaid folding table out of the back room and out to the floor to accomodate you.

Every dish at Skaf's is preceeded by hummus & pita and their famous cabbage salad. The hummus is brought out in small, individual dishes for each diner and has a little indentation in it that shows off a tiny glistening pool of oil and sprinklings of paprika and parsley. Its taste, delicious with a perfect balance of tartness from the lemon juice and nuttiness from the tahini. Its texture, velvety smooth. Their cabbage salad, in my opinion, is heavenly. Crunchy chopped green and red cabbage and diced tomatoes are tossed in a lemony, garlicky, peppery dressing. It's addictive, trust me.

Heavenly hummus

Addictive cabbage salad

Skaf's tabouleh is also excellent; this refreshing salad, sharp and zesty from the chopped parsley, tomatoes and onion, mellowed out into textural submission by the grains of bulgar wheat, and tossed with mint, lemon juice and olive oil is great eaten alone or as an accompaniment to any of their grilled meats.

Yummy tabouleh salad

My "usual" at Skaf's is one of their grilled meat plates. The shish kebab plate comes with two skewers of tender beef steak and bell peppers. The shish tawook is the same concept, only with chicken breast, and this ain't no dry boring chicken breast. Skaf's marinates theirs well, so what you get is some tasty, juicy meat with a nicely grilled exterior. An added bonus to the shish tawook plate is the garlic sauce, a potent white paste that to me, rivals Zankou's. Kefta kebabs are tasty long strips of seasoned ground beef and are somehow exempt of the wooden skewers when they make it out on your plate. Undecisive? Order the combo grill which gives you one of each of the shish kebab, shish tawook and kefta kebab. All of Skaf's plates come with baby pepperoncinis, a couple slices of bright magenta pickled turnips and a side of fluffy white rice topped with a few sliced onions and a dusting of sumac, a purple spice with a lemony flavor. They've also got falafel, shawerma and shrimp kebab plates that I have yet to try.

Shish Tawook

Skaf's always offers a couple of daily specials, a few of which my friends and I have been fortunate enough to try. Last week we gave the beef and green bean stew a whirl. It was hearty--fork tender beef and green beans bathed in a rich, tomato based sauce--perfect for a June-gloom day.

Beef and green bean stew

The kebbeh balls, sold normally by the piece as an appetizer, is sometimes served as a main dish special of three balls with a side of cucumber yogurt sauce. My friend ordered this the other day. "May I please try one of your balls?" I asked her. (Don't worry, we're close like that) These were incredible. Each football shaped ball had a crispy outer shell of fried bulgar and was stuffed with a seasoned ground beef filling. They were spicy, with a faint cinnamony flavor, and went perfectly with the cool, creamy yogurt sauce.

Kebbeh Balls

Other specials I've seen but haven't yet had the pleasure of tasting are the ground beef and eggplant, lemon chicken with potatoes and a sort of Lebanese meatloaf. Trustworthy sources say they're all really tasty.

Ground beef and eggplant special

Lebanese "meatloaf" and potatoes special

You know, the world is full of assholes. So its really refreshing when you run in to genuinely nice people like those who run Skaf's. I am not jiving you when I say that these guys have given me the best customer service I have ever experienced at any restaurant. Ask about one of the specials, how it's prepared, etc. and Mr Skaf will most likely go behind the counter to scoop up a small dish of the stuff for you to sample. If for some reason, two of you decide to split a plate, they'll give each of you an order of hummus and cabbage salad even though the plate's technically supposed to come with just one. My friend didn't specify which kind of beef kebab she wanted one day and when they brought out the kefta kebab instead of the shish kebab, they said they'd make her a shish kebab right away and asked if we'd just like to eat the kefta kebab. These guys are awesome. You can tell they appreciate their customers and truly love what they do. Which keeps people like me and all their other obviously repeat customers coming back.

Lots of other things to try here--babaghannouj, pita wrapped sandwiches, Lebanese coffee. I'll get to them in time. After all I'm there weekly! Stay tuned for plug three, plug four.

Skaf's Lebanese Grill
6008 Laurel Canyon Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91606
(818) 985-5701


elmomonster said...

Lovely review! I'm always looking for ideas for North Hollywood since a friend of mine lives there. Thanks!

Roxanne said...

i just want to say that when i typed in skaf's, your blog was the first link that came up.

i'm working in noho again so i was thinking of getting some to go since you and sam RAVE about it.

oh yeah, and this is sam's friend, roxanne.

Daily Gluttony said...

Hi Roxanne! How are you???

Yes, you haaaave to get down to Skaf's. They rule. Seriously.

Feel free to email me for any NoHo recs.

Anonymous said...

Words don't describe the wonder that is Skaf's daily specials... and then there's the hummus... and that wonderful, smoky babaghannouj.

Damn you. I'm salivating. It's 9:32 PM, Skaf's is closed until 11:00 AM tomorrow and I am CRAVING it.

I ate there four times a week for years until my job moved... now we live nearby and we go as often as I can convince my wife.

Anonymous said...

Went to the one in Glendale last night. Fantastic. The spicy potatoes with garlic and cilantro are out of this world!

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in Studio City/North Hollywood and am currently living less than a mile from Skaf's.. I have to say that I agree with you that the food is excellent there and the customer service has always been great. Although I've never been accosted by nor seen any nutty drug fiends so maybe I'm just lucky LOL The location is a pain in the rump though because of the mini mall it's situated in and the lack of parking spaces but it's definitely worth it!

Anonymous said...

I've loved the place, and go back often--ever since I first read your review several years ago--