You just have to drive to Anaheim to know that a host of Mediterranean restaurants is your’s for the picking ranging from Lebanese, Jordanian, Palestinian but when it comes to Armenian, I’m a newbie at it. On top of that, there seems to be only one Armenian restaurant in the whole of OC which makes it hard for me to know what exactly to expect. So, all I can go by in terms of judging is the myriad of other Mediterranean cuisines I am familiar with and love.
When an OC Register reader wrote in and asked me to venture out to Anaheim to try this cuisine, I asked Selene to come with me and in turn, she brought along two of her friends (Marcus and Vu) to tag along on this eating adventure.
I was the first to arrive, right at 11.30am when they should’ve opened, but I found the parking lot deserted and the restaurant dark and empty. The doors were locked and I was confused. After much consultation via text with Selene, we were ready to move to another location and as I pulled out of my parking spot, I thought I saw movement inside.
I walked over and peered inside, saw a lady inside and knocked on the window mouthing “are you open” and received a nod in response. I guess they’re not a stickler for punctuality — it was now 11.50am.
After further communication with Selene et al, I proceeded inside the restaurant to wait for them to arrive. The decor is sparse and I’m starting to notice a pattern here with Mediterranean restaurants in and around Anaheim. They don’t dwell on design or making their space look pretty. I only hoped the food was good.
Since everyone was starving I suggested we order a mezze plate to share while we decide on what our entrees would be.
Ararat Mezze ($6 small/$8 large) consisted of hummus, metabbal, yalanchee sarma, boureg, tabbouleh and falafel.
I liked how the hummus was nice and tart with a good amount of lemon juice throughout. Tahini, garlic and olive oil were all perfectly mixed in that I didn’t feel it required any more tweaking (which I normally do with hummus). It had a lovely creamy consistency without tasting the least bit dry. This was a hit with me.
Whenever I eat Mediterranean food, my favorite is the eggplant dip and here it is called metabbal, a cream of eggplant blended with sesame extract, garlic and lemon. It is similar to babaghanoush and had a good smokiness to it, just the way I liked. It was also roughly blended which is always nice, giving it texture instead of pure creaminess.
No one at the table particularly liked the yalanchee sarma which are like similar to Greek dolmas. I don’t like cold rice and this one was wrapped way too tightly with the grape leaves that they tasted dry and compressed. Marcus didn’t like them cold and wondered if they would be better hot — well, we were about to find out a little later the answer to that question.
I usually love boureg (especially those from Jack’s Bakery) but the one here were made with puff pastry and had hardly any filling inside. It wasn’t like any bouregs I’ve ever had. What I am used to are the ones stuffed with a lot of meat and cheese or vegetables and cheese. These were just like, well, eating puff pastry.
Our falafels were served on a separate plate and these were outstanding! They were fried perfectly that the outside was crispy while the inside remained soft and light. A tahini-based sauce was served alongside. It is creamy and not the least bit heavy which made for a good accompaniment to the falafels and more.
At $8, the large mezze plate was a really good deal and frankly, we were quite full after that. So when our entrees arrived I was glad to see the portions were small.
We were also given pita bread to eat with our dips and appetizers. It was a generous amount and our server told us she would bring us more if we needed it.
A bowl of salad with a simple lemon juice, olive oil and dried mint dressing was brought out for us to share.
Whenever I eat Mediterranean food, my inclination is to go towards the koftas, or something similar. It is usually seasoned ground meat shaped into a sausage and grilled.
Lulah Kebab ($6) were made with ground beef, onion, parsley, red peppers and herbs. I liked its flavor although they were very over-cooked and very dry, I doused them with the extra tahini sauce leftover from the falafels.
Selene’s Kebab Combination ($9) comprised one each of lulah kebab, chicken and beef but unfortunately, none of them had the “wow” factor. The chicken was super dry but nicely seasoned while the beef was tender but under-seasoned. Go figure!
When Marcus’ Green Pepper Dolmah ($7) arrived I made pre-conceived judgements before I’d even try it because it really was unattractive. I was so skeptical at first but after trying it found it quite delicious. These mild green peppers are stuffed with rice and ground beef and drizzled with a full-flavored meaty sauce that was rich in both consistency and flavor. This was surprisingly the tastiest entree of the lot.
The server was really sweet and after Marcus’ question about the stuffed grape leaves being served warm, she brought us a plate of them, piping hot, with the same filling as the peppers and the meaty sauce. We all agreed this was indeed a lot more palatable than the yalanchee sarma.
At the end of the meal, along with the check comes a plate of sesame cookies, which, I really liked. They’re crispy and filled with sesame seeds and I wouldn’t have minded taking a little bag of these home.
Our experience was a hit and miss. If you do come here, stick with the appetizers and you’ll undoubtedly enjoy what you get. Service is so warm and friendly you may almost forget that some dishes were really “blah” — okay, I said ALMOST!
Ararat Armenian Cuisine
1827 W Katella Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92804