The eponymous Johnathan Gold already broke the news about this place, and probably covered it in more depth than I am able, as he reportedly went three times and ordered nearly the entire menu every time according to the restaurant staff. I, for one, am immensely grateful for his reporting on this place. For many, the trek out to Agoura Hills will be rather cumbersome, but on a Friday evening at 9 PM the 405 was wide open, and it didn’t feel like a bad drive to me (but I drive a lot). Is the food here worth venturing out for? I would say absolutely.
We got there fairly late, but the staff was nice enough to accommodate us anyway; the entire staff here is incredibly nice and fantastically welcoming, it truly feel like eating in a family’s kitchen to which you have been invited. Seating is quite comfortable, and the atmosphere is culturally representative without feeling kitschy.
We began with cold mezze. This was basically an assortment of dips, some familiar, others less so, but even familiar dishes have Kurdish tweaks and taste distinctive here.
The perennial Hummus was, unfortunately, the weakest dish of the night for me. I’ve not tasted hummus like it anywhere else, it had a pleasant consistency in terms of viscosity as it had been whipped up fresh in the kitchen to order, but it was remarkably tart, tasting like a nutty yogurt almost. I am not sure I would knock it as bad per se, but it was not necessarily to my tastes.
The Piyas* was a fully vegan dip of red and green peppers, herbs, Aleppo peppers, and olive oil. It was semi-bitter, quite thick, with a super mild spiciness to it. It was quite tasty, and very fresh tasting, although not my favorite dip, I’ve not really had anything else like it.
The Riha Ezime was the chunkiest of the mezze, and a bit less of a dip, but a really nicely composed bean dish. Red pepper paste, mint, onions, garlic, and walnuts produced a tangy, nutty component that played rather well against the larger chunks of peppers and really nicely cooked beans, which had a lovely snap to them, but were quite creamy inside. Really nice.
Finally, the Hesandin, which Gold recommended above all of the others. Gold seems to have been right on the money here because this was by far the best dip. I could eat tubs of this stuff. It features fire-roasted red peppers, walnuts, carrots, and pomegranate molasses. You have probably never had anything else like it. It has that bright charred earthiness and pungency from the fire-roasting on the peppers, with a gorgeous nuttiness, and a slight sweetness within its fires. It is not really spicy, but it has just enough of a kick to make it utterly addictive. When I return, I will just order multiples of this stuff to begin the meal most likely. It’s ridiculously good.
All of the mezze come with Kurdish Bread which is baked fresh to order and cut up into handy strips. I am not totally sure how to describe this, it’s kind of like a cross between pita, and naan, and tastes vaguely of pizza dough. It’s lovely bread that is pretty good even by itself, but goes fantastically with the mezze, especially given its temperature contrast.
They have some interesting wines, but we kept it simple by having Lebanese beer, Almaza. It turned out to be a surprisingly great beer that was light, refreshing, and went incredibly well with the food.
Sadly, they were out of the Mujwar that gold recommended, so we had Falafels instead. These turned out to be remarkably good falafels. They said they spice them a bit differently than usual “in the Kurdish style”, but I don’t know what that meant. I do know that they were densely packed, with a fabulous crust, and toothsome interior. They were packed with flavor on their own, really showing off the chickpea flavors with a deep pungency. They were served with a very light, tart yogurt sauce that did not really adhere to them very well, and was highly unusual. It was almost like the sauce was meant to be a bland component that toned down the intense flavors of the falafels; it was rather intriguing.
Then a Niroj Kebab plate hit the table. At first, I was somewhat disappointed by the portion size given the $21 price tag, but holy smokes does this deliver in flavor! This i-quality meat, and it forms into layers of tremendously juicy, richly flavorful lamb that is amongst the best lamb preparation I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The tender lamb is wrapped around spinach, and its juices, along with pomegranate molasses and a touch of cream seem to seep into it giving it this incredibly rich flavor, while the astringency of the spinach makes the spices in the lamb really pop. The greenbeans had also been touched by open flame, and though they looked rather boring, they tasted stupendous; charred, crispy, touched with olive oil and a bit of salt, the kind of thing that stuns you when you eat it because you weren’t expecting it to be so great. The jasmine rice studded with chickpeas was also perfectly cooked, with a great bite to it, and a real nuttiness from the chickpeas. It went great with the various items, but was enjoyable in its own right as well. A truly tremendous plate of food.
The Niroj Kebab also comes with a really nice side Salad* of fresh greens, juicy tomatoes, and cucumbers in an effervescent vinaigrette. It was great to just have some fresh veggies at the table, and the dressing was superb. You can tell there is a care for ingredient quality at this restaurant. there was also a thick, creamy, tangy cucmber yogurt sauce with the kebab, but I forgot to snap a pic of it somehow.
When I thought things couldn’t get much better, the Mele Gej (Dizzy Clergy) hit the table. This dish alone, quite a rarity as I understand it, is worth making the drive out for alone. What it lacks in Instagramability, it more than makes up for with some outrageous flavors. Eggplant, okra, red and green peppers, onions, parsley and unique spices baked together into a magical dish reminiscent of ratatouille, but with Middle Eastern flavors. I am unfortunately unable to put just how awesome this tastes into words. I have never had eggplant so supple, nor okra so delicate, yet there was a great bite to everything, it was not just mush. It is not a flavor bomb, and yet the flavor of the dish overwhelms you in a grand way. Utterly spectacular.
The Mele Gej comes with more Rice, which went well with it, but it was great on its own as well.
A fresh baked Pide bi Kurdish Sausage with that same dough from the Kurdish bread, filled with mozzarella and Kurdish sausage was like a spectacular hot pocket. The sausage was snappy, juicy, and perfectly spiced. Really addictive; we ate this incredibly fast.
Detail Shot of the Pide:
But the finale to this meal was the Kunefe. This dish features shredded filo dough, filled with Kurdish cheese, elderflower syrup, and topped with pistachios. This is an insane dessert, but it tastes unbelievably awesome. One of my favorite things that I have ever eaten. Sweet, yet savory; soft, but slightly crunchy dough with stringy, but not overly chewy cheese, and wonderful pistachios. A must order. Next time I will get the Kurdish tea service to go with it though.
Detail Shot of Kunefe:
Overall, this place is a touch pricey (about $50/person for this meal), but the food is highly unique and remarkably flavorful.
I would say this place is absolutely worth a special trip outside of the city.