Sunday, June 08, 2008

House of Kabob - Lake Forest

To unearth the biggest diamonds you have to dig deep. To swim in the most secluded beaches you have to get on a plane. And to find one of the best Persian restaurants in Orange County, you have to drive to Lake Forest. That's right. Lake Forest -- the bedroom community that's just a blip in the radar of most OC dwellers, existing only as a set of exits on the 5 South that signal you've missed the Irvine Spectrum off-ramp and it's time to turn around.

But for me, Lake Forest is home to a few great eateries. There's Nory's for excellent Peruvian. Boneheads for piri-piri chicken. And now House of Kabob, the little Persian place that could.

You'll find it several clicks away from the freeway (unless you're coming from the 241). But when you make the journey, as I did, you have to persevere: Keep going, even if you think there couldn't be anything but expensive houses down yonder.

When you do finally arrive at House of Kabob, it will be in a strip mall, albeit an abnormally posh one.

Then you walk inside. It will strike you as the kind of joint you wish you had in your own hood. It's cramped but comfy, and as nicely appointed as a Starbucks.

At dusk, they bring out the votive candles, setting it on each table next to a vase of fake, plastic flowers and a shaker of sumac. There's a flat screen monitor that only the servers watch when they're not bringing out huge plates of food. In the corner, there's a shelf with books that no one reads.

The menu is the only reading material you need.

The list of appetizers are full of hummus, and flavored yogurts called maust mooiser and maust khiar. All are meant to be scooped with squares of pita bread, served in a wicker basket and refilled until all bowls are wiped clean.

Their kashk o bademjon ($4.99) is also a dip, designed to be eaten with plenty of pita. It's essentially mashed eggplant that resembles Mexican refried beans. But, of course, the stuff tastes nothing like it.

On top of the velvety paste, there's a generous drizzle of kashk (a yogurty liquid that will remind you of sour cream), pulverized dried mint and crispy fried onions. The later amps the savory-flavor quotient past boring old baba ghanoush.

For the main course, you can't go wrong with the kabobs (duh!). But why not a sampler served with the fluffiest rice you'll ever chew? That's exactly what the sasani ($16.99) is -- a combo plate of two petite lamb chops, shish kabob, and koobideh. All are fire-licked and charred to a Zen-like balance of burnt carbon flavor and quivering red meat.

The lamb chops bode the best from this treatment. Its black charry bits of crust convey notes of smoke that tames the gamy tenderness of the beast. You won't want to stop gnawing until every scrap of marinated flesh is cleaned off the bone.

But that's not to say the others aren't worth praise. Their kabobs are so soft it can be eaten with dentures or heck, even by determined gumming. It is filet mignon after all, flanked by a tomato, roasted to a jet-black shine and onions that are just wilted.

The most surprising of all the barbecued meats is the koobideh, especially if all you've known is the koobideh at Wholesome Choice, which will taste like carpet after you've had it here. By comparison, House of Kabob's koobideh is a moist, melt-in-your-mouth tube of ground beef transcendence.

For the sweet-tooth, there's bastani ($2.99), a house-made ice cream that functions simultaneously as dessert and breath freshener since it's intensely perfumed with rose water. It may be icy, a little coarse, but hey, I did say it was home-made. Home-made, right here, in Lake Forest.

House of Kabob
(949) 460-0800
20651 Lake Forest Dr # 101
Lake Forest, CA 92630

*Special Thanks to reader Cameron Young for this tip.
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
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29 Comments:

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Bee Yinn said...

Hey, thanks for your comment. If you think Singaporean food is great, then you should head straight to Malaysia next. There is no comparison, especially hawker food/street food, even Chubbyhubby said so. ;)

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Bee Yinn said...

By the way, why aren't you on Foodbuzz yet? They are paying real money and I have been with them for 6 months now. Email me and I can refer you.

 
At 3:27 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Hey Bee!

Malaysia for sure...that is after I pay off this trip! HA! But you said the magic words: Hawker/Street Food. As far as I'm concerned, whether it is Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean, Thai or Vietnamese, if it comes from a street vendor, it's extra good!

As far as Foodbuzz, I considered joining a while ago, but then OC Weekly took me in and I've been under their kind sponsorship! And if I'm nothing else, I'm faithful.

Thanks for the offer though.

 
At 4:09 PM, Anonymous bobblebot said...

i ruv ur penchant for strip malls. they have a tendency to serve the best food for the best prices.

blip. bloop. blopp.

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger christoofat said...

We just discovered the Cafe Matinee this past weekend in El Toro, so will have to roll up a few blocks to give this'n a try too. So glad to have some quality Persian/Lebanese places like these locally.

 
At 6:33 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Still think the best Persian kabobs are from Wholesome Foods which you reviewed. Better than all the restaurants in OC. Ambiance is not the same, but they do such a good job there!

Since you are taking reader reccomendations, I think its time for some non Asian places. you should visit Mi Casa in Costa Mesa for Amercanized Mexican Food. You better like cheese. Chips and Salsa are awesome, Margaritas, and the best things are the hard tacos that are fried fresh! Its and OC institution and has been there for years!!! However you have to have the mindset of tasty americanized mexican food. Their fish tacos are actually really good too.

Also Steer Inn in Orange. Bacon Wrapped Filets are the best thing there! Come with soup or salad, potato for 14 bucks I think. Also the batter they use is so good. So, fish & Chips, fried chicken, fried clams, and their onion rings are awesome.

 
At 11:06 PM, Blogger Mr.galle said...

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I already link to this page.
If you don't mind. Please link to my blog this URL
http://foodsandfoods.blogspot.com/

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger Julian Hsu said...

Okay, I've not had Wholesome Choice, but I have had Darya in Orange. How does the koobideh compare there? I like that one.. And I don't mind the weekend evening belly dancers either. :P

 
At 2:14 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Julian,

The Koobideh is just as good if not better at Wholesome choice. And I love the crispy rice at Wholesome choice and I LOVE the CHEAP price. But you can not compare the 2 establishments. One is take out food. One has hot hot hot size 0 to size 2 belly dancers with DD's gyrating by you. I don't think House of Kabob has Belly Dancers, so for that reason I would just go to Wholesome choice instead of House of Kabob. Darya in Orange is kind of a whole experience kinda thing. God those belly dancers are hot. I would love to eat zubia off their bellies.

BTW, I went to MaMa Kabob in Tustin next to teh Mimi's on 17th. I'll save you all the trouble. Horrible. The rice was like minute rice and the chicken kabob was so dry. Portions small too. Bleck. And no belly dancers.

 
At 2:28 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

bobblebot,

You got that right! Beep! I just wish I had more time to explore more strip mall eateries. Blop!

christoofat,

Cafe Matinee eh? Haven't heard of that one. What's it like?

Diamond Dog,

My buddy has been raving about Mi Casa for years. I know exactly where it is too...right in front of Cafe Blanc. But if what I am afraid of (Americanized Mexican) is what I should be embracing (like you said), then maybe I should try it.

I haven't tried the kabobs at Wholesome Choice, so they may be as good as House of Kabobs...but there's no way Wholesome Choice's koobideh are better than these.

That was what I was comparing. Not the kabobs, but the koobideh.

Seriously, you've got to try them.

It's so soft, moist, well-seasoned, almost like a meatloaf but not.

Mr. Galle,

Glad you liked my site, but since I can't read Japanese, I can't read yours!

Julian and Diamond Dog,

Well, House of Kabob can't compete when you add belly dancers in the equation, and I haven't tried Darya.

But H.O.K.'s koobideh is WAAAAY better than Wholesome Choice. There's no contest. It's the difference between night and day, Tito and Michael Jackson.

Wholesome Choice's koobideh (which I previously liked) is dry, mealy, compared to H.O.K's moist, flavor-packed soft, butteriness!

The price is pretty comparable too (if not exactly the same by now).

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

elmo,

when you go to Mi Casa, make sure you get the tacos or fish tacos. They are spectacular. You will forget all about the whole "americanized thing" because they just are so damn tasty. Even if they are americanized. Everything else is just OK and you don't think "spectacular", rather you think "americanized". But the tacos are worth that place being awesome in and of themselves. Chips and salsa are awesome.

What about Steer Inn in Orange and the bacon wrapped fillets? Are you gunna try? We need more non Asian and non Mexican reviews!

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Nothing cooked on sticks can ever be bad. Ever.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger melissa said...

I actually eat in Lake Forest a LOT. I work right next door, at Bake and Trabuco and this area of Irvine has shit for good food, so I've made Lake Forest my hunting ground.

I pass Nory's every week when I go to Pho Bo Vang. I keep wanting to try it and I know I really should. Well reviewed by you and very well reviewed on Yelp.

I also know where this place must be. I'll put it on my places to visit next week. Really! Thanks for another great point in the right direction. :)

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger shannon said...

yummy! i'm going there.
have you tried honda-ya's kabobs?

 
At 8:13 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Elmomonster:

Cafe Matinee is a Lebanese place that's been there for 7 years. Who knew? Certainly not me! It is in the same shopping center as El Toro Meats, on El Toro about a block down from Muirlands, in yet another strip mall setting. Menu is pretty simple, appetizers on the left, various grilled meat kabobs on the right.
Have only been there once, but really enjoyed it & am planning to return this weekend & do up a "mezza-style" feats of just the appetizers.

Also Gustavo wrote it up a few weeks ago in OCW..

http://www.ocweekly.com/food/this-hole-in-the-wall-life/this-hole-in-the-wall-life-a-rose-by-any-other-drink-at-cafe-matinee/28845/

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

sorry about the brokey linky. It's dates May 29th in the Hole in the Wall section

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Diamond,

Steer Inn is in my sights! Actually I did a search on it and apparently others agree with you! But I hear ya bro, more non-Mex, non-Asian choices. I got just the place lined up. What is it? Well, you'll just have to wait won't you?! ;-)

Chubbypanda,

That was a universal axiom if I ever heard one!

Melissa,

Hey, if you have any suggestions for me for Lake Forest (or even Mission Viejo) please don't hesitate. I think you'll like this one though...really!

Shannon,

Oh yeah! Honda Ya! One of my favorites of all time. And the kushiyaki is, of course, a must!

Christoofat,

Of course! I should've read Gustavo's column. It's right next to mine for gosh sakes! But then, I have a good excuse for missing this one: I was in Indonesia at the time.

 
At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Mikester said...

Elmomonster, you rock !

Thanks for doing this review, you've made me realize how long it's been since I've had Persian food, and especially kashk o bademjahn, which I used to have at Darya --so good ! My wife and I will have to visit House of Kabob !

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger melissa said...

E - Well, I mentioned Pho Bo Vang. I'm a regular there now and I adore them. Their pho is great, as is their fried rice, spring rolls, bo luc lac and bun.

I also like Tasty Thai. They're right next door to the Philly's Best (love them once in a while) that faces Lake Forest Drive right after Aspan, close to the freeway.

I've also heard decent things about Formosa (Chinese place) inside the Best Western next to the Shell at the corner of Lake Forest and Rockfield. Looking forward to trying that one too.

If I think of others, I'll let you know. ;)

 
At 5:15 PM, Anonymous IE said...

I never seen or heard of that type of dessert before??

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger colleeeen said...

Melissa is bang-on! We live and work in LF and our orbit is very small, so we tend to stay close to home even when we eat out. i second the recommendation of Pho Bo vang - the fried garlic in their bung is heavenly. and Tasty Thai is the only thai we will go to around here, although i miss some of the dishes they had under the old management.

Formosa (yes, in the Best Western) is quite good. i have eaten there twice and been very pleased both times. i believe Gustavo also reviewed it at some point.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

Awesome! Pho Bo Vang, check! The others sound awesome too. I've been wanting to try Formosa, but that wily Gustavo beat me to it.

ie,

Me neither, but I bet it's like Mashti Malone's ice cream, except homemade.

Colleeeen,

Well that does it. I'm going to Pho Bo Vang this week. Except I probably won't post until I get a few non-Asian stuff in here first. And yes, Gustavo beat me to Formosa! Damn him! ;-)

NPS,

Awesome. You tried it and liked it. So we are in agreement, Wholesome Choice's koobideh is as dry as chalk. Though I've actually had them right off the grill and they were still not very moist.

 
At 8:27 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mikester,

I guarantee you will like this place. I came in with heightened expectations and I still walked away pleased.

Melissa,

Awesome! Pho Bo Vang, check! The others sound awesome too. I've been wanting to try Formosa, but that wily Gustavo beat me to it.

ie,

Me neither, but I bet it's like Mashti Malone's ice cream, except homemade.

Colleeeen,

Well that does it. I'm going to Pho Bo Vang this week. Except I probably won't post until I get a few non-Asian stuff in here first. And yes, Gustavo beat me to Formosa! Damn him! ;-)

NPS,

Awesome! You tried it and liked it! But we are in agreement; Wholesome Choice's koobideh is as dry as chalk. Though I've actually had them right off the grill and they were still not very moist.

 
At 6:27 PM, Blogger Desert Squirrel said...

so it just so happens that this place is my two best friends favorite dinner place, and the koubideh (sp?) is the only thing they order off the menu... as we rolled up I almost screamed because I remembered your post! haha. you never fail me elmomonster, never.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

DS,

Small world ain't it? But when a place is as good as this, word will spread!

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I went to mama kabob At midnight,it is a beautifull restaurant w/ nice patio & the most important was the great yami chicken shish kabob that i had never tasted anywhere yet, you can try it if you like.

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Alex,

Where is Mama Kabob?

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger Alex said...

mama kabob
13391 CARROLL WAY SUIT A1
TUSTIN, CA 92780
you can find it by yahoo map
easy to find in the cross of freeway 55 & 17th str, next to mimis cafe

 
At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is right down the street from my office. The koobideh is ridiculously good. Melt in your mouth good. It is outstanding. Seriously. Its really good.

 

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