Location: 17933 Ventura Blvd. Encino, CA 91316. 818-514-6201
Date: September 22, 2018
Rating: Really delicious and authentic flavors
One of my first couple Hedonist dinners was an epic Armenian / Syrian dinner at Esso and while I’ve gone a couple of times myself, I was very excited for the group’s big return (my third time with the Hedonists). Esso Mediterranean Bistro is a hole in the wall in an Encino mini-mall right next door to my Kosher butcher. It serves up first rate Syrian fare and a selection of unusual dishes. The owners hail from the beleaguered city of Aleppo — an ancient settlement with a longstanding great culinary tradition based around its location near the birthplace of Western Civilization.
From my cellar: NV Taittinger Champagne Nocturne Rosé Sec. VM 89. Dark orange-pink. Pungent red berry and cherry pit aromas are enlivened by suggestions of white pepper and ginger. Surprisingly taut and linear given its level of residual sugar, offering juicy raspberry and tangerine flavors that pick up a toasty nuance on the back half. Finishes with repeating spiciness as well as a hint of bitterness, leaving a sweet berry note behind.
On the left, Moutebbel (Baba Ghannouj). Roasted eggplant mixed with sesame sauce, garlic, and lemon juice. Topped with extra virgin olive oil. A very fine example, with pleasant smokey flavors.
On the right, Spicy pickles.
Hummos. Chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and spices. Topped with extra virgin olive oil and parsley. This was some great hummos, and very fresh. But I still like Sunnin’s a little better because of the lemony garlic tang.
Stuffed Grape Leaves. Grape leaves stuffed with calrose rice, walnuts, onions, and spices. I love these in general, and these specifically were particularly delicious.
Pita bread, of course.
Sliced liver pate. With pistachios. Not totally sure it was liver, but it seemed like it. Good stuff.
In the center, Mohammera. A spicy mix of walnuts, bread crumbs, paprika, pepper paste, and pomegranate juice. I love mohammera, and have even made it. This particular one was quite spicy with a really nice zing. It made an amazing pairing with the Donnhoff Riesling above (and none of the other wines, haha).
Lebni. Condensed yogurt with walnuts, garlic, and jalapeño topped with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Love this!
A different eggplant dish with peppers.
Ras Naanah. sautéed meat with lemon, mint, garlic. This stuff was amazing, one of my favorite dishes (and I loved most of them). This is essentially like spiced hamburger and it has a bit of sumac juice on it which really livened it up. French fries sop up the grease.
Tabouleh. Parsley, tomatoes, onions, bulghur (cracked wheat), mint, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. From the parsley oriented school of Tabouleh.
Crispy cheese “spring rolls.” Like a cigar shaped version of the triangular shaped versions of these. Really great, though, nice soft cheese contrasting with the crispy dough.
Kebbe Nayye. Fine minced raw beef, cracked wheat, onions, parsley and spices. Topped with extra virgin olive oil. A very unusual dish. This is a kind of steak tartar. Soft and slimy in texture, it was very mild in flavor.
Kibbeh pie. A sort of pie shaped pastry of spiced meat and bulgur wheat. Similar ingredients to the kibbeh balls, but with a higher wheat ratio.
Stuffed peppers. Filled with rice and meat.
Eggplant stuffed with tomato. Very pretty. I’m not a tomato fan, so I preferred the later meat versions.
From my cellar: 2001 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. VM 92+. Bright ruby-red. Liqueur-like raspberry, licorice and a medicinal quality on the nose. Then quite backward in the mouth, with very primary dark berry and black cherry flavors hinting at great ripeness. Quite primary today and less animal than usual for a young Beaucastel. Elegant, slow-building finish features fine-grained tannins and excellent grip.
Falafel with tahini.
Grilled pigeon. Tasty, but a bit “charred.”
Out come the frog legs on a giant tray!
Frog legs Aleppo style. Yum. If you can ignore the amphibian factor (ribbit!) Kermit tasted great. Like a fish chicken blend, incredibly juicy, and with lots of garlic.
Chicken kabob with rice.
Whey yogurt with honey and pistachios and bananas. Incredible blend of creamy dairy, sweetness, and nutty crunch. Probably a several thousand year-old dessert, but incredible. Except the bananas. Hate ’em.
Chocolate Marshmallow Oreo Gelato – Valrhona Satilla chocolate gelato base with house-made white chocolate marshmallow fudge, oreos, and (inside) layers of oreo butter! — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #chocolate #oreo #fudge #whitechocolate #marshmallow #cookie
Key Lime Pie Gelato – base is a key lime egg custard, layered with house-made frozen graham cracker butter and drizzled with house-made vanilla marshmallow fluff– made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #KeyLime #lime #custard #marshmallow #GrahamCracker #CookieButter #cookie
There were tons of wins here that I didn’t photo, probably 20 others. I was just too lazy to run around and take the pictures.
Overall, a great evening. A totally epic combination of food, wine, and people. We had so much food that everyone basically ran out of steam after the warm appetizers and only ended up with about 2 entrees! Really, there was too much of each dish but it was just a ridiculous amount of food — and almost all so tasty! I would have liked more different dishes.