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Delicious Spree LA to Z: Gaby's Mediterranean

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LAist is going on a delicious spree around LA from A to Z. This week is brought to you by the letter G. We learn that Lebanese is indeed Mediterranean at Gaby's Mediterrenean on the Westside.

Back when Trivial Pursuit was first created, blue was Geography. But then U.S. gamemasters took Trivial Pursuit over from the Canadians, and must have realized that Americans just don’t know enough about world geography if we’re educated through the U.S. public school system. In the newer versions, blue is now People and Places, because, well, does anyone really know in which body of water is Christmas Island? What about which two countries the Himalayas serve as a border? And did we all know that Lebanon touches the Mediterranean?

No, we all don’t know that Lebanon is Mediterranean, at least some of us at LAist didn't. Which is why we were wholly enlightened when we went to Gaby’s Mediterranean on Venice Boulevard in Culver City and ate Lebanese. No wonder we could never sweep the board in Trivial Pursuit.

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Gaby's doesn't look like much from the outside. In fact, if you aren't specifically looking for it, you would never notice the white sign that blends into the landscape along Venice Boulevard. The restaurant is mostly a covered patio that, if not for the white trellises and greenery around the perimeter would be quite chaotic with the occasional homeless man pushing a noisy shopping cart along the sidewalk and traffic speeding up Venice Boulevard not three feet away. There's a tiny building that houses the kitchen and a few "inside" tables, but we doubt anyone sits there except servers taking a momentary load off.

At lunch time, Gaby's is busy with a broad range of clientele. A large group of business casuals that must have been out celebrating a co-worker's birthday or perhaps having their weekly lunch outing sits alongside the side wall at a long, wobbly, uneven table made by pushing four-tops together. A table of Harley-Davidson types, another table of cubicle-mates, a mismatched couple that looks suspiciously like a top-secret lunch romance rendezvous, and a few other random, non-descript customers. One of the servers invited us to take a table anywhere.

We were looking through the menu, and somewhere during our discussion of sharing an appetizer and trying one of the lunch specials, a server brought over a small, paper-lined basket of pita bread. Alongside it, a plate that seemed somewhat shallow for what it was practically spilling over its edges onto the glass-protected table-top - deep green olive oil with fresh chopped onions and tomatoes, herbs, and a tiny seed that I couldn't recognize. The pita bread was thinner than we'm used to, but we liked it better, especially served warm and dredged in the herb-infused olive oil mix - zaatar. We ate the wedges of pita bread like they were tortilla chips, by the handful. Naughty!

After much deliberation, we decided to share the Mediterranean Feast for two because it had a little bit of everything, a lot of which sounded familiar, but different. When the order came to the table, we were a little *whoa*ed with the amount of food.

Tabbouli is on one separate plate, a pile of parsley, glistening green with olive oil and vinegar and bejeweled with tomatoes and onions. Parsley, and in fact, that whole family of related herbs, has never been high on our list of flavor favorites, but without taking into account our own preference, the tabbouleh was done well. Hummus is on another separate plate, an enormous, creamy pillow of golden velvet with tiny pockets of olive oil, parsley and parpika. A few remnant pieces of pita bread had been spared from my earlier attack, but we didn't bother. We sunk a spoon into the hummus and took a bite. Tangy hints of lemon, fragrant garlic, creamy smooth; it was delicious. Even better is the baba ghannouj, a roasted eggplant puree that we didn't recognize as such at first. It was a totally smooth, light ivory color and when we've made it at home, it's always been chunky and darker beige.

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Damn, those pita, damn them to heck, for by the time the Mediterranean Fest for two came to the table we were almost full. The individual items were all good to varying degrees, except the stuffed grape leaves, which we know as "dolmades," but we believe they were spelled slightly differently on the menu. Whatever they are called, Gaby's stuffed grape leaves by any other name still tasted as nasty. (What's the Lebanese word for "nasty?" Wait, do people from Lebanon speak Lebanese or are we just *sigh* stupid yet again?!?) The leaves were tougher and more fibrous than we've ever had before, and the rice filling inside was so tart that it made our entire face pucker and crinkle long before we could register any flavor.

The filling inside the fatayer, a triangular shaped pastry filled with spinach, was also a little too tart for our taste, but perhaps that is only relative to what we were expecting - something saltier, creamier, cheesier like a Greek spanakopita. The spinach pastry too, we didn't finish.

Another appetizer made with the same pastry as the spinach was shaped like a pinwheel and filled with ground meat - sfeeha. Everything at Gaby's has some sort of obvious lemony tang, but if this one did, we didn't detect it under all the herbs and spices that reminded me a bit of the flavor of the shaved meat that makes up gyros. Not spicy heat, but just spicy. The pastry is a little dough-y for the lighter, uber-lemony spinach filling, but seemed to match the meat.

What we thought were a lot of falafel were actually two totally different things. One was, indeed falafel. The other ball was darker in color and had a smoother surface. Splitting this one open with a fork revealed a dark, steamy meatball interior made with ground beef and pine nuts. It was spiced similar to the meat filling in the pastry, but darker. Can something taste dark? We guess it can, because kibbeh, this deep-fried meatball, tasted darker and more evil than the sfeeha.

Of course, falafel is something with which we am very familiar. We don't get cravings, we don't have to go out of our way to eat it, but when it's available, we enjoy it. We must have gotten used to the taste of the cold, rather dry, dense, crumbly and somewhat bland falafel sold in the food bar at Whole Foods - are they not deep-fried? Gaby's falafel are definitely deep-fried, holding together with a thick, crunchy exterior that cracks with a fork. The inside is soft, fluffy, and flavorful without tasting too much like a weed garden.

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Throughout the meal, service was a bit slow. There's no lack of waitresses, but it seems that rather than anticipating a diner's need, they wait to be asked. When you do ask, they either forget or...they forget. They need to be reminded at least once, probably twice, and if it's actually busy, then maybe three times. But it's okay (for now, that is). The servers are pretty. Not everyone can be smart and *flips hair* beautiful like us. LOL!

We got a good first taste of Lebanese food with Gaby's, and a nice little lesson in what "Mediterranean" encompasses. It's a lot more than our little LA-centirc-geography of a brain knew before. Too bad they didn't teach geography with food in elementary school. We'd be Rand f**king McNally.

Gaby's Mediterranean
10445 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90034
310.559.1801
www.gabysmediterranean.com