Thursday, December 20, 2012

Have You Ever Seen Eden Eats…

on the Cooking Channel?

“Eden Grinshpan is a world traveler and culinary adventurer on a mission to eat around the world without using a passport. In each episode, Eden travels to a new American city taking only 24 hours to uncover the global culinary scene. She discovers authentic recipes and incredible stories from the locals who make up the backbone of every city and come together to create some of the most delicious food in the world” ( The market and cafes visited are owned by recent immigrants to the United States who bring with them their culinary traditions. But we’ll leave Eden for now and revisit her later.

Lunch one day found us at Alforon, a Lebanese restaurant located in the San Diego State University neighborhood. “…Rarely is it thought of as a food destination, other than late-night taco shops. But this part of the city is working hard to revitalize its restaurant scene, and if you know where to look, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to take your tummy for a ride.
"The word that comes to mind when I think about the Lebanese food served at Alforon is ‘warmth.’ …I’m referring to the warmth of exotic spices like sumac and wild thyme. Warmth comes from flavors you can almost pinpoint as something familiar and evocative…yet aren’t quite what you’re used to, and, most importantly, the warmth you’ll feel upon being welcomed into the small environs here” (Jenny Montgomery at

The menu was full of dishes with which we were totally unfamiliar. Dishes like Lahm Bajeen/lahmajune, Kaack “el Asrouniyeh” and
Kaack Kenefeh, Ma’anek/Soujouk, Kafta Bajeen, and Eggs in Clay pans “Foukhkhar.” But what Alforon is best known for are their flat breads which can be ordered with a variety of toppings. “As the visibly hot, gigantic oven attests, Alforon’s specialty is oven-baked flat bread. The bread is light and thin, with crispy bubbles on the outside rim. I don’t know how bread so delicate and tender can hold the various and substantive treats they pile on its surface, but it all works” (Jenny Montgomery at

And while the restaurant is small, the pile of wicker trays on which the flat breads are served is only one indication of the café’s popularity.
The other was the number of people filling this small space. While Alforon was almost empty when we arrived shortly after 1:00 p.m.,
it was soon filled to capacity with every seat filled, diners standing and waiting for empty tables, and those ordering take-out. It became so full that the server had to hold the flat bread trays over head while trying to fight (metaphorically speaking) her way through the crowd.

We decided to start with something familiar—balilah. We first tried this at Pita Vera in Blacksburg, VA, and it consisted of warm chickpeas in their cooking liquid with lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped tomatoes and onions. Alforon’s was served at an even warmer temperature and didn’t contain any of the chopped vegetables.
Still, it was delicious and may have been Chuck’s favorite dish of the entire meal. And with the bowl of balilah came a basket of soft and thin pitas.
Next came an order of the zaatar flatbread—a dish I discovered in New Orleans (of all places) and have tried whenever I see it on a menu. Zaater “(pronounced ‘zah-tar’) is a Middle Eastern spice mix of thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seed, and sometimes wild oregano. Arabic for the word ‘thyme,’ after the seasoning's predominant ingredient, zaatar has been used in Arabic countries since medieval times. Olive oil is often added to make a spreadable paste, which is then served with everything from flatbreads to eggs to vegetables” (
I am never sure whether the taste reminds me of pizza or pine needles, but I really like it. I suspect Chuck less so.

And here is where we return to Eden Eats. I am sure that it was on an episode where Eden Grinshpan visits a Middle Eastern market in Phoenix that I learned that children in the Middle East are often served zaatar spread on a pita for breakfast, and it is thought that this helps them study better. seems to confirm this when it states that “Children are often given za'atar sandwiches before a test because it is thought to awaken the mind.” So, knowing that we were never going to finish all of the food we ordered, I took the remaining zaatar flat bread home for breakfast the next day. Did it “awaken the mind?”…I can’t remember.

And now we venture into the unknown with the first of our topped flat breads—the Chicken Tawook. (Since tawook is a variant on the Turkish word tavuk, meaning chicken, this dish’s name is a redundancy.) When “googling” tawook, all the references were to a shish tawook or marinated chicken cooked on a skewer. Here, the cooked chicken was chopped and placed on a flat bread that had already been spread with a garlic paste (or toum). And on top of the chicken were sprinkled a few Middle Eastern pickles.
This was good, but really didn’t knock my socks off.

Finally came the dish that we found the least effective—the beef shawarma flat bread. “Shawarma (Arabic: شاورما‎) is a Levantine Arab meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit in restaurants), and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat” (
While I have only a limited acquaintance with shawarma, I know it to have a somewhat crusty exterior from the time on the spit. Here, the meat had a soft—bordering on mushy—texture that I found unappetizing. And there was the definite taste of some spice that I don’t usually associate with beef. I know that clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice can play a roll in Middle Eastern food and one or more of these may have been what I tasted.

Lunch was, to use a cliché, a mixed bag. Perhaps Alforon was too authentic for us. But I can’t award more than 3.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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