Ever since I heard that the fairly new Mandaloun in Glendale was up to the level of the defunct Al Amir, which used to be in my Wilshire office building, I had been wanting to try it. Not only do they have the housemade puffy pita bread that Al Amir did so well, they offer flavored hookahs after dinner.
The scene: On Sunday nights, there is no live entertainment, but there was a very loud Lebanese wedding in the main room. We sat on the patio, but the Lebanese hip hop still came through loud and clear. Either way, it's not a spot for intimate conversations, but a place for festive celebrations. The covered patio has heaters and is clearly a better choice than inside, which has a slight banquet room feel.
The food: Although there were six of us, we ordered lightly. We weren't even able to get to the tartares, the seafood dishes, or the offal, which Kathy thought was an offal shame. If there's a part of a lamb they don't serve, I'd be surprised...brains, kidneys, and yes, "fries." We ordered mostly the meze appetizer plates, which were uniformly good and richer than at most middle Eastern restaurants. Hummus was available topped with a warm, savory ground beef and pine nut mixture; fluffy kelly green tabbouli was perfectly seasoned and nutty; dandelion greens with fried onions offered a pleasantly bitter/sweet combo; foul beans had a nicely sour dressing; and the muhammara (red pepper paste) was thicker and more flavorful than usual. We only sampled two main dishes -- the chicken kebabs were moist and perfectly cooked, but the beef shwarma was dry and largely flavorless. The slightly spicy Armenian lahmajune pizza also makes a good shared appetizer.
The menu is huge, so we'll go back sometime to delve further into the cheeses, brains, etc.
After dinner, we ordered an apple hookah instead of dessert. The tobacco, which is smoked through a real apple, was sweet and smooth -- I'm not a smoker, but it was still a fun, non-caloric end to the dinner.
The people: Large Lebanese families, for the most part
The tab: We paid about $22 each in a party of six people, with a Lebanese beer each. With wine, dessert, and more main courses, it would be easy to pay much more.
The verdict: This is a place to linger over multiple courses, not to eat and run. If price is a big consideration, Glendale offers plenty of more economical middle eastern places. But the food is top drawer and the hookahs add to the party atmosphere.
141 S. Maryland Ave.