So, on the recommendation of a fellow ''hound'', and warily at that (seeing as to how even places like Casa Bianca and Lemongrass have their proponents on this board), my wife and I went to Phoenicia on Central (cross street is Lexington) in Glendale. At worst, we figured, we'd get an ordinary Armenian spread, seeing as to how a sucky LebanArmenian place in Glendale would go bankrupt. (Unlike such a place in Pasadena: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/382730 )
The meal and service was anything but ordinary. Phoenicia's hostess, the most skilled and elegant with whom I have ever crossed paths (the wonderful folks at Providence should take a field trip to see how it's REALLY done -- she could do a side business in hospitality training), welcomed my wife and I upon arrival, and the owner came over to light up the space heater (my wife selected a table outside). On a Monday evening at 9pm, it was predictably a bit less than crowded, but there were a handful of other tables still lingering over hookahs and cordials.
(As an added plus for business travelers, they are open until 11pm even on Mondays.)
I ordered a glass of Arak (since I primarily enjoy meza) and my wife, who is 5 months pregnant, ordered water. (The hostess congratulated us on our good fortune, which I thought was nice) We decided on the 'Arz' prix-fixe selection, thinking that we were plenty hungry (I'd eaten almost nothing and my wife was fresh off a flight from Washington, DC). We had no idea. We munched on the olives and pickled turnips for a few minutes while the kitchen plated our cold mezze.
Warak enab, kibbe nayeh, hommos, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh (the RIGHT way, dammit; more greens, less bulghur, and the bulghur that was in there was quite fine), falabel, kibbe (kufte? I can never keep those damned meat torpedoes straight), soujuk, two kinds of madammas, and probably a few more mezze that I am forgetting, all showed up competently executed. The falafel was not as ethereal as Sahara's, and the kibbeh was neither as spicy as Lebanese Kitchen's nor as robust as Sahara's. The soujuk was spicier and less lemony than Carousel's version, and we didn't get any basturma (then again, I don't think the Arz combo includes it, so, natch). Needless to say we were getting kind of full, and I was almost done sipping my Arak by this time...
Which is when the kebabs arrived. The beef and lula kebabs were fine; the chicken, I thought, was not as succulent as the same dish at Sahara (but then again, we probably go to Sahara twice a month and have met three generations of the staff since we started going there). But the sheer variety of competently executed dishes, along with new-to-me items like the exceptionally smooth kibbeh nayeh, made for a great dining experience.
As she slipped away from a table full of high-rollers who had arrived after we had, ordering a couple bottles of Blue Label and a hookah (we were in the minority dining outside without a hookah!), our hostess suggested that if we enjoyed the meal, we might enjoy the live entertainment on Friday or Saturday nights. My wife, who is much pickier than I regarding return trips to new restaurants, immediately suggested that my parents would enjoy this.
The professionalism and grace of the service at Phoenicia cannot be overstated, at least as we experienced it. The kebabs came out only after we had begun to slow down on the mezze, which I later realized was intentional -- the meat was not the centerpiece of the meal. Next time, however, I do want to try the lamb's tongues and perhaps the basturma.
(Side note: Yesterday, we finished eating the leftovers from Monday night; I had them for lunch.)
If you enjoy a good Lebanese spread of mezze, and are willing to pay a bit more for excellent service and a pleasant atmosphere, Phoenicia would be a great place for you to try. It's not going to be an everyday haunt for us -- Sahara already fills that bill for my wife and I, at about half the price of Phoenicia. But you get what you pay for at Phoenicia. We will be returning.
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