APOLOGIES FOR THE PHOTO–ONLY HAD MY PHONE ON ME
Itzik Hagadol’s Israeli experience, as authentically chaotic as it may be, is at least partially lost in translation. The restaurant’s Encino outpost is Hagadol’s first in the US, the initial foreign offering from a chain that’s something like the Tel Avivian equivalent to Beirut’s Zankou Chicken. But if Zankou has earned a reputation of simplicity, Hagadol is working towards one of confusion, with uncertainty arising from both the quasi-take-out counter (complete with illuminated menus) that’s actually a server station and the menu that offers what seems like a dozen permutations of the same foundational combo.
That basic building block is Itzik Hagadol’s never-ending salads, which arrive in such volumes that the restaurant shames even the most serious spread of banchan. Contained in the basic order are plates of falafel, fried eggplant, roasted pepper paste, cole slaw, cubed beets, hard-boiled eggs, Moroccan-spiced carrots, pickles, baba ghanoush and more. Also strangely available is guacamole and big bowl of what essentially equals pico de gallo. Paired with the salads is a pizza-sized piece of airy, sesame-studded pita.
The restaurant’s Middle Eastern feast is perhaps a bit too pricey (the unlimited salads alone are $18), but most of the plates are good–especially the red pepper paste, fried eggplant and the pita itself. Plus, if you head in hungry, you’ll get your money’s worth–every time you scrape clean a plate, a fresh order somehow finds its way to your table as if it were served from some infinite kitchen.
Itzik Hagadol isn’t just a vegetarian haven, either: there are grilled turkey testicles, sweetbreads, heart and all sorts of other offal. Wash all that down with black beer–a non-alcoholic malt brew that has the same molasses-like flavors as Caribbean maltas–for a final taste of Israel.
Itzik Hagadol, 17201 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 784-4080. Food for two, $35-75. Beer, wine.