Monthly Archives: January 2011

Leftovers: Chili Chutney

Afghan cuisine arrives in Orange County. For the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MARK BOSTER / L.A. TIMES

There’s chutney everywhere: streaked across piles of rice, dabbed on crisp flatbreads, blotted up by grilled kebabs. Jars of the stuff — gleaming containers of pure verdant green and sticky maraschino red — are on display. At Chili Chutney, a months-old Afghan restaurant in Lake Forest, the condiment is elevated to a cornerstone.

Owner Shalah Wadood’s cilantro and jalapeño chutney stings with herbal heat, its texture like that of a pesto pounded just to the point of cohesion. But it’s the bell pepper chutney that inspires addiction. The alluring balance of capsaicin-spiked sweetness wouldn’t be out of place on a carefully composed cheese plate. Both are already being sold at the restaurant, but soon, Wadood says, they’ll be stocked on the shelves of local Middle Eastern markets.

The restaurant operates under Wadood’s ambassadorial vision, one that helped introduce Orange County to Afghan cuisine at her family’s shuttered Stanton restaurant, Arya. Chili Chutney is a scaling back in scope — the six-table space doesn’t approach gilded opulence — but its ambitions are grand nonetheless.

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Leftovers: Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress

Manakeesh‘s Orange County moment for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

There’s a moment in a cuisine’s acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.

Like banh mi before them, manakeesh have here become the accepted ambassadors of an entire region, pizza-like flatbreads thin as gauzy sheets of vellum. At Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress, restaurants already in the purview of the county’s most seasoned eaters, they’re an herb-rubbed and meat-smeared gateway to the eastern Mediterranean.

Anaheim’s Zait & Za’atar is a big step toward manakeesh modernity. The city’s Little Arabia is already crowded with similarly specialized Lebanese bakeries, but Zait & Za’atar may be the most accessible. It’s a case of aesthetics — brick-red walls and a counter set in stone — but, more important, one of clarity, as the restaurant plainly details every dish.

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