Tel Aviv Grill has been a big hit in the San Fernando Valley’s thriving Israeli community, though their comfort food doesn’t just appeal to immigrants from cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The owners now have three locations that specialize in shawarma and kebabs, along with Tel Aviv Fish Grill in Tarzana. Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen is their latest venture, a partnership with Yonatan Klainman, a confident chef who frequently uses “mind blowing” and “sexy” to describe his cooking, but backs up the talk with bold flavors.
Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen replaced shawarma specialist TzaBar just beyond the entrance to Super Sal Market, a 20-year-old Kosher grocery store across the street from an epic Karate Kid mural. (The movie and the Netflix spin-off series Cobra Kai are both set in Encino.)
The owners reinvigorated the counter’s look and feel, adding colorful tile. Cafeteria-style stations now showcase vivid salads, sides, and tavshilim (Israeli stews). In back, Klainman and his team oversee a grill, deep fryer, and shawarma spits. They make the most of their small footprint.
Klainman is from Be’er Sheva in southern Israel. He started cooking at 14 years old at an Israeli falafel shop and has lived in L.A. for five years after spending eight years in Las Vegas. Klainman excels at Israeli cooking, but has range. He also oversees the food for Tulum-inspired La Mesa Lounge in Hollywood, where he feeds up to 1,000 people per night on weekends.
During my visit to Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen, Klainman’s tavshilim simmered in several stainless steel Cuisinart pans, including a stewed beef preparation they call “asado” and braised chicken leg quarters. Two types of kubbeh were especially notable. These Iraqi influenced semolina patties filled with ground beef, pine nuts, and parsley stewed with purple beets and yellow banana squash, which both imparted dazzling color and distinctive flavor. Tavshilim change daily and may also involve meatballs or stuffed peppers.
Plates ($19.95) come with a choice of Israeli couscous or white rice folded with raisins and sultanas. They also roast tomatoes, onions, skin-on potatoes, and cauliflower with string beans. Next, select options from the plentiful salad bar, including two cabbage preparations and Klainman’s signature “burnt salad” featuring smoky charred eggplant folded with plenty of garlic. Of course, simply deferring to the chef’s wisdom again will no doubt satisfy.
Sabich ($14.95 or $16.95 with two sides) is a hearty sandwich named for Baghdad-born chef Sabich Halabi, who ran a tiny restaurant in Ramat Gan, Israel, for decades. He became synonymous with his creation, which is often served in pita, but comes in soft, sesame-studded challah at Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen. Klainman asked how I preferred my sabich: “Do you want it your way or my way?” If there’s any chance you’ll second guess yourself, get it his way. He stacks fried, thin-shaved eggplant strips with a crispy deep-fried potato raft, punchy pickled cucumbers, parsley, nutty tahini blended with amba (spicy pickled mango sauce), and fried egg cooked over-easy, instead of classic hard boiled. Beyond that, the only variable is whether you want to include a spicy blistered Serrano chile. Either way, sabich is big enough to share.
I also ordered a Lebanese kebab plate ($17.99) featuring luscious, onion- and parsley-flecked beef patties folded with cumin, lamb fat, and one surprising ingredient, Perrier, which is supposed to make them fluffier. I ordered my kebabs atop rice with roasted vegetables.
After placing my order, Klainman said this kebab is “juicy, sexy, and amazing” in pita—“Are you sure you want it on a plate?” At his insistence, I also enjoyed a sandwich featuring the kebabs in pillowy pita costarring fried eggplant, diced tomato, pickle, the tahini/amba mixture, and Serrano chile. When he handed me the sandwich, Klainman asked, “Are you prepared mentally?” Apparently I was.
Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen offers one Friday special: a chicken schnitzel sandwich on seeded challah with fried eggplant, Serrano chile, tahini, and matbucha, a spicy, chunky tomato and red pepper sauce. They also prepare a family-style Shabbat Dinner ($43.99 per person) that combines chicken, beef, Moroccan fish and salads. Sabbath has never been sexier or more mind blowing.
Tel Aviv Authentic Chef Kitchen; 17630 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (747) 444-7001.
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