East of Fairfax in Los Angeles is a new full-service casual Lebanese restaurant, Open Sesame. The name comes from the magical phrase in one of the stories from One Thousand and One Nights. In the story “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” when Open Sesame is announced, the mouth of a cave opens in which forty thieves have hidden treasures. At Open Sesame, the restaurant is filled with wonderful culinary treasures. You will find garlicky fried potatoes, baba ganoush, and exquisite falafel patties made of chickpeas and fava beans, garlic, onions, herbs and exotic spices.
The founder of Open Sesame, Ali Kobeissi opened his first restaurant in Long Beach 14 years ago. It started small, then got so popular that he expanded to accommodate the demand. People from Los Angeles would drive down to Long Beach to enjoy his lamb chops, chicken tawook and beef kabobs, so he opened another Open Sesame in Los Angeles.
Looking over the menu, I learned that everything that comes out of the kitchen is prepared from scratch using fresh ingredients, and many of the recipes have been in Kobeissi’s family for generations.
It’s a colorful restaurant with a full bar, indoor and outdoor seating. The interior offers Mediterranean light fixtures, tile flooring and skylights in the middle of the dining room making it light and bright.
The general manager, Alex, approached our table to recommend a few appetizers. We ordered the signature fried potatoes sautéed with cilantro, garlic, roasted chili and a generous amount of lemon juice. When they arrived we dipped them in the garlic sauce to jazz them up even more.
Another appetizer worth ordering is the grilled halloumi cheese with slices of watermelon. The white cheese and bright red watermelon were presented like fallen dominos, slightly stacked on top of each other. I had never tasted halloumi cheese – a mixture of cow, sheep and goat cheese. It has a higher melting point than other cheese and is easy to fry giving it a slightly golden and springing texture.
Open Sesame offers three different salads that are dressed in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, dry mint and sumac. Sumac is a reddish-purple powder used as a spice to add a lemony taste to salads or meat. It enhances the tabouleh with chopped parsley, bulgar, tomato and fresh mint. It also give a bit of pizzazz to the fattoush, a Lebanese peasant salad topped with toasted pita chips.
To get a sampling of authentic Lebanese delights, we ordered the Open Sesame combo with a skewer of extra lean ground beef and lamb, cubes of marinated and charbroiled chicken breast served with garlic sauce and wild cucumber pickles. It also comes with a beef kabob that is marinated and charbroiled top sirloin steak. The dish arrives with basmati rice and either creamy hummus or the smokey garlic baba ganoush made with cooked eggplant mixed with onions, tomatoes, olive oil and various seasonings. Both are excellent, however I love their baba ganoush. I spooned it on just about everything.
You can order these on the lunch and dinner menu. Another lunch favorite is the pita sandwich. There are ten varieties to choose from on the menu. I ordered the fried cauliflower with onion, lettuce, tomato, pine nuts and a tahini sauce. Tahini is a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. Lemon juice is added with salt and garlic, and then thinned with water. It is one of the most popular toppings for meat and vegetables in Middle Eastern cuisine.
They offer a special lunch menu that includes an entree and salad. The falafel is dynamite and is served with hummus, fattoush, tomato, lettuce, pickled cucumbers and Tahini sauce.
They make three different types of Paninis with a choice of charbroiled chicken shawarma cooked on a spit and sliced thinly or a vegetarian labne made with creamy kefir cheese, tomato, fresh mint and olives. They also make a halloumi cheese and cucumber panini.
Save room for their baklawa made with flaky phyllo pastry and filled with pistachios. It pairs well with Lebanese ice cream in pistachio or almond flavor. Another tasty treat is K’naafeh. It’s a Lebanese version of sticky toffee pudding cake. It’s made with semolina wheat pastry with sweet cheese or ashta cream and a sprinkling of orange blossom syrup. It’s not as sugary as sticky toffee pudding and is extremely satisfying. Pair this with a Moroccan green hot tea infused with mint and orange blossom.
Open Sesame offers a catering services that offers three of four courses with a selection of appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts starting at $25 per person. Menus include plenty of lamb, beef and poultry dishes as well as several options for vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free guests.
They offer drop-off service with food arriving in disposable serving trays at the correct temperature. This is ideal for business luncheons, wrap parties, baby and bridal showers, wedding receptions and charity events.
At Open Sesame the quality of the ingredients shines through and leaves you wanting to experience Lebanese cuisine again. $-$$ Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. On Friday and Saturday it stays open until 11 p.m. 7458 Beverly Blvd. (323)525-1698.
This article was published in the October 2, 2014 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.