"Where did you find that dish?" the kind owner of Al Tannour asked when I went to the register to pay for my gargantuan meal of a lamb shank slathered in sauce on top of Iraqi bread.
"In your menu," I replied.
He couldn't believe it. He picked up the bright-orange booklet—printed in one-quarter English, three-quarters Arabic—and leafed through it as though he were trying to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages. I pointed it out.
Al Tannour, 2947 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 484-0900; www.al-tannour.com.
"Wow!" he exclaimed. He still couldn't believe I actually ordered—let alone loved—the plate. "I hadn't made one of these in a while!"
I understood his bewilderment. Al Tannour is the first Iraqi restaurant in Orange County, but it still needs to hedge its bets with its offerings given most of Anaheim's Little Arabia population is Lebanese, Egyptian, Palestinian and Syrian. Most of the menu is devoted to pleasing those palates—fine shish kebabs, awesome sambouseks, pita sandwiches, rice dishes, sphihas and the like. But look around for just a moment, and you'll notice the bread on the tables isn't pita, but rather khubz, a thick, toothsome flatbread as wide as a basketball hoop that's fluffy and crispy and perfectly made fresh every day. You'll notice entrée names that have yet to enter America's Middle Eastern lexicon: masgouf (Iraq's national dish, which features fish marinated, then slow-roasted over a fire and served on rice), kousi and a wonderful fried meat pie called kobba musilia that Al Tannour always seems to run out of.
And then you'll get to the dish I ordered: tashreeb. It's a full lamb shank, marrow and all, marinated in a sweet curry sauce that tastes close to mole poblano. The results are tossed on a full khubz, which, when cooked and slathered in the curry, looks like an omelet and has the same flaky, creamy, hearty taste. The gaminess of the soft lamb seeps into the khubz, creating as rich a dish you'll ever eat without indulging in caviar.
I made the mistake of eating mine with a fork. "Back in Iraq, we just get more khubz and eat the lamb with it," the owner told me after I paid the bill.
"How do you spell 'khubz'?" I asked, having never encountered the bread until visiting Al Tannour and wanting to Google it.
"Who cares? It's great!"
I took some to go before he interrupted me.
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"Here," he said, "take this." It was a to-go menu. "And next time, order this meal—it's even better."
Ladies and germs: your newest Orange County treasure.
This column appeared in print as "OC's First Iraqi Restaurant."