The Thrill of Victory . . .
And the agony of overeating at the county’s greatest Lebanese bakery and restaurant
I didn’t fast before going to Victory Bakery’s Ramadan buffet. In fact, my stomach was still in the middle of digesting a big lunch. But curiosity beckoned. Plus, I was told there would be cake and ice cream.
That last part turned out to be an understatement. Victory—which moved from its original location on Euclid Street to this grander space—is a wonderland of sweets, with the acreage of a supermarket and the glitz of Caesars Palace. This is a Lebanese bakery of a magnitude I did not expect—but more on that later.
We arrived at 8 p.m., and although the place was crowded, it was already starting to thin out. Those who remained sat satiated, rubbing their bellies and surveying plates holding what was left of their roasted chicken and lamb. Mostly, there were families—large, extended ones, from what I saw. Everyone seemed to know one another.
Sensing we were new to the place, a man with glasses (presumably one of the managers) took me by the shoulder and invited us to sit anywhere we liked. We took a table near what was their lunch counter, where shawarma is normally carved from a rotating spit and stuffed into pita bread. But tonight, and every night in September, it’s transformed into their Ramadan buffet—a modest selection of traditional dishes set out in chafing trays.
The menu changes daily, but mansaf is always offered, as are hummus, mutabal and fattoosh. The mansaf—lamb cooked with yogurt—is hacked into small hunks and strewn over a tray of rice. Even though I wasn’t hungry, after I ate a piece, I immediately went back for more.
Slow-cooked so well it barely held on to its bone, this was lamb at its most basic: naturally rich and unmarred with competing flavors, so mild it tasted steamed. The kafta, on the other hand, was its anti-matter. Plenty of herbs permeated every molecule of this Middle Eastern meatloaf; boldest among them was mint, cleansing the palate for the next mouthful. The result was dangerously addictive: a meatloaf you never tire of eating.
In the fattoosh salad, lettuce was made bracingly sour with a healthy shake of sumac—which also made the salad refreshing. Fried pita should have functioned as croutons, but because they were mixed into the salad, the few I ate had already lost their crunch. Roasted chicken— as familiar as any supermarket rotisserie bird—was chopped to pieces, and freekeh—a grain similar to bulghur wheat—was served as starch. But since the freekeh is filler, we saved our appetites by avoiding it.
After finishing our plates from our last helping, we mulled over the buffet’s spread of melon, dates and baklava. Ultimately, I resisted—and told my friends to do the same. We were, after all, in the mecca of Middle Eastern bakeries.
Once the buffet bill was paid, we made our way to the side of the store. A stop at the ice cream and coffee counter yielded a scoop of pistachio gelato that was so packed with actual pistachios that some concerted chewing was required.
Then it was on to the cakes. I saw fruit tarts with chocolate-lined shells and gorgeous cakes of every persuasion. Some were covered in ganache, others in strawberry mousse. Sizes ranged from birthday cake to single-serving portions on doilies. All were delicately constructed in the French style. But there were cannolis, too, as well as cream horns festooned with sugar crystals and mountains of cookies dipped in chocolate. None was too sweet. Plus, Victory’s custard filling was perfect—a nice balance of eggy and milky.
We followed the glass display case until it rounded the corner, where we discovered even more treats. Trays upon trays of colorful Middle Eastern confections occupied this area. Some items looked as though they were made of shredded wheat; others were dead ringers for bird’s nests and segments of intestine. Wide pizza platters were crowded with bite-sized pastries made of phyllo that had been sculpted into countless flaky shapes, crammed with nuts and glazed with enough sticky-sweet syrup to send diabetics running for their insulin. But alas, my stomach had hit its limit. Next time, I’ll skip lunch.
Victory Bakery N Restaurant, 630 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 776-4493; www.victorybakeryandrestaurant.com. Open Fri.-Sun., 9 a.m.-midnight; Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Ramadan buffet offered from sunset to 11 p.m. $19.99 per person. Cakes and pastries, $1 and up.
Edwin Goei was born on the island of Java, grew up in La Habra, studied in Irvine, and eats everywhere. Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, he went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.