Sassoon Chicken

Photo by Sasha ContrerasMexicans have salsa; Japanese, wasabi. But there's probably no condiment more ferocious in world cooking than the garlic paste concocted by Armenians to slather over their famed rotisserie chicken. And at Sassoon Chicken in Orange, Armenian garlic paste reaches a blazing, triumphant zenith: raw garlic bulbs transformed into a frosting-like paste that's buttery at first but quickly rampages across your sinuses with its smelly wrath. This stuff could inspire a thousand lame vampire and bad-breath jokes, but it's also a thing of parched beauty: debilitating, lodging itself inside your sweat glands for hours, yet as addicting as ABBA and thoughtful enough to tease out the flavor of whatever it covers.

The garlic paste goes great on anything prepared at Sassoon Chicken, an immaculate Orange strip-mall tenant governed by Dikran and Silva Avedikian that fires up kebabs, shawermas and other meaty Middle Eastern wonders along with their hens. This Armenian couple came to the United States by way of Kuwait in 1992, but their constant loving banter makes them as American as Ralph and Alice Kramden. Dikran and Silva trade off on the cooking and cash-register responsibilities, with each taking special care toward the spits of chicken and beef shawerma glacially rotating behind the front counter. Their son is the one in charge of a separate metal-and-glass case, where chickens spin within a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption until they assume that particular tan associated with San Clemente hotties.

Once in front of you, Sassoon's chicken justifies its rather-long preparation time—golden skin crispy but retaining juices, meat moist with the savor of smoke, so tender you can easily pick it off the bones with your fingers. You can consume the chicken within the confines of a pita, but then you'd deprive yourself of the half-chicken plate's bountiful sides: pickled turnips that are Barney-purple and an earthy hummus spread spiked with olive oil and chile powder.

As wonderful as its namesake may taste, however, Sassoon's most welcome platters are Armenian favorites found only in about three other restaurants in this county (and no, one of them isn't Anaheim's much-revered Zankou Chicken). My favorite is soujouk, a sausage that possesses the same coarse, burnt brilliance of chorizo except it's a tad spicier and sweeter, wrapped alongside tomatoes within a pita—a Middle Eastern breakfast burrito, if you will. And though the falafels here are as crunchy and fluffy as they should be, the off-the-menu appetizer kibbe is the falafel's next evolutionary step: the same fried-orb concept now bloated with ground meat and scraps of bulgur wheat, a meatball for posterity. Although an order of kibbe doesn't come with garlic paste, the Avedikians will gladly hand you a couple of thimbles' full upon request. Then they'll take cover: after all, you'll soon reek of garlic alongside your happiness.

Sassoon Chicken, 3440 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 516-9600.


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