This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

In the wide world of the small, stuffed snacks known as turnovers—a planet that includes the Mexican empanada, Bolivian salteña, Cornish pasty and Indian samosa—none are as simultaneously sweet and savory as the Lebanese sambousek sold at CEDAR BAKERY. But be patient: it's going to take a few minutes after ordering the sambousek before it arrives steaming at your table. In those minutes, the Cedar cooks rolled out a ball of dough to create pita bread; cut the pita into tiny casings; minced beef and onion sprinkled with aromatic nuts into a moist, paste-like stew; slipped the concoction into the pita casing; and placed the raw sambousek inside a brick oven. There, it browned in a way that didn't crisp the crust but instead produced a touch of smokiness. The freshness of these sambouseks delights all the senses immediately—its cinnamon fragrance flutters at your nose, and each bite reveals heartiness, the natural sweetnesses of beef, onion and cinnamon and the maternal warmth of all the ingredients. It's probably more economical to prepare the sambouseks in large batches and store them in a freezer for easy heating, but thank God it doesn't happen here.

Cedar Bakery differentiates itself from the other Middle Eastern restaurants in Anaheim's crowded Little Gaza district by specializing in such small meals as sambouseks. Mornings begin with a bowl of kishek, a sort of Lebanese oatmeal of yogurt, bulgur wheat and salt that doesn't do much for the sweet tooth but bulks you up for the day like a one-hour free-weights session. Pair the kishek with a croissant, although these are salty and as svelte as the crescent on Turkey's flag, not the chubby Gallic version Americans will expect. A side order of dusky falafel goes best with hummus, but a better bite-sized option is the kibbe, fried ground-beef balls. Cedar also bakes some good sphihas, Lebanese mini-pizzas; zaatar (a pesto-like condiment of oregano and sesame) tops the tastiest ones.

The rest of Cedar Bakery's menu is pedestrian—dry chicken shawarma and a beef shawarma sandwich that, while wonderfully heavy on the tahini and garlic sauce, isn't so extraordinary as to warrant a visit. Nights bring fans of hookah to smoke outside, but really, stick to the small foodstuffs, especially the sambousek: a thing of beauty and grace like nothing that country has produced since Rafik Hariri.


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