The original Itzk Hagadol is a bistro-like eatery located in Jaffa, Israel and its only U.S outpost is in Encino, a suburb of Los Angeles. We were in Los Angeles recently for a family re-union and one afternoon we wound up at Itzk Hagadol for a luncheon. The restaurant has an indoor area with the standard Middle Eastern décor and an annex, the exterior wall of which is open to the elements.
We were a large party, 25 adults and 6 children, and we occupied most of the outside seating area. Because of the chill, plastic sheeting was drawn across the open side abutting the sidewalk and the space heaters turned on to make it warm and comfortable.
Itzk Hagadol terms itself a grill ( true enough, because the entrees are almost wholly grilled meats ) but it prides itself on its vast array of salads and offers diners several dining options. They can order just the salads with unlimited refills OR they can order skewers of grilled meats a la carte for an additional price. If one combines an order of grilled meat with the unlimited salads, the price of the salads is reduced.
Our party had opted to have the unlimited salads (really side dishes) plus skewers of three different meats. We were seated six to a table, three on each side, and the waiters soon started to bring out the salads and place them in a straight line down the center of the tables. The small ceramic dishes each contained about a cup full and the overall effect was like sitting down to ban chan at a Korean BBQ except that the salads were Middle Eastern.They included celery salad, pickled cucumber, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, egg salad, roasted bell peppers, beets, red cabbage, vegetarian pate, corn & mushroom in mayo, chopped eggplant w/ peppers and zucchini, baked rosemary potatoes, falafel balls, roasted jalapenos and hummus with pine nuts. There were about 20 salads in all and they were constantly replenished. All of them were freshly made and good , particularly the vegetable pate (it fooled us initially into thinking that it was chicken liver), the red cabbage, the rosemary potatoes and the corn and mushroom in mayo. The hummus which was attractively presented in a babka like ring also came in for appreciation though I thought it could have used some salt. Accompanying all these were baskets of laffa, a pillowy Middle Eastern bread sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Each laffa was about the size of a personal pan pizza and I enjoyed tearing off pieces to eat.
When we had enough of the side dishes/ salads it was time for the grilled meats, three of them . We stuck with the basic options: house kebabs, the Rumanian kebabs and chicken. There are several other options for the meats including merguez, veal sweetbreads and foie gras but they are expensive and not worth it. Better to stick to the basics as we did.The kebabs were served family style so that each of us was able to taste everything, and were accompanied by plates of flavorful white rice. Each diner had approximately one skewer’s worth of meat. Perhaps you are wondering about the difference between house kebab and Rumanian kebab ? Well, one contains garlic and the other onions but don’t ask me which is which! The meats were tasty and well grilled and, overall, we were well satisfied with the meal.
I almost forgot: the kids were served plates of French Fries. I snaffled a few for myself and they were excellent. The service was good and the servers were attentive, quickly bringing us more salad as soon as a dish was emptied.
Itzk Hagadol’s concept of all-you-can-eat salads followed by limited amounts of meat is a new one for me. It’s charm is that when all the salads/side dishes are spread out on the table, it is a colorful feast for the eyes. I also like the idea of focusing on vegetables and eating smaller amounts of meat. It is so different from the Brazilian rodizio where the staggering amounts of meat tend to leave diners overwhelmed; after a while, all the different cuts of meat begin to seem like each other.
One shortcoming of Itzk Hagadol fare, for lovers of spice like myself, is that the salads/ side dishes are all mildly seasoned, salty and sweet, sometimes very mildly sour and never, never spicy/ hot. The barely roasted jalapenos are unsalted and tasteless, and a spicy green salsa that accompanies the kebabs is hot but one dimensional. Oh, for a bottle of hot sauce!
I was only a guest at the party and so cannot be sure about the cost but I have the feeling that it was expensive; probably around $40/person including tax and tip. Considering that restaurant food in LA is cheaper than in N.Y/ N.J and considering that most of the food consisted of vegetarian salads , this is not cheap. We had a good time at Itzk Hagadol and the food experience was unique but I don’t think it is one that I want to repeat any time soon.