Friday, September 20, 2013

Mark Bittman Ate Here

I'm not bragging or anything, but I just had one hell of a meal at an Armenian restaurant in Glendale called Adana that Mark Bittman wrote about here. My culinary enabler was Mark's friend, food and travel writer David Latt who first introduced Bittman to the place and more recently some of us from Food Bloggers Los Angeles. It's not that I'm a star effer or anything—I'm a jaded Los Angeleno for chrissakes. I’ve shared elevators and airplanes with film icons and gynecologists to the stars. I’ve marched in rallies with TV royalty and political luminaries. Hell, I used to live across the alley from the guy who created Bart Simpson. But to eat where Bittman ate? Mark Bittman—the voice of culinary reason in an unreasonable culinary world? The New York Times food writer who espouses eating mostly a plant-based diet and the author of the books, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating and Eat Vegan Before 6:00

Like Bittman, I'm a flexitarian—or a vegetarian who cheats. Actually, I'm more of a flexiterranean—a flexitarian on a Mediterranean diet. But with those impressive-sounding monikers come responsibility. I have to think about the provenance of everything that enters my trap—what my chicken dreamed about on Tuesday, where my salmon swam on Wednesday, is it organic, GMO-free, and in my case, is it one of those foods in which my body has announced it would like a divorce. Sadly, my wild years of indiscriminate dining are behind me. But enough about my sex life.

Since I rarely eat out anymore, and my own simple fare has failed to titillate of late, I had been craving big flavors and protein of the animal ilk (not elk) for weeks. Yep, I was saving myself for what I figured would be a few paltry bites of poultry among an army of Armenian dishes I couldn't eat unless I wanted to feel its artillery fire the next day. So I was not prepared for this gustatory feast I could partake in with such gusto.

Eggplant appetizers: Armenian irga and mutahbul dips; Persian kashk-e bademjan

The father who opened this small restaurant in 1997 is of Armenian descent and lived in Iran, so the food is a unique mélange with Persian, Russian and Middle Eastern influences. The grown children (son Edward is now one of the chefs, and daughter Gina was helping out for the day) brought out divine eggplant and garbanzo dips; Russian-inspired, beet-based appetizers; fresh salads that were incredibly light and herbaceous; glorious Persian rices; and moist, succulent kabobs and lamb chops that had all been perfectly grilled (I had a little chicken and salmon). It was a masterful mashup of culinary cultures—and shockingly, I could eat most things.

Appetizer dips: hummus; beet; yogurt and cucumber 

These days when I eat out (or cheat out), there’s a lot going on in this crowded cranium. It's one thing to cheat by eating an animal (the guilty cheat). It's another thing to cheat by eating something that will make me feel bad physically (the diet cheat). Then there’s the kind when I know there are toxins in my food or are sustainability issues, but I begrudgingly choose to look the other way (the environmental cheat). That one is accompanied by a loop in my head that plays, Is it organic? Are there pesticides and GMOs? Is the fish sustainable? 

Beet and potato appetizer; dolmeh; salads: tabouli (center), Persian, jalapeno, fattoush

Yet at Adana, as we were served course after course of beautifully prepared and plated dishes, my loop of doom was muffled by lyrical arias. I heard Renée Fleming in the fattoush. Kathleen Battle in the babaganoush. Domingo in the dolmeh. All three tenors were in the tabouli. And between each aria in a zen-like commercial break came the soothing, validating mantra: Mark Bittman ate here.

Beef and chicken kababs; lamb chops; salmon kabab; sour cherry rice; lima bean dill rice

I figured if Bittman—a role model for responsible eating—ate here on his last five trips to LA, it must be okay. I mean, I’m pretty sure he knows as much as I do about our food supply. So does he have the same loop playing in his head when he eats out (sans the Mark Bittman ate here mantra—that would be pretty creepy)? In fact, he just posted the link to a disturbing article on his Facebook page about how the US is going to start having its chickens processed in China. How does he reconcile all this and manage to eat out, loop-free? Is it that Bill Clinton compartmentalization thing? Can you repress all that you’ve read and just enjoy a meal without having to know where the food came from? Does that make you an accessory to a crime or a well-adjusted realist? Sellout or savvy compartmentalist?

Gina serving cake, tea and Persian bamieh pastry

Lately I have become accustomed to being underwhelmed when eating out. Clean, organic restaurant food is expensive, and when it’s mediocre, it’s very disappointing. The fact is, a lot of restaurants can't afford to use all organic, sustainable ingredients. So should a hardworking family that makes beautiful, affordable food be bypassed by people like me because the government has allowed Big Ag to control our food supply? All I know is that every dish I tried at Adana was something truly special. So I chose to shut up and eat up because I could taste the love. And Mark Bittman ate here.

The Khechemyan family

Read Mark Bittman's review of Adana with recipes of the lima bean and dill rice dish, baghali polo; the Persian salad; and chicken-thigh kababs.
Read David Latt's review of Adana.
Watch an interview with Mark Bittman about his latest book, Eat Vegan Before 6:00.


  1. Well captured! I loved every bite at this restaurant and every word of your article. Job well done.

  2. Wow, what a fantastic review. Now I'm sorry I missed this one. Your photos are perfect and I can see why you are in love with this place. Beautiful food.

  3. I love Bittman's books also, can't wait to read the newest. The restaurant looks lovely!

  4. What a haul of food you enjoyed. Sorry I missed it. GREG

  5. Adair, you've done it again! I love your review and SO incredibly happy for you that you were able to enjoy this culinary feast! Oh, and did you know that Mark Bittman ate here?

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  7. Fascinating foods! I hear you on the sardines. It's so confusing. Listen to this: Atlantic Sardines from the Mediterranean are to be avoided. But Pacific Sardines from the US and Canada are sustainable. I have no idea about the status of Atlantic sardines from the Atlantic! GREG

  8. Went there and followed your review of the restaurant to try out the dishes. We loved it. Everything was spot on. The food was incredible.

  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Rashmi!

  10. Adair, So cool that Jonathan Gold followed us to Adana! I'm so happy for Edward. Nice for him to get validation again. Hope you are well. Hope to see you soon. David