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(Gerry Furth-Sides) An outside patio distinguishes Turquoise restaurant on its unassuming little corner in Redondo Beach, a block from the ocean, serving what the menu describes as Pan-Mediterranean cuisine. Local Awards as “Best Healthy Food Restaurant” and “Best Middle Eastern Restaurant” are well-deserved for fresh ingredients, depth of flavor and collages of color in every dish.
Middle Eastern hospitality begins right inside the door. Diners are seated and offered water, along with a vibrantly raspberry color “Miracle Drink” blended with carrot juice, apple juice, and a kick of ginger. Shreds of the fruit add texture. I am not a smoothie drinker but was so pleased with it after a drive in the sun from L.A., I finished it before I took a photo. (And yes, it qualifies as a destination restaurant.)
The drink also serves as a prompt to leave all pre-conceived ideas at that same door of what constitutes “Pan Mediterranean” cuisine. Here, “Mediterranean” refers to many customary Middle Eastern items, such huumus and babaganoush, yogourt and kabobs. It also offers unique non-Middle Eastern Mediterranean combinations, such as a grilled duck schwarma Panini sandwich and American salads.
Sampler of tomato-basil and lentil soups, , proving why they are a pride of the kitchen. The taste of vegetables and herbs reigned, unlike many versions overpowered by spices and oils.
Turquoise lists their dips “Cold Tapas” ($9 or so and two for $12.95). If the beet/carrot/apple drink make up a brunch, this makes an ideal beach lunch. Beets in all their glory arrive in Mast-O-Laboo (yogourt with beets), homemade organic yogurt mixed with succulent roasted beets. Turns out that beets are prevalent in Iranian cooking. In winter time street vendors sell a favorite snack of steaming hot beets or laboo, peeled, boiled and skewered one on top of another and wrapped in parchment. Persian breadmakers would also roast the beets in the bakery’s huge open fire ovens (tanoor). It was the first time I ate Persian street food that was so inspiring, I hurried home to research the source.
Turquoise Organic Hummus is filled with wickedly good flavor that goes to the toes. Here the depth comes from pureed golden chickpeas, roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses, roasted walnuts and organic sesame seeds. After eating this dish, I prefer walnuts in such savory dishes more than in pastry. The Olive-walnut Tapenade has the unusual addition of crushed walnuts balanced with chopped black and green olives. Tabouli made with cracked wheat , cucumber, tomato, scallion, parsley and olive oil was seasoned with lemon was distinguished by the addition of fresh mint. The more Western Salad Oliviyehwas also topnotch, maybe because of the high quality ingredients of natural chicken, organic eggs, potatoes, organic mayonnaise, chopped pickles, olives, green peas and spices. And diced Persian cucumbers and homemade organic yogurt and fresh mint made the Mast-Okhiar sing. Where preference comes into play, I prefer a Baba Ganoush (perfectly roasted eggplant) with garlic rather than the caramelized onion flavor atTurquoise.
From the long list of entree salads, we had a taste of the Turquoise take on a perfectly dressed Classic Greek Salad with tomatoes (here plum tomato), red onion, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and fresh parsley garbanzo beans. Unique additions are the bell pepper and fresh parsley, and of course the more crispy and flavorful Persian cucumbers.
Not to leave anything out, “grandma’s recipe” for Torshe Anbeh, a middle eastern joy of sweet and sour mango chutney with tamarind, mango, dates and spices. It is a dish that marries all the classic Persian flavors in a straightforward way.
All you have to do is look at the picture of the beautiful Duck Shawarma Panini, grilled duck with organic fig, brie, capers, grape tomato and dill ($13.95), to make your mouth water. The succulent duck was made even more so with the spread. It was the table favorite.
Entrees are served with rice and organic salad, again each dish so honest and balanced it would serve as a meal. We tried all poultry and meats although the all wild fish and seafood dishes were tempting. The Lamb kabob, all natural filet of New Zealand lamb is marinated in a gourmet saffron-onion blend then perfectly grilled to a pink-tan ($24.95), the best I’ve ever witnessed. The secret of the all natural boneless Chicken Breast Kabob is a lemon juice and saffron marinade ($14.95).
We were also treated to the Roasted Vegetables with saffron rice ($11.95 as an entrée), a combination of colors and textures in asparagus, portabella mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers. Served with rice and an organic salad.
Hameed’s catering background for choosing universal pleasers and his capability to make them the best of what they can be is proven with the Crème Brulee, the original recipe from a Parisian pastry chef in Westwood, here improved upon with real vanilla bean and cream. The, royal parfait of homemade yogourt and fruit (I packed it to go) was dense, creamy and naturally sweet.
The food at Turquoise has a clarity and depth of flavor rare in such simple fare because of the meticulous preparation and ingredients, such as genuine saffron instead of yellow coloring; vanilla bean instead of extract, walnuts and pomegranate added to the hummus. The buzzword phrase of “Organic and “natural whenever possible,” define not only the food but the teas and coffees, fresh juices, and sodas/wine/beer. The slightly higher prices than usual are offset by the taste and generous portions – the espresso, for example, was rich and entirely without one bit of acidic taste.
As with any seaside or mountain resort restaurant, sourcing is ingenious to even maintain the current prices. Whole wheat ciabatta for the Panini sandwiches is baked by a company in Los Angeles and, lucky for Turquoise, delivered to a beach hotel down the street for easy access. Not so easy is obtaining the proper cracker bread – not pita, which is not healthy according to Hameed, who regularly drives all the way to Irvine to pick that up. Hameed also let me in on a secret of a popular café/bakery in Westwood he sources his baklava – and how he learned that the one he always uses is separately baked by another specialty company.
Turquoise Restaurant measures up to the ideal village (Riviera Village) cafe – casual, comfortable and family-operate Wife Shazy Fatemi oversees the kitchen using many of her own family recipes that have become signature items in the dining room. One of the first things spotted on the counter is a photo cube of the family, with two daughters now in college right on the counter. When asked if his daughters would follow him in the restaurant business, Hameed laughed and said, no. However, he himself has a background in finance and the restaurant business was not in his original plan either. It also accounts for his acumen in being able to run a restaurant seamlessly. Hospitality and pleasing all customers comes from a long stint at the UCLA Faculty Dining room at UCLA.
The universal warmth and ease of professional service rings true down to whichever staff member intelligently answers the Turquoise Restaurant phones – always an indication of a retasurant’s standards.
There is a reason behind everything at Turquoise Restaurant, much more than Hameed explaining the restaurant’s name with “I just liked the stone and the color.” Faremi is from sophisticated Isfahan, third largest city in Iran, so historic it was once the capital. The area also accounts for the bamboo mural on one wall because bamboo is is well known to the area. And prevalent in the Persian culture is the belief that turquoise has supernatural powers, such as protecting horse and rider when it is attached to a warrior’s bridle. With the world’s major share of the stone in Persia and in the Southwest among Native Americans, it seems their beliefs mentioned here are shared, too. And as far as the Turquoise bringing success to the restaurant –so far so good.
There is a Persian saying because of Isfahan’s famous architecture, carpets and cuisine, “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast” (Isfahan is half of the world). Until I get to this magical place, Turquoise will do just fine.
1735 S Catalina Ave, Redondo Beach CA 90277
Today’s hours: 11:00 am-9:00 pm. (310) 362-4478
(www.turquoise-restaurant.com). Order online for pickup or delivery below.
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