R: This is not one of those restaurants with ultra-soft mood lighting. No, Sasoon, with its white walls, white tile floor, and a gallery of photos and eclectic memorabilia on the walls, is beaming with light that also reflects the cheery welcome we received the moment we entered with our friends, Don and Rosemary.
Z: Outfitted in her homey apron decorated with pineapples, owner Nelly seated us and brought menus. Almost immediately, Reuben spotted the section on Mezze, a typical Middle Eastern appetizer spread of multiple dishes. Nelly said vegan was no problem and that she could make us very happy with a multitude of specialty dishes. We put ourselves in her trust and waited only briefly before dishes began arriving.
R: Small, oval ramekins began making their appearance within five minutes, first with Hummos B-Tahini, Moutabbal, Bulgur Salad, and Eggplant Salad along with a colorful napkin-covered basket of pita. Within minutes, we were served Stuffed Grape Leaves, an assorted Pickles Plate, Falafel with a tiny bowl of Tahini Sauce, Tabbouleh, Mouhammara, a dish of warm Lima Beans, and a serving of warm Mujaddara.
Z: We experienced a bountiful feast--and all of it totally vegan. The one exceptional quality making these foods stand apart was their fresh, homey flavor. We suspect there was a pinch of Armenian love infused into these tasty traditional foods, because they were deliciously seasoned. Some had unique touches we've not seen before. For example, the Moutabbal, more familiarly known as Baba Ghannouj, was attractively garnished with capers and a sprinkling of finely minced parsley.
R: I could have eaten five dishes of the Mouhammara, a unique spread made of finely crushed walnuts, breadcrumbs, pomegranate syrup, and a dash of spice to sizzle the tongue. The finishing touch was a garnish of pine nuts One of our favorites, this Mouhammara is vastly different from others we have experienced. Nelly's is pea-soup thick and very textured with the defining crunchy quality of crushed walnuts.
Z: We all loved the Tabbouleh with its delightful lemony flavor and large bits of chopped tomatoes and quickly scarfed up the ultra-creamy Hummos garnished with whole garbanzo beans and a touch of parsley. The Grape Leaves were plump and richly endowed with olive oil that made the rice deliciously tender.
R: I kept reaching into the Pickles Plate for another green olive. This array of pungently marinated items: pickled turnips dyed red with beet juice, fresh radishes, green olives, and pepperoncini, was a tasty compliment to the mezze dishes.
Z: Though Sasoon is not a vegetarian restaurant, its owners prepare a daily special of one vegetarian dish in addition to those on the menu. If we had not chosen the Mezze, we could have had a number of vegan dishes like Greek Salad, Armenian Potato Salad, Fattoush Salad, Armenian Lentil or Vegetable Soup, or a combo plate of some of the Mezze items. Some of the Mezze items can be ordered as Sandwiches.
R: Prices are very affordable. Vegetarian Sandwiches and Plates range from $4 to $5 for the small size to between $6 and $8 for the large size. Mezze are 10 plates $45, 15 plates $65, Salads range from $3 to $7, Side Orders $2.50 to $7, Desserts $1.50 to $2.
Z: Nelly apologized for running out of desserts. The restaurant was so busy over the holidays she didn't have time to make more Baklave, Nammoura, or Ghorebieh that are usually available. Instead, she treated us to something far more unique. She returned from the kitchen with individual plates, each with a single, voluptuous slice of translucent Ugli fruit enveloped in juicy, thick, sweet syrup.
R: Realizing that we might not be familiar with Ugli, she brought out the fruit itself. It's pretty darned impressive and looks rather like a jumbo, bright yellow brain. Though we had read about Ugli and seen pictures of it, we were surprised by its gigantic size. It resembled a lumpy lemon pumped up on steroids, but with the labor-intensive process of candying, it turned into a delectable dessert many of us have never encountered.
Z: Owners Nelly and Garbis Kaleijian are like the warm, caring Mom and Dad many would dream of having. Married for 35 years, they both prepare the traditional foods of their Armenian heritage as well as those they grew up with in their home countries of Syria and Lebanon.
R: Shortly before we were ready to leave, Nelly asked us if we wanted to see her toys. Curious, we followed her to the back counter that was lined with a village of moving, dancing, and singing Santa's dressed in every kind of creative way one can imagine. A "Beach Santa" wore sunglasses, sandals, shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and, of course, a Santa hat. Her Santa menage included a rapper Santa, Santa on a motorcycle, a Father Christmas Santa, many more unique Santas that filled the restaurant with holiday spirit.
Z: We left with sated appetites, bellies full of Santa laughs, and sincere, warm hugs. We know we'll return for more home cooking and a little spoiling by our parental surrogates, Nelly and Garbis.
Reviewed January 2011