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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant R: People often jest about vegetarians eating nothing but salads, but when a non-vegetarian restaurant comes up with an extraordinary salad extravaganza, vegans might like to know about it. While the salad offerings of many ethnic cuisines far outshine our typical American veggie fare, nothing touches the dazzling array of salads like those at Itzik Hagadol Grill in Encino.

Z: And dazzling it is! Itzik Hagadol in Hebrew means Big Isaac. Itzik opened his first restaurant in Israel, and fortunately for us and many other fans of the local eatery, three years ago he chose the Plaza de Oro Shopping Center on Ventura Boulevard between Balboa and Louise for his second location.

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant R: Judging from the impressive size of the restaurant and the number of people dining out on a weeknight, I would say it looks like a success. Even with the restaurant two-thirds full and with a little clatter from the open kitchen, we found it easy to carry on conversation and appreciate the music playing softly in the background. The large, open dining room with high-arched ceilings accented in bright green lighting offers a harmonious sense of comfort and spaciousness.

Z: The ambience expresses clean simplicity and focuses on a single wall-length mural, visible from the entrance. A mixed media artwork, the mural depicts a colorful Mediterranean scene highlighted with glazed ceramic portions. Large windows on two sides of the restaurant provide excellent daytime lighting. The spacious dining area facing busy Ventura Boulevard is actually a large outdoor patio that extends out from the main dining space and is enclosed with clear plastic curtains in cool weather.

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant
R: The restaurant, though not vegetarian, is extremely vegan and vegetarian friendly and offers an attractive menu that makes it easy for veg folks to dine together with their non-veg friends and families. The sizeable, dark wooden tables, attractively set with printed placemats and dinnerware, express a warm welcome.

Z: Known for its specialty salads, Itzik Hagadol features these at the top of the menu and offers several ways to choose and enjoy them. Salads can be ordered as the entire meal with or without refills, or they can accompany grilled non-vegetarian foods or vegetarian side dishes. We chose the salads as the full meal with refills and ordered a side of Hummus with Hot Mushrooms.

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant R: Joined by our friends Karen and Mark, we were greeted by Unu, our delightful server from Mongolia. You know Los Angeles is a melting pot when a Mongolian waitress serves your food in an Israeli restaurant. Her English was impeccable. We were flabbergasted when she returned quickly to deliver a tray of small oval dishes, each filled with a unique salad. Then, she reappeared with another tray, and yet another. Within minutes, the table was so full of brightly colored salads, there was almost no room for the scrumptious Laffa, the exceptional housemade Israeli bread that accompanies the meal.

Z: The menu displays a full-color photo depicting the array of salads, but seeing the brilliant colors of 20 different vegetable-based salads on one table left us breathless. While most were totally vegan, the five prepared with mayonnaise went untouched.

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant R: The wild and wacky fun began when we started passing the 15 little dishes around the table and filling our plates with tidbits of Marinated Turkish Red Beets, Moroccan Carrots, Roasted Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Salad, Corn and Mushrooms, Baked Rosemary Potatoes, Tabbouli, Pickled Cabbage, Avocado Dip, and Israeli Salad.

Z: Soon our plates were so full we had to pause before passing the remaining salads: Roasted Greek Style Eggplant, Spicy Chopped Eggplant, Peppers and Zucchini, Pickled Cauliflower, Baba Ganoush, Matbucha (a cooked tomato salad), Celery Salad, Cucumber Salad, Tomato Salsa, Turkish Eggplant, and Falafel Balls. Our salad dinner featured five different eggplant dishes, each uniquely different.

R: The ultra-creamy Hummus topped with a generous mound of earthy, grilled Hot Mushrooms was the highlight of the meal. That compelling dish kept us reaching for more as we spooned the hummus onto pieces of the Laffa, making sure to place a mushroom on top. Laffa is a giant round of baked flatbread, about 15 inches in diameter, made of white and whole wheat flour and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. It was so large it merely sat on top of the breadbasket rather than fitting inside. Laffa is a flavorful and aromatic community bread, the kind one tears and slathers with the satiny hummus or one of the other salads.

Itzik Hagodol Restaurant Z: This restaurant is so attuned to the pleasure of dining that servers are well trained to offer excellent service. As soon as Unu noticed an empty dish, she quickly returned with a full one. While we enjoyed the entire salad extravaganza and ate with gusto, we each gravitated to our favorites. Both Mark and Reuben chose the Turkish Eggplant as their standout dish. Karen and I adored the Hummus with Hot Mushrooms.

R: The salad meal with refills at $17.99 is a bit of a splurge for a veggie meal, but the adventure was totally joyful and utterly delicious. Ten salads without refills is easier on the wallet at $9.99. Salads served along with a main course are $ 9.99 plus the price of the dinner.

Z: Other vegan items on the menu include grilled mushrooms, grilled portabella mushrooms, tahina, vegetable salad with tahina, and Balladi or grilled eggplant. Prices range from $5.99 to $9.99.

R: For the non-vegetarians, the menu offers creative skewer combinations of grilled meats and chicken as well as grilled meat, chicken and fish specialties served with a choice of 2 side dishes. The restaurant also offers kosher grilled meat and chicken and has a special kids menu.

Z: For vegans, Itzik Hagadol's salad feast is an awesome banquet of vegetable creations with a rainbow of colors and flamboyant flavors that titillate and beg for one to return. If the price seems a bit much for the everyday budget, save the dining experience for a special occasion--it's worth the price.

Itzik Hagadol Grill
17201 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91316
Phone: 818-784-4080
FAX: 818-784-4550
Hours: Daily 12:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Reviewed May 2012

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