Listening to George Abou-Daoud speak about the dishes at his restaurants is to receive a thoughtful education in the traditions of Middle Eastern cooking. But with the onslaught of recent restaurant openings that tout the flavors of the Levant, why isn’t his latest opening, Farida, a part of the conversation?
It’s a fair question to ask where Abou-Daoud’s name is in all of the Los Angeles trend pieces. The prolific restaurateur has opened a wave of restaurants over the past decade that helped fuel the recent redevelopment in Hollywood, starting with The Bowery in 2005 on what was then the rundown corner of Sunset and Vine.
Delancey followed, with Mission Cantina, Tamarind Ave. Deli, and Mercantile (later sold to Curtis stone to become Gwen) after that. He’s even expanded beyond Hollywood to add Rosewood Tavern (sold to Nas in 2016 to open as Sweet Chick), Urban Garden (sold to Eric Greenspan for Fleishik’s), and Middle Eastern offshoot Bowery Bungalow in Silver Lake. Today Abou-Daoud rounds out his Hollywood properties with Twin Sliders, and, finally, newcomer Farida.
Eater sat down with Abou-Daod to discuss his newest restaurant, minimum wage issues, Yelp, and ancient Middle Eastern cooking traditions.
On Farida’s first few months in Hollywood:
“The people who come here obsess over it, but we are still building up. We really have only been open for four months. Delancey was slow for eight months and now is always packed.”
On why Hollywood is a tough neighborhood to run a restaurant in:
“That’s what happens when you open in Hollywood. Our customers are locals, mainly people from the entertainment world with the Netflix and Viacom offices just down the street. So some nights are stellar, and some nights are not. Coachella is slow. You never know when or why, rhythm or rhyme.
There’s so much development in Hollywood, but it still doesn’t feel like a destination. It still has growing pains, and doesn’t have the neighborhood feel; it is not Los Feliz, Silver Lake, or Echo Park.”
How Farida is taking modern Middle Eastern cuisine to new heights:
“I’m particularly proud of our lamb awarma because elements of the dish bring old Middle Eastern food traditions to Los Angeles. The first being the makdous, which means pressed. We first dehydrate eggplant then stuff it with walnuts, garlic, pomegranate, and spices, and then put it in a jar with olive oil and cure it for a month. It has a pickled taste without any vinegar because it breaks down in the oil.
The main component is the awarma itself, a tradition from the mountains in Lebanon. Imagine living in a rural society where you can’t go to the supermarket? It gets cold up there in the winter, so how do you get meat? The Lebanese spice and marinate lamb overnight and cook it in its own fat. Then it is put in more fat and stored for 30 days. Here we put it in the fridge, but there it just sits out in the fat preserved. The lamb and the makdous are both prepared at Farida 30 days ahead.”
On how Middle Eastern cuisine is more than just kebabs:
“Farida, like Bowery Bungalow, is a beautiful mix of traditional and modern things that don’t exist in the Middle East, like our tahini toast and tostones with green harissa. I’m also happy to put dishes like kishek, a reconstituted bulgar wheat and yogurt porridge that was used in the mountains to keep dairy products in the winter, on the menu. I have never seen this on any other restaurant menu in the United States.
I am not Carousel or Marouch that offers what I call, every Middle Eastern menu in the world. Kebabs are not the only thing that exist in the Mid East.”
On the deterioration of dining culture in Hollywood:
“Getting pedestrians that come from the west to enjoy their dining experience and not stand in line at Chipotle. That’s one of the worst things that happened to Hollywood, was Chipotle opening. I’m glad ShopHouse closed because there are so many amazing Southeast Asian options around here right on Hollywood Boulevard. But instead you have teenage kids with pimples scooping out cold noodles from hotel pans.
To get people to cross Vine is hard enough, but then they stop at the salad place and wait in line or Chipotle and wait in line. Dining culture is deteriorating. What was the whole point of going to a restaurant? Not just to eat something good, but to socialize. The more and more fast casual restaurants where people are waiting in line just to stuff your face with sustenance and go, it takes away from all the nice human interaction we used to have.”
On the rising minimum wage and the effect on the restaurant industry:
“When the minimum wage hits $12 is when shit hits the fan. I don’t want people to think about the wage literally being $12, but about wage compression. If you have a dishwasher at $12, that means everyone else is going to want $15 and $17.”
On the subject of Yelp:
“Meanwhile you have people complain on Yelp that food is too expensive because they think that the only cost is going to the supermarket, but they forget that we have to pay, rent, insurance, government fees, regulatory fees, utilities, huge labor costs, and everything else.
The thing that I wish upon every bad Yelp reviewer, the only ill will that I wish upon them, is that they operate their own restaurant, and then come back and tell me how they feel.”