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Driving through heavily industrial Wilmington, the sign for Neno’s Ristorante Italiano and Norooz Persian Grill — two restaurants under one roof — comes as an industrial-strength surprise.
Heading down Pacific Coast Highway feels downright cinematic, as you drive past a multitude of gas stations and motels and fast-food restaurants — in particular, a seemingly uncountable number of taco joints. Just a few blocks west, at the entrance to the 110, there’s an outdoor market where the food stands abound — as do the lines.
We are a good distance from the trendy hot spots of the beach towns. This is Los Angeles out of film noir.
And then, there’s Neno’s and Norooz. It’s a local destination with a loyal following, and more than a touch of age; the backs on some of the seats have seen some wear over the years. The two cuisines co-exist under one roof, in realms that are separate but equal.
Though beef or chicken kabob pizza sounds like a great idea to me, it’s not to be found. The kabobs live on one side of the menu, the pizzas on the other side. You want pepperoni and Italian sausage on your pizza, you got it. Beef and chicken koobideh are on their own plates. You want hummus on your pizza, you’ve got to do it yourself. I did. Not half bad, say I.
If you’ve spent any time eating along the Little Tehran section of Westwood Boulevard, you know the Persian side of the menu well. A fine feed can be assembled out of nothing but the appetizers, which as ever ramble from one intense taste to another…and from one soothing mix to another.
If you want to jolt your tastebuds, try the kashkeh bademjan — a long cooked, hard-to-stop-eating mix of baked eggplant and sautéed onions, tossed with an alphabet of herbs, topped with mint and the sun-dried yogurt called kashk, with still-hot lavash bread to spread it on.
Add to that the shirazi salad of diced cucumber and tomatoes, onions and parsley, in a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. Then, move to the tahdig, a dazzling creation of crispy rice topped with any number of Persian stews — khouresht as they say on the menu.
For balance, head for the already-mentioned humus (with more lavash!), and perhaps either of the two house-made yogurts, one with shallots, the other with diced cucumber and herbs. This is serious yogurt. No berries here.
If you need more, there are nine kabobs, some of meat served whole, others of meat ground, along with a single seafood kabob of salmon. The kabobs all come with basmati rice and more basmati rice, flavored with saffron, and topped with the inevitable, ubiquitous charbroiled tomato.
Persian food has numerous signature sides — rice, yogurt and tomato, always the tomato. There’s more, of course: a trio of rice dishes, a trio of Persian stews, a duo of wraps, and a pair of family meals served with a bit of everything.
The Persian menu is two pages long. The Italian menu is two and a half pages long, followed by a page and a half of American dishes: Chicken nuggets and fried chicken, barbecue ribs and half a dozen hamburgers, french fries and New York cheesecake.
But mostly, there are down-home, utterly not trendy Italian dishes. Fried zucchini, antipasto salad, spaghetti marinara, Italian sausage sandwiches — and a page of pizzas of the style we’ve eaten here in SoCal since WWII. Pizzas with crusts that aren’t especially thick, topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, ham, salami, ground beef and cheese, always cheese.
These aren’t trendy pizzas created by chefs walking the edge. These are the sort of pizzas we’ve been getting for years, to eat while watching a Dodger game at home.
And to keep with that theme of stuff to eat with friends and family, there are Buffalo wings and chicken taquitos, jalapeño poppers and carne asada fries — the most multi-ethnic dish on the menu, which are fries with not just sirloin beef, but also melted mozzarella, guacamole, sour cream and thousand island dressing.
If it only had some Persian yogurt on the side, it would touch all bases — a culinary trifecta that’s a genuine fusion experience.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email mreats@aol.com.
Neno’s Ristorante Italiano/Norooz Persian Grill
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