Lamb Kafta Meatballs
742 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles
We visited STREET Wednesday @ 8:00 pm
Dish we will try to cook – Lamb Kafta Meatballs $10
Ever since Susan Feniger opened STREET in April 2009, it’s been on our list of restaurants to check out. Sadly it took us over a year to make it over to the Highland and Melrose location. STREET is Feniger’s first solo project having previously opened City Café in 1981, Border Grill in 1985 then moving it to Santa Monica in 1990, and Ciudad in downtown LA in 1998.
For most people, they may have first heard of Feniger and her longtime collaborator Mary Sue Milliken from their wildly popular TV show Too Hot Tamales which aired on the Food Network in the 1990s. You can still catch Feniger appearing on many TV shows, most recently on Top Chef Masters.
As the name implies, the concept of STREET focuses on street fare from around the world. In Feniger’s own words, “Even though I’ve had formal training as a chef, I have found myself drawn time and time again to the food prepared over a simple cook-fire, or in a modest home from a recipe handed down across generations.”
And after watching Feniger’s always cheerful personality on TV and seeing her speak on a chef forum a few months back, we were drawn to STREET. Through diverse dishes with names we couldn’t pronounce, ingredients we’d never tasted and bold flavors that aren’t shy, our curiosity was duly rewarded.
Upon walking into STREET, you feel like you’ve just hit the nerve of any sprawling metroplex. The design consists of dark colors and the walls adorned with large murals of graffiti. The space is rather loud and the tables are a little cramped, which only adds to the city street ambiance. We were sat in a rather small table towards the back of the restaurant that was packed with a 20-40 year old crowd. There were also a few parties of 2 but mostly larger tables of friends getting together. This is definitely a fun place to celebrate a birthday but not really the right setting for a romantic dinner.
Our waiter informed us the dishes are more of a tapas style and recommended 2-3 plates per person. Of course, we ordered 6 total. Although, If you want room for dessert we’d recommend only ordering 4-5 plates. The menu was divided into 5 categories. The first category was Tea Cakes, Dumplings & Izakaya, from which we ordered the Spinach Varenyky (small Ukrainian dumplings filled with spinach & a light layer of salted cheese; boiled & then pan fried, served with sour cream, fried onions and lemon marmalade) $9, Lamb Kafta Meatballs (over warm Syrian cheese wrapped in grape leaf & drizzled with date & carob molasses, served with za’zatar spiced flatbread) $10, and Broiled Scallops on the half shell (with Peruvian aji Amarillo cream, chorizo breadcrumbs, lime & fresh picked cilantro) $12. Off the Land & Sea category, we ordered the Tatsutage Fried Chicken (marinated with soy, mirin & sake fried in rice butter & topped with spicy kewpie mayonnaise sauce) $15. We completed our meal with the Thai Rice Noodles (flat wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, seasoned pork, tomato, mint, thai basil & chilis) $15 from the Noodle, Curry & Tofu section and the Vietnamese Corn (with 5-spice pork belly, hot chili pepper & scallions) $6 from the Vegetables & Grain section.
Instead of bread for the table, we were provided with millet balls. They were about the size of a quarter and are both savory, sweet and tart. Savory from the cumin, sweet from the marshmallow used to bind the millet together, and tart from the currants gave us flavors we weren’t used to tasting with one another, yet enjoyed eating more and more of.
The spinach, lamb and scallops were delivered to our table first. We were immediately surprised by the intense flavors in each individual dish. The plates were bold with spice and then also seemed a bit spicy as well. We immediately loved the spinach varenyky. Who doesn’t love spinach, cheese, sour cream and marmalade? The flavors seem such an odd combination yet nicely complimented each other creating a flavor both savory and sweet. They were very similar to a spinach spanakopita. We remarked how we easily could have ordered a few more of this dish and been happy just eating them all night.
The lamb kafta meatballs were just as easily a crowd pleaser. They were about a silver dollar size and five juicy meatballs came on the plate. There was an unassuming heat to the meat that we weren’t necessarily expecting. We also were surprised by the distinct flavor of the Syrian cheese and were happy that there was a nicely portioned size of it on the plate. The cheese mostly resembled a more powerful feta. The scallops had a much more mild flavor themselves, with the intense flavor coming from the Peruvian aji Amarillo cream on top. We liked the flavor of the cream, but felt there was a bit too much of it on the scallops. The presentation in the half shell was beautiful and the breadcrumbs gave a nice texture and saltiness to the dish.
Next came the corn, chicken and noodles plates but at this point we were actually more full than we’d expected so we didn’t quite finish them. Amanda had a harder time with the spiciness of these dishes, compared to the first 3, especially since she asked the waiter before ordering if they were spicy and he said “no.” We guess that is a difference of opinion. So we caution those of our readers who do not enjoy spicy food to make sure to clarify with the waiter before ordering and maybe also get a side of rice because from our experience with 6 dishes we assume most every plate will have a medium to high level of heat. That said, the Vietnamese corn was Romeo’s favorite dish of the night next to the varenyky. We tasted the sweet corn first yet after a few seconds, we really got this punch of spice from the chili pepper. We enjoyed the pork belly but felt the pieces were a bit hard and thus threw off the harmony of the plate. The Tatsutage fried chicken and Thai rice noodles were our least favorite dishes of the night. While the fried chicken was nicely cooked, it definitely isn’t what you expect to receive when you order fried chicken. The breading is much thicker and fluffier, resembling more of a fritter wrapping on the chicken than a crispy fried batter. Since the chicken was dark meat, they were nicely juicy. No vegetables or slaw were mentioned on the menu, yet the accompaniment of pickled zucchini, carrots, jicama and radishes were the best part of the plate. And lastly, the noodles themselves were nicely flavored but boy were the chili flakes hot. Since Romeo grew up with Asian food, he felt he’d had better noodles before. The tomatoes were a bit soggy and there simply wasn’t enough noodles to balance with the basil, pork and other ingredients.
It is not often we turn down the dessert menu, but we really were too full from the six plates and two glasses of wine we’d shared to even consider ordering another dish. The table to our left were very friendly, with one woman asking Romeo if his hair was real and proceeded to ask if she could touch it to confirm the truth. They also let us eat some of their smashed potatoes with both tables agreeing they were delicious. In return we shared some of our Vietnamese corn with them, turning the night into family style-inspired tapas dining.
We’d also like to note that STREET strives to be environmentally responsible. They only serve sustainable fish, and work closely with local family farms, sustainability guided ranches and direct trade beverage companies. They compost and recycle and produce only 3% pure waste through the restaurant.
We recommend STREET to all our readers who enjoy bold flavors and a good level of spiciness to their food. Not to say those who don’t favor spice wont enjoy it, but you’ll be limited as to the dishes you can order since most of them contain chilis. As with Feniger’s personality, her food is not shy. She proudly presents the various flavors from street food all over the world and such an experience is unrivaled by any other restaurant. The flavors are enticing for the adventurous eaters out there.
(prices reflect the cost of the package, not the portion we used.) The rest of the ingredients we already had in the kitchen.
Pitted dates $2.99
Ground lamb, 1 lb. $6.29
Syrian cheese $5.75
Za’atar spice $2.99
Sumac spice $1.99
Grape Leaves $3.29
Carob Molasses $4.99
Sur La Table
Round cutter 3.5” $2.74
Below is our take on lamb kafta meatballs. While we have no idea exactly how they prepare theirs, we looked around online for recipes to see what typical spices are used and then combined that knowledge with the flavors we tasted in the original dish and went from there.
Makes 3.5 servings.
Lamb Kafta Meatballs-
1lb ground lamb
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely minced
3/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 TBSP olive oil
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350º.
With your hands, mix lamb, onion, parsley, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, fenugreek, and salt in a mixing bowl. Form the mixture into balls about 1 1/4” in diameter. Next, heat olive oil on a pan over medium-high. Place meatballs in and cook to brown outside, about 8 minutes total and turning occasionally to brown each side.
If pan is oven-proof, transfer pan with meatballs to the oven. If pan is not oven proof, place meatballs in casserole dish and place in oven. Bake meatballs for about 20 min, or cooked through.
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 TBSP za’atar
1/2 TBSP sumac
Parchment or wax paper
3 1/2” cutting ring
Preheat oven to 450º. Place baking sheet in middle rack to preheat.
In a food processor or bowl add flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Mix together (pulse if using a food processor). Add in water and oil and keep mixing until dough forms into a ball. Next, flour board and knead dough with your hands until dough is smooth and elastic. Place parchment paper on board with dough on top. Roll dough out very flat until it’s paper thin (less than 1/8”). Cut dough into 3 1/2” rounds using the cutting ring. Take preheated baking sheet out from oven, place parchment paper with rounds on top. Lightly brush each round with olive oil and sprinkle za’atar and sumac. Place baking sheet back in oven and bake until flatbread rounds are browned and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.
1/3 cup Syrian cheese, crumbled
3 dates, quartered lengthwise
1 TBSP carob molasses
Mix dates and carob molasses in a small bowl and allow flavors to marinate for 10 minutes. Meanwhile let cheese warm to room temperature.
On a small rectangle plate, place a large grape leaf to one side. On half the leaf place four meatballs and then stack a fifth one on top. Put a decent amount of Syrian cheese on the other half of the grape leaf. Top the cheese with a few slices of dates and drizzle with molasses. Fan three flatbread pieces out on the other end of the plate and serve.
Rating- We give our dish 2 out of 5 stars.
Well, when you try to replicate a recipe from a master, you’re going to fall a little flat. And that’s exactly what happened. Meatballs aren’t difficult to make at all. Buy some ground meat, roll it in balls, brown on the stove and then bake for a bit and you have meatballs. The challenging part was discovering what spice combination Feniger used in the meatballs. That was the part that we did not do successfully. We looked online and used the traditional spices but of course, Feniger put her own spin on the dish that we just couldn’t figure out.
The STREET version has a spice flavor to it, yet you still taste the subtle flavor of the lamb. Our version has the spice pretty much overwhelming the flavor of the lamb. We are also missing the heat that STREET had in theirs. The color difference of the meatballs was something that we noticed and can only assume comes from the combination of spices that were added to the lamb. Our meatballs had more of a deep brown shade with a bit of gray to them and theirs was a golden brown with almost a red or orange hue. We tried not to go too Indian with the flavors since the dish had more of a Mediterranean feel, but maybe that is where we went wrong.
Lastly, there is definitely a skill to making flatbread. We ended up doing 2 batches because we did not roll the dough out flat enough the first time around. Seems we still didn’t get the bread flat enough with the second batch, but we were closer. We think the trick lies in rolling the dough as thin as you possibly can so that the flatbread ends up super light and crispy.
Regardless, this dish is very approachable and with enough practice, one we can perfect like STREET’s and enjoy eating in the future. We encourage you to try this dish yourselves and add in your own combination of flavors to put your own spin on Kafta Meatballs.
How would you rate our recipe? We look forward to hearing feedback from you guys. Do you have experience with flavors from this part of the world and have a suggestion as to the spices used? Have you made flatbread before and know a trick to get it thin and crispy? Feel free to email us if you have any questions on the recipe and don’t forget to vote for next week’s restaurant!