Two things are required every time someone reviews a Middle Eastern / Mediterranean restaurant that offers rotisserie chicken. First, there must be a comparison to the Zankou Chicken bird as a point of reference. This is followed by maybe a paragraph or two about the accompanying garlic paste.
This review will be no exception, so let’s get out of the way: Yes, the steakhouse at Chicken Maison is similar to the one at Zankou. They both spend time circling in a transparent oven until their skin tans to a radiant golden brown that is only a shade darker than George Hamilton’s. Heat-squeezed from its fat, which has sprayed the meat underneath, the spice-rubbed skin of the chicken shrinks to a gauze-like thinness. And the pale white garlic paste called toum? Both restaurants give you a large amount to apply as a balm to any surface made of chicken or pita bread. Chicken Maison’s similarities to Zankou end here.
Chinese chicken salad in a Lebanese dip? Only in OC.
Although Chicken Maison’s poultry skin isn’t as crispy or intensely flavorful as Zankou’s, the meat is moister, which is good because Zankou seems to sacrifice the juiciness of his chicken (especially around the breast area) in service. to get that skin just right.
Now let’s move on to the garlic paste. Zankou toum is so powerful that it can function as aromatic salts. Chicken Maison’s is a kinder and more delicate pasta. You can almost eat it with a spoon and eat it like mashed potatoes. I’m not sure you will need it if you order the bird pre-soaked in the lemon, garlic or lemon basil sauce mixture, which are two options that Zankou does not offer.
It is at this point that the Armenian Zankou and the Lebanese Chicken Maison diverge even more. The latter was founded in 2005 in Torrance by Mario Karame. It has grown to two other branches, all family-run, including the newest in a sterile L-shaped mini mall anchored by a Target where Costa Mesa ends and Santa Ana begins. But while Zankou keeps it simple with just a few permutations. For its main protein as dishes, Chicken Maison’s menu strives to be more ambitious.
First, there’s what you’re waiting for: gyro meat from a rotisserie is shaved into crisp, deeply spiced petals found on a plate or sandwich. The dense, crunchy falafels are filled with tabbouleh on pitas or simply as a main course.
Then there are the things you never thought to see: a huge bowl of chicken pesto fettuccine, which can feed a family of four with leftovers for the dog, has noodles that are a little overcooked and puffed up, but redeemed with a pesto. spicy and sun-dried tomatoes.
But the item that will prove my point that Chicken Maison is capable of doing whatever it wants? The Chinese chicken salad. Save for the overly bitter purple cabbage, this is the best bastardization of a bastard dish you’ll find anywhere. With all the prerequisites (mandarin orange wedges, chicken strips, chopped romaine lettuce, sesame seeds) it mixes with a perfectly formulated dressing to be sweet and sour but never tasteless. And when the flavor is picked up by the delicate Persian cucumbers or absorbed by the deep-fried pita chips used as croutons, you forget why you ever looked down on other versions.
However good it is, it’s really just an introduction to what I consider to be the true purpose of Chicken Maison – kebabs. They are huge things, golden in charcoal. No specimen of kebab is more glorious or generously portioned than kafta. Order one for lunch and you won’t need anything else for the rest of the day. Aggressively seasoned and flavored with minced onion, spices and mint, this molded meat cylinder is the thickness of a boa constrictor and the length of a submarine sandwich, easily the equivalent of five crumbly ground beef patties dripping with juice.
Lamb, beef fillet, and chicken also get the kebab treatment. You will find that each bite of bamboo skewer is too large to put in your mouth; Knife and fork required. All are licked by fire and filtered by smoke, but lamb kebab becomes extraordinary when eaten with a simple buttered baked potato and charcoal-stained grilled vegetable kebab, in which a mushroom, onion, tomato, zucchini and bell pepper. impaled on a stick.
And of course there’s hummus, and it’s good, topped with diced tomatoes and parsley. I recommend choosing him to occupy the nth position. 1 for your first combo garnish. The second place? Well, there are too many to list here. I like the house potato salad. Avoid vinegar mayonnaise (or is it lemon?) As a topping. Scoop it over the rice, even if it has raisins.
For dessert? Brownies Yes, Chicken Maison has wonderful brownies, not too sweet, chewy, cellophane wrapped cocoa blocks, and hearty enough for two. It’s further proof that the place makes nutty soup. Oh, didn’t I mention the soup? There is soup.
Chicken Maison, 3332 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 434-0244; Chicken House, 2709 Manhattan Beach Blvd. Redondo Beach, CA (310) 725-0035; Chicken Maison, 3901 Pacific Coast Hwy. Torrance, CA 90505 (310) 465-1050
This review appeared in print as “Flying the Coop: Chicken Maison’s menu goes way beyond the headline bird.”