In food there can be too much of a good thing — not that Open Sesame knows that yet. The Lebanese restaurant’s flagship location in Belmont Shore has been Long Beach’s worst-kept secret for almost 14 years. Lines and reservations overflowed at the original location until Open Sesame opened a second location — literally a 10-second walk down the same street. The original restaurant remains a favorite with the Belmont Shore locals, who endure waits upwards of half an hour on the weekends on a street teeming with decent food options.
The restaurant reached a little farther for its third location — situated on Beverly Boulevard and Gardener Street just northeast of Culver City, the restaurant finally opened its doors earlier last week in Eva’s old space. Though it’s still in its earlier stages of opening, the Mid-City location has all the confidence and strong execution of its original location — including some improvements over the Belmont Shore eatery.
After ascending the stairs into the restaurant’s main dining room, the first thing to note about Open Sesame is its small size. In one particularly crowded area, a row of tables and chairs creates a narrow corridor between the service window and dining tables. The overall layout of the restaurant is intimate and warm — a feeling that is reinforced by the dark wood and orange and maroon lighting scheme.
The food at Open Sesame is similarly warm and alluring — the restaurant offers a range of fire-grilled meat skewers, with choices ranging from kafta (a ground mix of sirloin and lamb) to chicken tawook (marinated breast chunks) to filet mignon and tiger shrimp. Many of the entrees come with a side of rice, a choice of salad and a choice of hummus or baba ghannouj.
The star of the show is the chicken tawook — marinated chunks of breast are grilled over open fire to a juicy doneness and served with an addictive garlic spread. The paste is similar to the ones found in sealed containers at Zankou Chicken with one key difference: Open Sesame’s version positively blossoms with the flavor of fresh garlic, with even the slight kick of heat that comes from eating raw garlic. Hopefully your date won’t mind.
Open Sesame applies a similar attention to detail with its other dishes; tabouleh (a Mediterranean salad consisting of chopped parsley, mint, lemon juice and bulgur wheat) goes heavy on the chopped tomatoes, giving the dish a substantive texture without sacrificing the clean acidity of the mint and lemon juice combination.
Also, someone at Open Sesame has boiled down the making of baba ghannouj to a science — the restaurant’s rendition is the best money can buy in Los Angeles. Open Sesame’s version of the eggplant puree manages to feel smooth and creamy without being too runny, which makes it perfect for spreading on pita bread. The slight tang of eggplant and tahini acts as a canvas for an intensely smoky, rich finish that lingers long after the meal ends.
For all of its raving successes, Open Sesame’s red meats falter slightly. Sirloin steak ordered medium arrives a half step short of well-done. Though the meat manages to stay tender, there’s not much beefy flavor to make it stand out, as is usually the case with leaner cuts of sirloin. The kafta is also nothing terribly noteworthy, albeit far better than average. The mixture of ground beef and lamb usually comes out dry and best suited for use in sandwiches as opposed to a stand-alone entree, but Open Sesame’s version is reassuringly juicier and doesn’t skimp on the gamey taste of lamb. Regardless, both dishes are pedestrian choices on a menu that boasts some of the best chicken skewers in the city.
The dishes certainly don’t sound like a white tablecloth affair on paper, but Open Sesame’s phenomenal service bears mention. Members of the staff deftly whisk between the narrow spaces in the restaurant with equal parts grace and deference. The service staff is knowledgeable about the food options and pleasantly attentive. While Mediterranean cuisine can often feel like dressed-up take-out food, Open Sesame’s execution and attention to detail is undeniable — this is food deserving of a full restaurant experience.
Open Sesame is sure to gain a foothold in a busy restaurant corridor that includes the likes of BLD and Angelini Osteria. Word seems to be spreading, and it’s only a matter of time before the bookings fill up and the line snakes down the stairs. So is there such thing as too much of a good thing? In Open Sesame’s case, the answer is no — at least not yet.
Follow Euno on Twitter @eunowhat