We served falafel, gyros, shawarma, hummus, babagannouj, marinated eggplant, and various vegetarian salads. I used to mist the inside of my water bottle with a squirt from our rosewater cooler, for making rosewater lemonade, and snack on little sauce-cups full of tabbouleh when business was slow.
Despite the fact that this place was the only place I'd ever had shawarma, I took my experience here to mean that I did not like shawarma. Apparently I also internalized that it was always made from a big hunk of dry chicken or turkey mixed with onions on a spit and decorated with absolutely nothing.
But the mind remembers only that it feels a certain way, not why it feels a certain way, and I never went out of my way to order shawarma again. Sometimes I would look at it, slowly rotating, glistening with juices that ran down its bumpy sides into the pan underneath, and wonder for a split second. But I'd remember the gristly, unchewable poultry I'd held in my mouth four, five, seven years ago, and I'd take a pass.
"There's a place over on Fairfax that makes great shawarma," a friend said to me as we were inching down La Brea at a snail's place, making almost zero progress towards our usual destination: Japanese breakfast in Gardena.
"So?" I said. I was grumpy. It was Saturday and there was no reason for there to be so much goddamn traffic. "I hate shawarma."
"Not this shawarma. I promise."
Something inside me unlocked. It was probably the traffic, my absolute unwillingness to sit for another instant behind every single sports car in West Hollywood. "You want to go now?" I asked him. "Let's go now."
He swung the car across a few lanes of ambling traffic and made the turn.
The whole district was virtually shuttered; a largely Orthodox neighborhood on a Saturday, wrought-iron gates were slammed down over darkened shop windows and the streets were full of dressed up, yarmulke-d families coming from temple. Pita Bar & Grill, sandwiched between a closed something-or-other and a wall of chains, barely gave off any indication that it was open, but it was.
Effortfully not allowing myself to be distracted by the Moroccan mergueze sausage, I ordered a shawarma pita. He didn't ask me what I wanted on it, and I didn't want him to. I like it when places give you whatever they feel is tastiest.
In this case, the little wrap was more of a bursting salad than a sandwich, its hunks of lamb all but buried in a pile of mild sauerkraut, bright purple cabbage, and assorted salad-like accoutrements, and smothered in a light hummus. Despite the wetness and sheer weight of the fillings, the pita remained warm and unmoved.
I wasn't even expecting to be able to taste the meat under everything pressing it down, but despite it all, the gamey lamb flavor came stampeding out of the gate, cinnamon clutching the reins.
There were green bottles, there were white bottles, there were red bottles, there were orange bottles. Just in case all of the salad and all of the meat marinade wasn't enough, I could choose to slather my sandwich in garlic chili sauce, or preserved mango sauce, or tahini, or garlic paste, or cilantro jalapeño sauce.
I chose the cilantro jalapeño sauce, which hit me with some pleasing Peruvian memories, but otherwise couldn't possibly improve on the flavor.
Not one hint of gristle touched my teeth, not one tough tendon assaulted my jaw, and I even felt healthy afterwards, that kind of cheating-healthy where the sheer amount of vegetables piled on your oily grilled meat fools your stomach into thinking it's ingested a salad, rather than oily grilled meat.
Never again will I claim not to like shawarma. In fact, this experience reminds me to never claim not to like anything: there's always an amazing preparation somewhere. You just have to find it.