Itzik Hagadol is an Israeli restaurant with a branch in Tel Aviv and a branch in Encino. For convenience sake, I chose to try the Encino branch.
The centerpiece of any meal at Itzik Hagadol is the salad course, which includes more than 20 salads, plus falafel. The salads are $18 per person if that's all you are getting, but only $9 per person if you also get an entree, but trust me, you don't need an entree, just a glass of a Golan Heights red wine to wash it down.
The salad course is an all you can eat mezza tour de force which also comes with hot out of the oven sesame flat bread. There are the traditional dips hummous and baba ganouch, but the salads go way beyond that. There are two plates of roasted peppers: a plate of mild, sweet red bell peppers and a delightfully spicy plate of pickled jalapeños. There are at least a half dozen preparations of eggplant, the best of which contrast the umami of eggplant with various sweet and salty elements. There is the surprisingly wonderful vegetarian chopped liver, a meaty amalgam of who knows what, and very nice rendition of real chopped liver. There are beets, cabbage slaw, egg salad, sweet stewed carrots and numerous chopped salads. Inexplicably, there is tomato salsa and guacamole. The faster you eat, the faster the little boats full of salad arrive, both refills and new dishes. After only a few minutes, I completely lost count and couldn't even begin to recall every dish. It is a huge amount of food and a huge amount of fun.
The entrees are largely grilled skewers. We got veal sweetbreads, the house kebab which is a kefta like sausage, and a mixed meat kabob. The kabobs were fine, but nothing exceptional. I was excited by the prospect of sweetbread kabobs (other interesting choices include foie gras and turkey testicles), but the grilling did not sufficiently crisp the sweetbread exterior so it had a uniform pillowy consistency which, while not offensive, didn't capture the rich texture of sweetbreads. It also lacked much seasoning. The kefta and beef were good but not out of the ordinary for Middle Eastern kabobs.
Going to Itzik Hagadol is great fun and gives you a sense of the Israeli appreciation of food. I would recommend bringing a large group and skipping the entrees. The salads are what it's all about.
Itzik Hagadol Grill
17201 Ventura Blvd
Encino, CA 91316