Greater Los Angeles is a collection of not just smaller cities but also exotic populations. Among those cities is Glendale (not so small: it would be the second-most-populous city in New England), a center of the Armenian diaspora and home to one of the world’s largest Armenian populations outside Armenia.
Fleeing religious violence in the late 19th century, genocide in the early 20th or the Soviet Union after that, Armenian Californians became integral in the development of the fig, raisin and bulgur businesses.
Edward Khechemyan came to Burbank, which borders on Glendale, in 1991 — the same year Armenia left the U.S.S.R. He was 17 then, and of the move, he says simply, “We didn’t like the Communist system.” His father, who left Iran for Armenia — the home of his ancestors — in 1974, was a chef who dreamed of opening a restaurant, and in 1997, he did just that.
The name of the restaurant, which is on the terminally unhip San Fernando Road right near the Burbank border, has changed twice; it is now called Adana. The food-and-travel writer David Latt, a friend who has never steered me wrong, listed it as among his favorite restaurants when I was picking his brain last year, and we ate there together last fall. It was so good that I’ve visited Adana on each of my four subsequent trips to Los Angeles.
Khechemyan is now the chef, and the food is not easily categorized. He learned to cook from his father, but given that that man was from Iran, that his upbringing was Armenian-American and that the Russian influence was strong everywhere, the menu is a hodgepodge in the best sense of the word, boasting of innumerable kebabs and more than a few intriguing salads and dishes of beans, and of rice and other grains. There are unfamiliar ingredients and preparations, and it’s all done well, in a tiny and unpretentious kitchen.
One of my trips to L.A. was actually a trip to Glendale, arranged so that I could cook with Khechemyan. I was immediately impressed with his facility and his ease and especially his grilling technique. In his kitchen, Khechemyan moves quickly, and within 30 minutes, we had done four kebabs.
The marinades are simple (he uses a lot of mild dried red chili powder, the kind you can most easily buy in Korean markets), and the grilling technique is not difficult. But it’s unusual: he grills slowly (over briquettes fired with gas, by the way), not too close to the fire, he insists, until gorgeously browned. The fire is not superhot, but it’s even — gas is good for that — and he keeps the grill grate a good six inches above the fire.
It wasn’t all grilling. Two of the best dishes we cooked were Iranian (“Persian,” Khechemyan clarifies). The first was baghali polo, extra-long basmati rice boiled halfway then steamed with garlic powder (an ingredient I haven’t used in 20 years or so, but hey . . . ), fava or lima beans and an infield’s worth of fresh dill. The other, a salad, is something I’ve been making all summer; if I were you, I’d just start chopping.