LULEH, YOU'VE GOT ME ON MY KNEES By Allan Ross
City Pulse, MI Dec 14 2005
Gennady Gevorkyan waves a crude fan fashioned from a torn piece of cardboard over one corner of a grill. What appear to be swords impaled with different kinds of meat huddle over the hot spot while Gevorkyan coaxes heat from the cedar coals beneath.
"Come on," he whispers. The hot embers glow red, and suddenly a soft blue flame appears and slowly creeps across the coals like moss. He waves more furiously until the flame is healthy and the seasoned meat inches above it begins to broil. Instantly, the air is alive with the smell of fresh meat, onions and spices.
"That's the way we cook all the meat," says Gevorkyan. "It all gets the personal touch."
As that meat sizzles at House of Kabobs, 1825 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing, Gevorkyan is engrossed in the preparation of another skewer.
He's a stout man, with fun, twinkling eyes and a salt-and-pepper mustache. He carefully molds the ground lamb and beef onto the skewer and lays it beside the one already underway.
"The secret is the marinade," says Gevorkyan, busy turning the meat and stoking the fire again. "This is an old-fashioned recipe." Not that he'll tell you what the meat is marinated in-only that the ingredients aren't available locally and he has to drive to Detroit to get them.
Gevorkyan, a native Armenian, owned and operated a restaurant/bakery in Moscow before moving to the United States 16 years ago with his wife. After dazzling friends and family for years here in the States with his culinary arts - and after much prodding - he decided to open his own restaurant (in tandem with his wife's cousins, the restaurant's co-owners). Many of the family-perfected recipes made the trip over with him, but Gevorkyan acknowledges that even tried-and-true classic dishes need to be tweaked from time to time.
"These recipes are traditional, passed down in families and in cookbooks," he says. "But every now and then you change it little. We try and make [each dish] our own-make it special."
Gevorkyan's signature dish (and the menu's top-seller) is the "Luleh" Shish Kabob Plate, the sizzling number he's been doting over with the cardboard fan. The dish is so popular, in fact, he has the recipe and cooking instructions framed and hanging in the dining room. It's a blend of marinated ground lamb and beef mixed with ground onion, garlic and other seasonings, shaped around a stainless steel spit and grilled all the way through over cedar coals. It arrives on a plate loaded with imported Basmati rice pilaf, lettuce, tomato and a side of the roasted house tomato sauce.
Gevorkyan says the reason he blends the lamb is to tone it down a little for American palates, and the result is a beefy flavor with some lamb nuances. Paprika, ground cumin and red pepper flakes give a little lulu to the Luleh, but the use of spice is gentle enough to keep you chewing. The tomato sauce looks like salsa but is warm and tastes more like traditional marinara sauce, and dipping a bite into it every so often gives the dish a Mediterranean sensation.
Gevorkyan sits briefly, flanked by his wife, Elmira, and daughter Anna, who serves interchangeably as hostess and waitress. He says he enjoys working with his family, and that joy carries over into the treatment of guests. Elmira shows a stack of guest feedback sheets an inch thick, all rating their experience as excellent.
"All the people that come here come back," says Gevorkyan. "Everyone who tries our food loves it."
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