Sacrificial Lamb

By John Bergano

Posted March 29, 2012 in Eats

A taste of Syria and Lebanon in Chino Hills

One might not immediately equate Chino Hills with superb Mediterranean cuisine. However, the Mes Amis experience is a pleasantly surprising journey through a taste of authentic Syrian and Lebanese-influenced fare. On our first visit—while seduced by carefully executed food, spiced just right—we discovered Mes Amis has a second location in London. On our second visit, when invited by owner Sammy Elias, we learned his intriguing story of bringing the gem to the Inland Empire.

The space has a free and relaxing feel with several windows, festive décor and an open kitchen. The lights allow you to see your dining party’s faces and help encourage an environment and ambiance of long dinners, prolonged wine drinking, and the feeling of escape to an exciting Middle Eastern land.

Our server on both visits—the same, knowledgeable woman—was polite and accommodating. On our second, chronicled visit, she told us our initial wine selection—a popular pomegranate wine—was out, but immediately suggested another Armenian sweet wine: Vivat Armenia.

The menu is built to share. There are two sections: “To Start With” and “To Follow.” To start with, we shared the “Mes Amis Journey” ($15.95). Each of the four journeys is a tasting of four unique items usually integrating a salad, a dip or spread, a protein and vegetables.

The “Mes Amis Journey” includes the addictive Pommes Frites, fried and served hot and crisp with Sammy’s secret sauces. The Petit Kafta are basically spicy meatballs with a taste of charbroiled flavor and a tahini sauce. Fattoush is a refreshing mixed greens salad with mint, sumac, lemon and olive oil. The Babaganouj comes with the addition of pomegranate seeds.

To follow, our entrees included Chicken Tanour ($18.95), filet mignon and lamb tenderloin Grilled Shish Kabob (MP). Each platter was served with grilled tomato and zucchini, rice, tabouli with a zesty hint of blood orange and hummus. The colorfully vibrant presentations support the bursting flavors of the plates.

The Chicken Tanour is memorable for the superior execution of the tasty fowl (perfectly spiced) and keeping it so moist. All of the meats were tender and included large pieces. Sammy later mentioned that his idea of kabob is keeping the skewer out of the picture and letting people enjoy the tastes together. He’s right. Nothing was over-spiced. A litany of strong adjectives—amazed, obsessed, wowed—could be used to describe the feelings of over joy whilst entranced in the journey.

Towards the end of our meal Sammy came by to chat, as he does with most every table. Of Syrian decent, he calls his food Syrian and Lebanese cuisine with a modern twist. The self-taught chef is not only the personality in the dining room, but the maestro in the kitchen, carefully orchestrating the team that prepares just about everything in house from scratch.

Sammy goes to great lengths to obtain authentic products and wines. His aim is to create a traditional Mediterranean experience for his guests; hence the fact the wine list doesn’t include any wines outside of Lebanon or the aforementioned Armenia.

The first Mes Amis was opened by Sammy and his brother, James, in London, in 1991. It’s a smaller, more eclectic location still run by the brother. Sammy noted the menu at that location is not as grill-centric. Sammy’s travels brought him to Southern California, where he met a girl and brought his restaurant concept to Chino Hills. The addresses of both locations can be found on the menu and receipt.

Our dining experience concluded with friendly conversation, final sips of wine and a dessert aptly named Piece Of Heaven ($7)—carefully constructed ground phyllo dough with warm ground pistachios and date and rose water syrup—with a generous scoop of ashta rose water and orange blossom ice cream. The fact that this dessert was prepared in-house, from scratch, was the truest testament to the enhanced family recipes that fuel the successful Mediterranean journey that is Mes Amis.

Mes Amis, 14620 Pipeline Ave., Ste. 1, Chino Hills, (909) 597-8353; Tues-Sat, 11:30am-3pm and 6pm-10pm; Mon, 6pm-10pm. AD, D, MC, V.


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