Kabob at Zov's.

Chef Zov Karamardian’s culinary genius on display

She’s won California’s Chef of the Year and Restaurateur of the Year

by LORI BASHEDA

Owner and Chef Zov Karamardian.

I’ve been eating at Zov’s for 19 years, returning again and again for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My introduction to Chef Zov Karamardian was at her Tustin bistro and bakery. I used to sneak away from my office down the street to spend an hour alone with one of her warm rolls and whatever delightful salad she had dreamed up that day.

It wasn’t just the food that made me happy, but the attentive service and the upscale, yet comfortable, atmosphere.

As Zov added a few more cafes here and there, expanding her culinary footprint, I made a point to visit each one. And so here I am today at Zov’s at Orchard Hills Shopping Center in Irvine. The mood inside is casual/modern with soft statement lights, lots of mirrors and warm wood.

It “blends the casual side of the cafe while offering some of the signature dishes from the bistro,” Karamardian says.

The menu is a variation on her flagship bistro but includes many of the dishes she is known for — her Golden Lentil Soup, for instance, served with a warm roll and butter.

If you fall in love with it, like I did, you can buy her cookbook and make it yourself at home. There are too many spices in this soup to name, something like 10, but, suffice it to say, something about it is addictive.

Karamardian’s cuisine is “a blend of contemporary with Eastern Mediterranean influences,” in her words. Her French fries are tossed with sumac, for instance. For her unique culinary perspective (she is an Armenian who was born in Israel), she has been invited to contribute to Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.

It was a crisp day when I visited Orchard Hills, so I was craving comfort food. I ordered the Moroccan Salmon Salad, which arrives on a bed of warm lentils and sautéed onions alongside organic greens tossed in sweet balsamic vinaigrette.

The lunchtime playlist vacillated from Sinatra to the Eagles and Van Morrison. There is also a bar here and a happy hour menu from 3 to 6 p.m. And brunch on weekends (The Oatmeal Brulee!).

Karamardian, by the way, rose to fame with her baking prowess, so do try at least one of the desserts.