Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Manaeesh at Amira Bakery

The name for these Eastern Mediterranean quasi-pizzas can be spelled about 1001 ways—but it all adds up to deliciousness, any way you slice it. The easygoing Lebanese counter joint near DU that turns them out from its traditional ovens with such aplomb, Amira Bakery, offers a full range of Levantine staples, including shawarma, hummus, baba ghanoush & more, much of which comes with terrific, puffy, toothy, fresh-from-the-oven pita—I had to snap a pic on my car seat before it deflated.

And the falafel’s damn fine too. Though they need to update the posted menu to reflect price changes—everything’s a couple bucks more than listed—they also give you a little extra, so it all evens out in the end. These puppies are moist, crunchy-fluffy rather than flour-dense, with lots of parsley as well as chickpeas—so they’ve got an herbaceous zing that barely needs dressing (that said, a side of tahini sauce beyond the meager dribbling on top would’ve been a plus).

Still, the pies are Amira’s ace in the hole. Of 14 different kinds, I’ve tried 3 & adored them all: the lahmbajeen (from the Armenian lahmajoon), topped with a robust, juicy mixture of ground lamb & beef, bits of pepper & pinenuts;

the za’atar, named for its strongly aromatic, earthy-tart spice blend of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac & more, enhanced by a drizzle of olive oil;

& the chef’s special, which combines lebni, kashkawan (aka kashkaval) & a goodly pour of honey for the sticky-gooey, sweet-salty win.

The lebni they use is so thick & smooth it’s almost like cream cheese; the cheese is a cousin to mozzarella. For all I know you could replace both with Kraft’s finest & get the same results. What a guilty, finger-licking pleasure all the same.

Amira Bakery on Urbanspoon

How Do You Drop a Benjamin at Phoenician Kabob?

Very, very carefully.

First, you & the Director arrange to meet Denver on a Spit (DOAS), Mantonat, & their blushing brides for a late lunch at this Lebanese sleeper on Colfax; then, you hardly eat all morning, to ensure you’ll be nice & saber-toothed by the appointed meeting time; meanwhile, you chip away at some looming deadline, so that hunger & work stress will swirl into a perfect storm of determined debauchery, a play-by-play of which, complete with full dish descriptions, you’ll find right here at DOAS.

By the time your companions arrive, you’ll both be on your 2nd of 3 glasses of Château Kafraya‘s red blend from the Bakaa Valley of Lebanon, & you’ll have polished off much of the 1st of 2 orders of your favorite, most vengeful of garlic dips with pita fresh from the oven.

Then DOAS—otherwise known as the only soul in all of Denver who can eat as much as you–will suggest you start with the pizza-like specialty known as manaqish (or, sometimes, lahmacun) heavily sprinkled with the region’s famed, earthy, slightly bitter spice mixture, za’atar, & dotted with, all of things, cornichons & Japanese-style pickles (aka tsukemono).

The fact that, being wonderfully airy but slightly dry, it doesn’t quite beat your favorite local version, that of Amira Bakery,

which also makes a killer pie topped with ground lamb,

will not keep you from digging in whole-heartedly.

DOAS will also suggest an order of fatayer filled with lamb, onions & pine nuts,

unusual to me for being open-faced rather than turnover-like, which as far as I know is more common. The pastry’s flaky, almost puff-like, but also slightly on the dry side (perhaps that’s a point in favor of encasing the filling completely, so the dough soaks up the meat juices)? Still, nothing a little tzatziki can’t fix.

Of course, you & the Director will have ordered separate combo patters: yours vegetarian with falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, dolmas, rice & the richest of yogurt dips, lebne, 

his topped further with chopped gyro & chicken.

(Meanwhile, one member of your party will order a daily special, comprised of enough saffron rice, beef & potatoes, along with more tzatziki, to feed a whole bunch of normal people.)

By now, not even you can stomach the thought of dessert, much as you adore baklava, kunafa, & the like. Coffee that’s nearly thick as fudge batter will have to do.

If, like me, you dig Arabic, Cuban & all the other coffee styles that are at once intensely bitter & well sweetened, you’l be set, but DOAS warns: “I hate sweet coffee & love strong, black coffee, so I was torn, though I appreciated the copious amounts of sludge on the bottom of my mini-cup (I think I got extra sludge & really did like it). And 3 or 4 pours had me going the rest of the day.”

And that, folks, is how you blow stacks of cash at Phoenician Kabob, & how you’ll no doubt do it again someday soon.

Phoenician Kabob on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Ya Hala Grill’s Kibbeh Akrass

I’m not always thrilled with Ya Hala, but when this institution delivers, it really delivers, pun totally intended. The croquettes known as kibbeh—stuffed with browned ground lamb, cracked wheat (or maybe bulgur, who can tell), pinenuts & onions—are shockingly spot-on. The exterior is fresh, crunchy, lightly seasoned, & greaseless; the interior is moist, not so much rich as deep, & nutty. The rice, too, is expertly cooked & fragrant in that Eastern Mediterranean way, whereby you’re transported to some ancient juncture of sea & desert & crumbling city…

Jerusalem Restaurant vs. Ya Hala Grill: A Tale of Two Vegetarian Combos

***Yesterday’s ode to the King Combo at Mecca Grill brought the below post to mind, originally published on the website of Denver Magazine earlier this year.***

On January 31, the USDA revised its dietary guidelines to recommend that Americans up their intake of produce, whole grains, plant-based proteins, & good fats even more while further reducing their intake of meat & saturated fats. In short, duh, but it served as a reminder to yours truly that I should throw vegetarians a bone (so to speak) more often.

While the new food diagram looks a lot like that of the Western Mediterranean diet as popularized in the 1990s, Eastern Mediterranean cuisine is no less vegetarian-friendly & heart-healthy. So I decided to try the meatless combo platters offered by two of Denver’s most beloved Middle Eastern joints—Jerusalem Restaurant & Ya Hala Grill—side by side to see how they stacked up.

Jerusalem

Ya Hala

To start with the items the combos had in common:

Falafel. Jerusalem’s boasted a golden-brown crust as cracklingly thin as the surface of crème brulée—but the interior of these fried, mashed-chickpea croquettes was moist, nutty & smoky with cumin & lots of herbs. Ya Hala’s was too crunchy throughout, on the dry side. Winner: Jerusalem.

Stuffed grape leaves. Expertly rolled, Jerusalem’s were as tight as cigars, packed with aromatic jasmine rice. By contrast, Ya Hala’s rice filling was plain, interesting rather for its texture: almost pudding-like inside remarkably tender, olive oil–slicked grape leaves. Winner: Toss-up. Jerusalem’s are technically correct, but I enjoyed the unusual softness of Ya Hala’s.

Hummus. Compared to Ya Hala’s blandly one-note fluff, Jerusalem’s chickpea purée is textbook—lightly creamy, spiked with lemon juice and tahini in equilibrium. Winner: Jerusalem. (Ya Hala does, however, have a garbanzo-based winner in fatteh.)

Tabbouleh. Proportion was also the key to Jerusalem’s finely chopped, simply dressed parsley-&-bulgur salad with tomatoes & onions, whereas Ya Hala’s was especially lemony. Winner: Another toss-up. Jerusalem’s showed better balance, but Ya Hala’s had more juice, in every sense of the word.

Baba ghanoush. Only after reviewing the menu did I realize that one of the three whitish dips on Ya Hala’s combo was even supposed to be baba ghanoush; none had any eggplant flavor at all. Jerusalem’s was more like it—nice & tangy, with an airy consistency almost like whipped cream. Winner: Definitely Jerusalem.

Ounce for ounce, Jerusalem was coming out way ahead—especially considering that its combo was $4 cheaper than Ya Hala’s ($8.95 versus $12.99), yet offered two falafel & stuffed grape leaves to the latter’s one. But that was only half the battle. In fact, the remaining items on Jerusalem’s platter were less impressive, from the pale, limp french fries to the fattoush, an oily mixture of chopped green pepper, winter tomatoes, onions & herbs that was completely devoid of the key ingredient, toasted pita chips. Ya Hala, meanwhile, offered up starkly pungent garlic dip & soothing cucumber-yogurt sauce in counterbalance; the earthy mixture of lentils & rice known as moujaddara; a well-spiced wedge of spinach-feta pie (though the phyllo was slightly stale); & unfortunately tinny-tasting green beans stewed with tomatoes, as well as a few chunks of decent feta.

Final verdict: Ya Hala’s vegetarian combo was more diverse, but Jerusalem’s was better overall—indicating why the decades-old Denver University hangout is such a mainstay.

Jerusalem Restaurant: 1890 E. Evans Ave.; 303.777.8828; Lunch and dinner daily; $3.50–$12.95.Ya Hala Grill: 2100 S. Colorado Blvd.; 303.758.9376; Lunch and dinner daily; $3.50–$13.99.

Taki Sushi, Mecca Grill, & a Sofa Spud

Countless times I’ve admitted to the mistake of delivery sushi—antithetical to the organic, immediate, intimate sushi bar experience, hence unfair to both the purveyor & the consumer thereof. Countless times I’ve ordered it anyway, because I’m lazy like that. But after a recent order from Taki Sushi, the Director finally, officially revoked my sushi-delivery privileges—his nigiri & the California roll we got for free (standard with a purchase over $25, mind you, not something we’d ever actively choose) being, he griped, flaccid & tasteless.

I got luckier; my nigiri—spicy scallop, black tobiko (flying fish roe) & wasabi-infused tobiko—were just fine, tightly rolled, eggs a-popping, shellfish firm yet luscious. (I also appreciated the fact that they could be ordered by the piece rather than by the more common pair.)

But what I really dug, she admits sheepishly, was the Pearl Roll (at bottom).

My excuse for snarfing such an abomination of Japanese tradition: look, it’s summer, & I pine for the days I spent traipsing up & down the Massachusetts shoreline to get my fill of breaded, deep-fried bivalves at seasonal landmarks like The Clam Box. And here they were, crispy breaded oysters whose flavor wasn’t totally lost amid the rice & seaweed topped with salmon & avocado in a more-sweet-than-spicy chili mayo. Pretty good for being so bad.

Granted, 1 glance at the loose rice in the Cali roll above it justifies the Director’s complaints—& I wasn’t too keen on the miso eggplant either. Recipes can vary, & a sauce as thick & sweet as this isn’t necessarily wrong. But it seemed to have just been slopped on top, not broiled with the eggplant to integrate the flavors. So it evoked a sort of eggplant-pudding parfait. Rather disconcerting.

Still, there was enough I liked about Taki at a disadvantage to want to try it in the presumably more flattering light of an actual visit.
***

Since the ban on takeout/delivery applies only to Japanese food, I’ve been taking advantage of the Director’s falafel fetish to get my fill of Mecca Grill. It’s actually a cute place, humble but colorful & cozy, in its little strip mall on Downing—but see “lazy like that.” I’m also boozy like that; Mecca’s dry, & my house isn’t.

We’ve ordered 3 King Combos in the past week or so, all of them slightly different—I suspect the kitchen adds whichever meats are at its immediate disposal. We’ve seen chunks of beef, lamb & chicken kebab, chicken shawarma, kofta, &, once, though it’s not even listed as an option, thin coins of the superb, literally melt-in-your-mouth spiced lamb-&-beef sausage otherwise used for sandwiches. To a piece, they’ve been moist & tender—even the chicken!—as well as nicely charred & seasoned.

The vegetarian items haven’t changed: there’s the baba ghanouj I just named Dish of the Week; stuffed grape leaves whose luscious near-gooeyness contrasts with their hyper-lemony tang; tabbouleh with a surprising paprika kick, whether due to its mixture with other items or its own recipe; crunchy, nutty falafel from which the scent of herbs actually wafts; & just-right rice. The uncharacteristically bland hummus isn’t quite up to the rest, & I seriously doubt the claim on the menu that the pita is housemade. But overall the combo rocks.

The same could be said of Mecca Grill in general. The only thing I won’t be ordering again is the fatoush. Though abounding in vividly crisp, ripe veggies, it was also swimming in the oil of a dressing that, given the expert condimenting of everything else, was a disappointment. If it did indeed contain olive rather than vegetable oil, it wasn’t extra or even plain or even born-again virgin, & the advertised flavor of mint went undetected. After a few bites I just picked out all the pita chips before they got soggy & left it at that.

Meanwhile, though they required a bit of knife action (roughage is a bitch), the cabbage rolls—a family recipe, we were told—were wonderfully stuffed with rice & ground lamb cooked in a bit of tomato sauce, redolent of cumin & a touch of cinnamon. So soft & soothingly homey.

You’ll often see the dish below listed as foul moudammas (or some variant spelling thereof); you might also, as here, see the name translated simply as fava beans. Which they are—mature, dried favas that are nothing like the flattish, fresh, green ones you see in their pods at the market in season but rather evoke smoky, meaty pintos.

In any case, the garnish of juicy diced tomatoes & sliced pickle adds a layer of zing to the beans, popping just so in your mouth.

At this point, I’m half-tempted to stop whining about wine & stop in for a feast, washed down with a banana milk “cocktail.”"

Taki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Mecca Grill on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Baba Ghanouj at Mecca Grill

Mecca Grill excels at a lot of things (full review to come), but the baba ghanouj in particular is among the best I’ve ever had.

You see how it’s a little granular?

My guess is that’s because they don’t puree it but mash it by hand. And you see how it’s a little grayish? That, I bet, is due to the addition of pomegranate juice or syrup (the menu calls it “sauce”)—just a touch to bring out the sweetness of the eggplant, while lending depth to the tartness of the lemon juice.

A hit of smoke, a hint of garlic, a smack of nutty tahini, a drizzle of olive oil & a sprinkle of what tasted like sumac rather than paprika—it all added up to a strikingly prismatic variant on the classic.

Drunk Dining: The Pizza Problem & The Syrian Solution

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” wrote Blake, giving me one good reason to live. “Sucky bread is sucky—you can quote me on that,” said my pal yumyum21 once, & so I have done ever since.

By extension, sucky crust is really, really sucky—a lesson I think I finally learned the hard way with 3 pizzas in a row that ranged from pathetic to merely mediocre.

In theory, I’m not a pizza snob. There’s a time & a place for all kinds of pie, from a classically simple margherita to the most outrageous vehicle for cognac-marinated lobster & champagne-macerated caviar to the greasiest, floppiest takeaway. The latter’s time & place is, of course, a late-night, boozy haze (the kind that might, say, obscure the filth of the cutting board you’re using as a backdrop for the slices you got to go *after* a long session at Lou’s Food Bar).

But in practice, shining examples of the corner-joint ideal are few & far between. Even as I bought the below slices from Famous Pizza, I slurred to myself, Wow, those pepperoni disks look like Shrinky Dinks.

And that’s exactly what they tasted like. Stuck on cheese that tasted in turn like it was shredded with the plastic it came in. Amid sausage crumbles that didn’t taste like anything—how is that even possible? Atop a crust so bland & chewy it was like old gum. The slice on the right was a slight improvement if you disregarded the feta’s weird texture, like dried toothpaste.

That description may be harsh, but not as harsh as the experience of eating it—one I have no intention of repeating. After all, I’ve made the same mistake over & over with Pasquini’s—but this time was the last. Pleased as I was to see a generous sprinkling of whole roasted garlic cloves & toasted pine nuts on my pizzetta, it was undermined by rubber chicken chunks, pallid crust, & inexplicable blandness overall—I actually added salt.

By comparison to the above, combo slices from Joyce’s Famous Pizza were halfway decent. The crust was no less stale, but the pepperoni at least had enough juice to yield droplets of spicy grease, while the cheese, sauce & veggies actually resembled themselves. Not platonic versions of themselves, but themselves nonetheless.

Still, halfway decent isn’t even an eighth-of-the way great. On the scale of true greatness, it wouldn’t register incrementally, especially not after the deduction in points that must occur when the guy behind the counter hawks a loogie into the trashcan right before taking your order. True story.

Which brings me to the fatteh from Ya Hala Grill. If the homely photo doesn’t inspire confidence, that’s because, never having had the dish before, I didn’t know I probably should have mixed it up first for a truer picture.

Middle Eastern fatteh, much like Indian papri chaat, is a mélange of toasted flatbread (here pita) chips & yogurt sauce, along with an array of variable ingredients—in this case chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil & parsley. The result is earthy, smoky, salty & tart; creamy, crunchy & messy—perfect, in short, for boozy grubbing. Before you take that long pizzeria-lined road all the way home, consider this shortcut to edible enlightenment.

Halfway House of Kabob (via By Jeeves)

Having acknowledged ad nauseum that a meal ordered in is a culinary experience once removed—you can’t possibly get the same feel for the kitchen as you do when you’re within feet of it—the fact of the matter is most of us rely on delivery from time to time, & a comparison of your options under those circumstances is no less valuable than a comparison of your options for dining out.

Granted, it would be more valuable if the deliveries from any given place were themselves consistent. Since House of Kabob’s just aren’t, what can I say except good luck? Sometimes it’ll be a score, sometimes a wash.

Of all the Middle Eastern restaurants on By Jeeves’ list, I was partial toward HOK insofar as the menu, though laden with familiar staples, doesn’t dumb its specials down—think lamb’s tongue soup & fesenjan (walnut-&-pomegranate flavored chicken stew). That said, the basics are always a good place to start, since the quality of the foundation obviously determines the extent to which it can be built upon with any confidence or style.

Here’s where this House’s foundation proves shoddy.

HOKshawarma
chicken shawarma pita w/ fries

Iceberg has its place in a shawarma, but it’s not supposed to have it to itself. Not that the wan shreds of chicken that were hiding in the corners were worth outing; meanwhile, what was glaring were the ungrilled pita & limp fries.

HOKfattoush

By comparison, the pita croutons in the fattoush were nice and crispy, the veggies bright & crisp. Still, they, like the sandwich, were underdressed beyond a squirt of lemon juice—virtually olive oil–less as near as I could tell.

Adding insult to that drab injury was the fact that I’d ordered a side of creamy garlic sauce for the very sake of having a little extra dressing to play with—& for $2.95, this is what I got:

HOKsauce

So that’s what, a buck a tablespoon? And that’s what, thawed paste? It wasn’t bad, admittedly—you can’t argue with raw garlic & salt—but you can argue with the description “creamy sauce.”

Fool mudammas, too, lacked oomph.

HOKfool

Beans are beautiful things when properly seasoned; when not, they’re just nubs of starch. Three words: garlic, lemon, garlic. In that order.

All that said, here’s where the House’s foundation proves solid.

HOKeggplant

Persian eggplant is described as containing tomatoes, which it obviously did, garlic, which it did—& eggs, which I guess it did, as some sort of binder? There are enough similar recipes online to indicate that’s probably the case. At any rate, it was the roasted eggplant itself that mattered, maintaining just enough of its bitterness to give it an edge, a smoky bite.

The same went for its better-known counterpart, the unusually airy baba ghanoush that came on both the Sultan combo

HOKmeatcombo

& the veggie combo,

HOKvegcombo

which not only looked something like a Delaunay

Delaunay-robert-rhythm-joie-de-vivre-2410112

but tasted as vibrant, too. Moistness was the key asset of virtually every item on both, from the way creamy hummus (I prefer mine more lemony, but sufficient tahini compensated), and the fluffy rice to the peppery falafel & the charred but juicy, if sparse, chunks of lamb, beef & chicken. Only the grape leaves left something to be desired—namely flavor, apparently squeezed out by the too-thick & -tight wrapping. But a little sprinkle of paprika to infuse the surface oil was a neat touch.

If I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed thus far—don’t even ask if the pita’s housemade—nor can I say I’m washing my hands of HOK. There’s still feta-filled sambousek, lahmacun-like arayes, & beef-&-cracked-wheat kibbeh left to gobble down before I give up—or, she says optimistically, move on up to that lamb’s tongue soup.

House of Kabob on Urbanspoon

Aroma Cafe & Grill: Hey, it doesn’t stink at all! To the contrary…

***UPDATE: Aroma Cafe & Grill is CLOSED.***

So wow. Midweek I came down with wine flu, which has been swell, because all I’ve had to do is lie around & moan & stay out of sight of the madding crowds likely in their mask-clad panic to mistake wine flu with swine flu & order in to my heart’s content.

A few months back, I’d dropped in on Aroma Cafe & Grill—successor to Pita Jungle on DU’s little campus corner—only to leave shrugging over a menu that then seemed basic to the point of indifference, all tikka-pita tit-for-tat; now, upon accessing its website via a link in an online guide to halal dining after surfing the Web in a Dayquil daze for who knows how long, I found a short but far sweeter Med-Indian mishmash of a menu promising the kind of spice with the muscle to burrow a tunnel through the mud of sick in my esophagus. Greek skordalia (here called simply “garlic dip”), for instance—in which fresh garlic is mashed with potatoes in olive oil & lemon—sounded like just the phlegm-blaster.

I didn’t know the half of it.

Agarlicdip2

For all its seemingly odd texture—a tad gelatinous, almost like processed yogurt—the mouthfeel was nice & creamy; for all its creaminess, however, the garlic bits were a-bundled like dynamite sticks ignited with the bright flame of fresh lemon juice. It was enough to make me fan my mouth with my hand—& then scoop up all the more with decent pita (take that, Jerusalem), & fan, & scoop, & fan & scoop.

I wish I could say the same for the Chicken 65—not quite correctly described as “Indian-style chicken nuggets”—or rather, I wish I could say less for it. Even with my besnotted palate, the appetizer of cubed chicken in lava with fresh curry leaves was too awesomely spicy for me. I kept trying to eat it, but then my face would dissolve in sweat, & it’s almost impossible to eat without a face.

Achicken65

Almost as spicy was the mutton pepper fry, a “dry preparation of lamb flavored with pepper, dry coconut & cilantro”;

Alamb

indeed a touch dry—the meat itself, that is—it was otherwise terrific: freshly, fully, unexpectedly complexly aromatic.

The lone softie was honey gobi—cauliflower in honey-garlic sauce.

Acauli

Though I expected neither the cauliflower to be breaded nor the sauce to be that jellied, & it might have seemed a little much under other circumstances, it offered welcome shelter from the chilied killers chasing our tastebuds. And, come to think of it, it didn’t seem too much the next day when I snarfed the leftovers.

That wasn’t long before I placed a delivery order for the 2nd night in a row, when the Director had a social obligation that didn’t require my pestilent presence. Still really sick but not so drug-addled, I craved comfort more than exhilaratingly rude awakening. So I went with good old hummus—

Ahummus2

while I like mine much lemonier, the little drops of oil, as they mixed with the sprinkle of paprika, coalesced into a pretty little bow on top—and good old saag paneer, which wasn’t: rather, it was unusually, & pleasingly, spinach-milky, onion-juicy & cumin-perfumed.

Asaag

Intrigued by the sound of a dish I’d never heard of, chicken noorjahani—”dry nuts, raisins, ginger, cilantro & lemon juice stuffed in boneless cumin-flavored chicken”—I got that too. Disappointed as I was in the careless presentation—not least because the order came with a separate container of rice as it was, such that the mound here seemed like cheap filler—

Achicken

the chicken itself was delicious, tandoori-charred yet moist with its crunchy-chewy, tangy-sweet filling.

Achicken2

Googling “noorjahani,” I’ve discovered that Noor Jehan was a gorgeous actress-singer from Pakistan (then British India). So I’m not entirely clear as to whether the recipe’s origins are northern Indian, Pakistani, or what. All I know for sure is I’ve got a lot more to learn about Aroma altogether—as much info as my mouth can transmit to my brain.

Nota bene: Special props go to the guy who took & delivered our orders, since apparently he had to get special permission to deliver beyond the confines of the DU campus—going to prove the website’s claim that “the Customer service [has been] greately Improved” since the change of hands.

Aroma Cafe & Grill on Urbanspoon

Neither worshipping nor throwing stones at the ancient mecca of Jerusalem

Okay, ancient’s stretching it, the place is like 20-something. And mecca’s stretching it, its longevity has everything to do with its puking distance from sloshed DU coeds. And, for that matter, from me. In short, Jersualem’s** only as good as it is close & I am lazy. And since that’s usually, it’s pretty good.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all relative. In absolute terms, what Jerusalem actually is is inconsistent. On the one hand, you’d think they’d have it down to a sumac-&-sesame-spiked science by now. On the other, just because it’s family run—which I’m assuming it is, though no cursory Googling confirms it—doesn’t mean every teenage cousin & the friends he hires give a shit about the just-so syrup drizzle on the knafeh.

Take the hummus.

Jhummus

The texture’s always dreamy, thick & smooth, but at its best it’s got that tang only enough, i.e., a lotta lotta, lemon juice can offer. Otherwise, as was the case with the take-out order above, it’s merely chickpea-&-tahini creamy, without much oomph.

That said, the tahini sauce per se has that slightly bitter kick I really dig, especially for countering the hit of oily juices squirting from the veggie-stuffed grape leaves (which are solid in their simple way; personally, a little ground lamb or some chopped nuts & dried fruit make for my favorite versions—if it’s not obvious I’m all about the bold flavor & texture contrasts by now, I don’t know what it’s obvious I’m all about—but something done right’s something done right any way you chomp it).

Jgrapeleaves

It’s also good for getting the thick crust on the fried kibbeh to kick back, loosen up a little, & show its cumin-scented soft side, all moist ground beef & cracked wheat. (The online menu says something about the inclusion of beef tips—without exactly knowing what it is I’m begging to differ about, I beg to.)

Jkibbeh

It had a harder time getting through to this particular order of falafel,

Jfalafel

which can be dandy but was way too dry & tough this time.

This time, actually—an all-app affair—the dandiest thing was the tabbouleh.

Jtabbouleh

You’d think by now every gun-totin’, money-grubbin’ infidel in the wild West would know that tabbouleh is a parsley salad with bulgur, not a bulgur salad with parsley. But since not everyone seems to—for the record, it is. The proportions here, as well as those of the onions, tomatoes & simple dressing of olive oil & lemon, were just right, making for a refresher course in refreshing courses—a little bitter, a little tart, a little crunchy, a little juicy, etc.

Ultimately my biggest beef was with the pita—room temp, straight from the package. Straight in the package, in fact—they gave us a bag & a half, or something like 10 store-bought pitas for 5 apps. That’s generous, I guess, in a cheap way, but I’d rather have had the opportunity to at least pretend it had left the premises warm (which it occasionally is if you eat in), never mind fluffy & hot from some sort of clay oven.

Whatever. Next time I’m feeling lazy—about an hour from now—I’ll undoubtedly make the 3-minute pilgrimmage once again. By car, of course.

**Unless you love you the rotting silver tones of some incessant ululation, I really urge you to turn the volume down before clicking through to this site.

Jerusalem on Urbanspoon