Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

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