Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Maalouf's Taste of Lebanon

I thought I'd better kick this off with one of my favorite local restaurants. When I tell a friend I have a favorite Lebanese restaurant, they always respond with "Oh, my favorite is Maalouf's." Mine, too. I'll get to the food in a moment, but first I'll explain why, even when we've cut back on our eating-out expenses, we never cut out Maalouf's: they are the nicest people around. To make a VERY long story short, they catered our wedding and threw in so many extras that we swore eternal fealty on the spot. The jovial owner, Abdul, always greets my husband with a hearty "Hey, Boss!" and usually a pat on the shoulder and a misogynist joke (you can tell he doesn't mean it). Rita, his wife, always chats with me and even gave our new baby girl a gift when we came in. Their daughter Layal, who works there on the weekends, is also kind and funny. They're such nice people that even if the food sucked, we'd go back.

But the food is great! I tend to get one of two items, the falafel sandwich and the spinach pie. The falafel sandwich is a huge, messy sandwich that I often can't finish. It contains several hot, well-spiced falafel patties wrapped inside a large pita with lettuce, tomatoes, pickle spears, and tahini sauce. I usually also add a few drops of the hot sauce they keep in squeeze bottles on the table (don't mistake if for ketchup). It also comes with a side of hummus, which is very creamy and smooth. The spinach pie tempts me slightly more often. It is a fresh-baked hot pastry with a a delicious dough that smells buttery, and the smell often hits me before it reaches the table. It is served as two large triangles with half a lemon to squeeze on it. I usually cut it into wedges and use the lemon liberally. Inside it's filled with cooked spinach and spices. I happen to love their labneh, a garlicky thick yogurt dip, so I always order it. Once, Rita showed me the trick of scooping some labneh into the pie, and I was in heaven. I highly recommend it.

Other vegetarian options include the mujadarra, a lentil and rice mixture topped with fried onions. I'm used to a version in which the rice and lentils are a little more al dente, still easily distinguishable from one another. Maalouf's version is more cooked together, and I'm not a huge fan. The portion, incidentally, is about enough for four. There is also a moussaka with ample eggplant and chickpeas.

I haven't tried the new cheese pie, as I'm too fond of the spinach. I would recommend against the cheese tomato, though, an anemic, flaky flatbread sprinkled with feta and (usually out of season) tomatoes.

I like Rita's lentil soup, but avail myself of the salt and of the lemon wedge it is served with for a little extra flavor.

If you can't decide, try the mezze platter. It comes with baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouli, falafel, pickles, olives, incredible hot dolmas, and kibbe, which is beef, but they'll happily substitute something else.

The stuffed falafel is to die for, filled with pine nuts and fairly spicy. You'd want to split it with a friend or order only a salad for dinner with it. The falafel salad is tasty, but has about twenty falafel balls on it, which is just about 16 more than I can eat.

Pita bread, pickles and olives accompany every dinner, and a small salad with feta and tomatoes accompanies most dinners. The salad dressing is tart and refreshing. (Just a note: the spinach pie is an appetizer and the falafel sandwich is a lunch item that can be ordered at dinner, so neither comes with salad.)

They offer several varieties of beer and wine but weather permitting, I recommend the mint tea, which comes with fresh mint leaves in the pot.

In terms of atmosphere, it's clean and freshly painted, but not fancy, decorated primarily with large pictures of Lebanon. Check out the belly dancing on Friday and Saturday evenings.

My meat-eating companion loves the lamb shish kebab, another generous portion with tomatoes and onions over a large bed of seasoned rice served with a spicy sauce.

For dessert, pick up some house made baklava. We always take ours home because we're too full! I also like the aish al sariah, a custard dessert sprinkled with pistachios and scented with rosewater.

So there's my first review. I highly recommend Maalouf's, both because of the fantastic food and the nature of the owners.

On a scale of five Sackatomatoes, I give it 4.

Maalouf's Taste of Lebanon
1433 Fulton Ave


Laura-Marie said...

I definitely want to go there now.

Anonymous said...

I went there as a guest of mockula and sweetie and it was fantastic!!! Huge portions- that make for good left overs.


Anonymous said...

I went there tonight, fantastic as always!