Who Put the Bab in the Babaganoush…?

2010.Dec.12 Sunday · 5 comments

in Restaurants

“They shall have no food but of thorns,
Which will neither fatten nor avail against hunger.”

– Qur’an, 88:6

Given how difficult it was to finally get to eat lunch at Al Zain, Arce 488, Las Cañitas, just like with the shawarma, we really wanted to like the food. But upfront, I have to tell you, we didn’t. The thorns in the above quote from the Qur’an might have made a more interesting meal…. The name of the restaurant means “Who”, and all I can think of now is, Who told these folk to open a restaurant?

Al Zain - hummus and babaganoush

As noted in the previous post, we had to wait awhile on the shawarma, so we started off with a platter of hummus and babaganoush with some pita bread on the side. The latter, very delicate and light, but no flavor whatsoever, a little salt in the dough would have gone a long way. The two former salads – the hummus was flavored with what we thought was peanut butter rather than tahini, and beyond that had little other flavor it was so overwhelmingly peanut-y – but on reflection, I think what they did is used peanut oil instead of olive oil, which just masked any contributions from other ingredients. The other, while nice and fresh, a mix of chopped eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and herbs (not what I think of as babaganoush, which is usually more of a puree, but so be it), was so garlicky that it would have shutdown a showing of Twilight in the cinema five blocks away.

Al Zain - grape leaves

Moving on to a plate of stuffed grape leaves – first off, these were the tiniest ones I think I’ve ever encountered, no thicker around than my pinkie finger, and about 2/3 the length (that plate they’re on is a bread plate). “Stuffed” when something is that small is a misnomer – each had a line about two grains of rice across inside, with a thin sliver of meat laid atop. The yogurt sauce was unseasoned, pretty much just thinned down white stuff.

Al Zain - falafel and shawarma sandwiches

I’ve already given a fail to the shawarma sandwich in the previous post, and the falafel is not far behind. The falafel themselves weren’t all that bad, nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But again, a desultory amount of tomato and lettuce stuck in amongst them, no tahini, just the same watery yogurt, and no seasoning.

All in all, a fail – of service, ambiance, and food. I don’t think, to be honest, I’ve ever had a middle eastern meal quite as bad, nor served up with as much poor attitude. These folk are in the wrong business. Who, indeed?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally December 13, 2010 at 10:25

Bummer. We have a middle eastern place around the corner from us here in Lexington. Went in and bought some falafels for take home. Very disappointing, starting off with the nearly-rancid oil used to fry them in. Nothing fresh or home made about it.

A good restaurant here is a steak restaurant. Which I love, but not a lot of variety. If you want an excellent meal other than that, you’ll need a second mortgage. I’ll be trying some when I start my new job. Until then, they remain a figment of my imagination.

Hal made some falafels and they were excellent. Fried in coconut oil – not traditional to say the least but so yummy. Had to tweak the recipe to get them to stay together so they were a little flour-y. It was better after the batter sat overnight.

Tom Roth December 13, 2010 at 14:10

A funny coincidence. I saw your review of the “peanut butter humus” and then heard this

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/13/131968482/last-minute-holiday-guests-nigella-s-here-to-help

on NPR. Sorry I can’t make this link clickable. It’s probably better to listen to than to read.

Tom

dan December 13, 2010 at 15:08

The link is clickable, don’t worry – when it posts it automatically interprets it. Intellectually, the idea of peanut butter in place of tahini sounds just fine, but the flavor, at least in this case, was so strong that it masked anything else. Other than the texture being lighter, they may as well have just slapped a spoonful of PB on the plate.

Meri October 21, 2011 at 20:32

It’s such a pity you didn’t like it. I mean, I’m not a food critic (As you might be) but I’m a 17-yo-student that lives 2 blocks away from there and I really like it, it’s becoming pretty popular (in fact, that was my first approach to arabian food)

I’m sorry you didn’t have a great time there as I always do 🙂

Take care!

dan October 22, 2011 at 07:56

Us too. Much as it might be great if popularity among teenage students were an indication of the quality of a restaurant, a moment’s reflection on the lineups at fast food spots and any number of mediocre but cheap restaurants out there would indicate otherwise.

Although there’s the convenience of being a mere two blocks from you, in a city with so many really good middle eastern food options given the population, it might be interesting for you to check out some other places that we’ve tried and liked (or just other places, you don’t have to take our word for it) to see how good it can be. You’re not all that far away from La Alhambra, though definitely more than two blocks, one of my favorite spots in the city for inexpensive Middle Eastern food.

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