Be not afraid of giving Aladdin’s Eatery a try, even if you don’t know falafel from kibbie, or shawarma from baba gannouj.
The knowledgeable staff at this Lebanese-American chain restaurant, which opened in November at The Strip, is eager to casually explain the menu items, their preparation and their ingredients.
Think of it as a culinary adventure. People on vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets will find much to celebrate here.
I visited Aladdin’s last Saturday afternoon with a friend, and we had a satisfying sampling of the cuisine, which seems genuinely healthful. According to general manager Stacey Biggs, the fare is all fresh and prepared on premises — soups, salad dressings, hummus, everything — with no preservatives or additives.
The Vegetarian Combo appetizer ($12.95) serves as a primer of sorts, containing such staple items as hummus (pureed chickpeas, tahini and lemon juice) and baba gannouj (pureed fire-roasted eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil). Both creamy dips are perfect with pita bread.
Also on the platter were four felafel patties — chick peas and split fava beans blended with fresh parsley, onions, cumin and garlic, rolled into balls then deep-fried in peanut oil to a winning, non-greasy crispness and well paired with Aladdin’s house-made yogurt dressing (think hushpuppies).
Rounding out the sampler were two dawali (grape leaves stuffed with chickpeas, rice, parsley and tomatoes), and a mound of zesty tabouli (chopped parsley, bulgar, tomatoes, onions and lemon juice). Such an array of flavors and textures, and we were just getting started.
Aladdin’s Favorite Combo ($13.75) had a pile of exemplary seasoned brown rice and vermicelli topped with a grilled organic-chicken tender, four chunks of grilled marinated steak from a shish kabob, and a delicious piece of grilled beef kafta, which is lean ground beef mixed with parsley, onion, garlic and cumen formed into a sausage-shaped link.
Also on the plate was a spring mix salad with arugula, baby kale, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers; I’d recommend the yogurt dressing. Aladdin’s also has a wondrous hot sauce, made from fresh peppers, garlic and olive oil that can enhance many items depending on your yearning for heat.
Our third item was the Mujadara Plate ($10.25), which is vegan and gluten-free, sizable and very filling. It is a platter of savory steamed lentils and brown rice, well-complemented by a pile of browned onions and a contrasting fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and green pepper. This seemed more like a large side dish than an entree. We ate it and ate it and I took more than half of it home.
These three items are but a small fraction of Aladdin’s wide menu. There are housemade soups, pita “pitzas” and rolled pita sandwiches including chicken curry with peas, onions, banana peppers, tomatoes and cheddar ($4.95) and marinated tuna steak with greens, tomatoes, pickles and turnips ($7.25). There are numerous entree salads ($6.95 to $12.25) whose various toppings include falafel, chicken, tuna, lamb or steak.
While Aladdin’s has a commitment to nutrition and healthy eating, there is a dessert case filled with rich and visually enticing cheesecakes, cakes and tortes ($5.95 a slice) that are made from scratch at Aladdin’s bakery in Cleveland. Among the offerings Saturday were salted caramel cheesecake, carrot cake, tiramisu, limoncello cake and a gluten-free chocolate-cherry cake.
Among the available beverages are 12 varieties of hot tea, crafts beers (Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale, $4, is excellent) and wine by the glass.
While not large, Aladdin’s feels spacious and airy, with subdued lighting and a soundtrack of rhythmic Arabic music. The restaurant is located on the outer plaza at The Strip that also contains Men’s Wearhouse and AAA.
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Story by: Dan Kane, cantonrep.com