This week’s culinary passport stamp is from Lebanon via Arabesque in Columbia. I got to share the meal with three of my favorite people; Andy, Melanie & Ian McGehee.
Few things can whet the appetite like overcoming trials and tribulations to earn the right to your meal. When we arrived at the restaurant, which shares a parking lot with several other businesses including 2 other eateries, it looked like they were giving stuff away. There were no spaces to be found, the parking lot was circled and people seemed to be parking in a vacant lot across the street. Not to be deterred though Andy drove through a second time and suddenly spotted an empty space beckoning to be occupied. Interesting note about this parking lot. They have a short single row of parking places in the middle and based on the distance between the lines the spots are for sveldt little cars not the beefy behemoths that predominated this lot. The empty space was in this row and there was an SUV or van on either side. After eyeing the spot and a brief discussion we decided three of us would get out prior to parking just in case. With a deep breath and steely determination Andy bravely took the car in. Fortunately he was able to extricate himself from confining quarters and triumphantly we made our way to Arabesque.
This is a nice place and although it was clear when we entered the crowds weren’t here I think that worked for us. We were greeted quickly and seated at a window booth. The benches were deep and had big tassled cushions to lean back on which added a nice little touch. Let me say now that the benefits of dining with great friends is hard to overstate. You get the benefit of good conversation and commraderie that makes the meal better even if the food tastes the same. Additionally you can see and try more dishes without looking like a glutton so it’s a win all the way around.
We started with the Arabesque Appetizer Sampler which included Hummus, Falafel, Damascus Bread, Grape leaves and my favorite one to say Baba Ghanouj. It was good enough that we got another Damascus bread and order of baba ghanouj. All of it was good. The hummus tasted like you’d expect, nothing outstanding. The Falafels were some of the best I’ve had and if you have never tried a falafel you should. Apparently it’s a thing for people who own or work in Mediterranean restaurants located in the South to helpfully equate them to Mediterranean hush puppies. The grape leaves were tender and the stuffing had a consistency that was almost creamy and the whole had a bit of a tang that contrasted with some of the other foods, in a good way. Damascus bread was flat and covered in sesame seeds, both white and black for a bit of contrast. It also made a great delivery system for the baba ghanouj (it’s not as much fun to type as to say) which was also tasty. Overall the sampler platter got an A from me and judging by the empty plates a passing grade from the McGehees as well.
Since the McGehees are observing Lent and not eating meat I decided to not be that guy going on about the great lamb shawarma to the people who couldn’t have any although I was assured it was not a problem. For entrees I got the Mujadara, rice & lentils with fried onion topping, a cucumber yogurt salad and lettuce & cabbage. Andy got the falafel platter and Melanie got a medium spicy shrimp curry.
The mujadara was filling and good with the onions. Without those it would have been just filling. The cucumber yogurt salad had a cool flavor and had some herbs in it to add a dill/mint touch. Andy’s falafels came with a heaping helping of hummus and Damascus bread and a salad. All were part of the appetizer platter so I can attest they were better than average. Now we get to the curry which comes with a cautionary tale. Originally ordered as mild the waiter, trying to be helpful, strongly suggested going medium as he had been told often that mild was bland. Turns out medium was spicier than either Melanie or Ian cared for and after tasting it I could understand how the mild would be bland because the medium was semi bland and the heat did distract from that. General consensus was Indian curries were more flavorful. The waiter got feedback that he might want to suggest that anyone ordering curry mild would be better served if he advised them to consider another choice. Overall the entrée success rate was 2 out of 3.
Between the appetizers and the entrées everyone was pretty full but Ian and I powered through the pain and ordered some desert just to complete the courses because we are troopers like that.
I got the baklava and he got cheesecake. The baklava was a bit different than most I’ve had in the past. The thickness was as others but it had a significantly thicker top layer of filo than any other in my experience. Also a lot less of the honey / syrup found in most. The result was a lighter baklava with crispy filo layers and sweet but not overly sweet filling. I didn’t even feel my blood sugar go through the roof so that was nice.
I’d have to say my Lebanese experience was tasty and they have a chargrilled quail on the menu as well as the previously mentioned lamb shawarma that sound like a good reason to return to Arabesque. The food was good and the company great so this week was a winner.
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