Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Open Sesame

I've eaten French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Turkish, Thai, Japanese, Iranian, German, English, Filipino, Cantonese, Hungarian, Vietnamese and probably a dozen other ethnicities of food but I had never until this past weekend eaten Lebanese. Due to a hectic February schedule for Dr. Abbey, I was up in the urban jungle for the second weekend in a row. The bad part about living in the urban jungle in winter is that there really isn't much incentive to be outside unless one like walking on icy sidewalks the color of boiled meat and being splashed with slush from passing cars. The up side is that this city, along with most larger cities, are full of restaurants that are literally holes in the walls that are easier to miss than find. I've driven by this particular Lebanese restaurant dozens of times and never knew it was there. I would have probably gone the remaining 16 months of my wife's residency without knowing it was there had it not been for one of her coworkers who joined us and just happens to live a few blocks away from the place.

Open Sesame was a tiny restaurant with just four tables that could seat four people and another six or so made for two people and a tiny bar that could seat another six. To me, that is the definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It was decorated in what I presume to be authentic Lebanese decor and the menu was a very simple one that had ten entrĂ©es to choose from and another ten appetizers. Because of my eating philosophy of eating like Romans when in Rome, it didn't take me long to choose what I would eat for the evening. I had the Kibbeh which is the national dish of Lebanon and is made of ground lamb mixed with bulgar wheat and other spices and served with yogurt and a falafel salad, hummus and toasted pita bread. My wife and her coworkers both got the shawarma which is spiced chicken pieces wrapped in a pita and served with a salad. My wife raved about how good it was but after tasting it, I still thought my kibbeh was better. After tasting my kibbeh, she thought her shawarma was better. So lets just say that both were excellent.

The problem with hole-in-the-wall places like Open Sesame is that they don't cater to kids specifically. There is no kids menu which is a big deal when you are ordering off a dinner menu which generally has higher prices in the evening. It is also sometimes challenging to find something on it that your picky child might eat. But I have found with places like that with a chef somewhere in the kitchen, you can almost always request a dish not on the menu. In my daughter's case, I just ordered a side order of rice with some plain grilled chicken to go with it and they were happy to comply. After tasting her dish, my daughter felt it was the most tasty of them all and she gobbled it all up. We finished up our meal by splitting a baklava which as you would expect in a place like this made all the previous baklava I have ever eaten seem like fake fast food versions.

Although it really isn't within walking distance to us, I'm sure we will find ourselves back there a few more times in the next 16 months to try out the other eight dishes on the menu. Someday if we ever win the lottery and can afford luxuries in life, I may push for a small downtown flat where we can come hang our for a weekend and enjoy eating exotic foods that are only available in urban jungles and perhaps culture things like plays too. I love living in rural Iowa but it would be nice to enjoy the finer things found in the urban jungle from time to time. 


R. Sherman said...

I've never tried Lebanese, but I've had eastern Med, i.e. Israeli cooking which I guess is similar. What you describe sounds quite tasty.


Murf said...

Ah yes. Gotta love Middle Eastern decor and cuisine. I've yet to learn to like the spice baharat but I have learned to really like the kibbeh - boiled, not fried. Big A's mom also makes it flat like a hash brown or puts the round kibbeh in a soup and you can't forget the asyrian bread (it's never called 'pita' although that is what it is) to sop up everything.

One last lesson for tonight...baklava (pronounced with the 'v') is Greek. Show off next time and order "bach-lauwa". :-)

Ed said...

R. Sherman - It was.

Murf - I guess when you come and visit and I say sushi, I know what your counter offer will be.

Murf said...

Head this way and I'll drag you to Big A's Chaldean aunt's house. :-)