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Restaurants & Bars 1

Alhana--Lebanese in San Mateo

Pia | May 22, 200501:37 AM

Today, we finally got to try some of the food at this spanking new place on 37th Avenue, just across the street from Yuzu (whence we had originally spied Alhana).

The grocery, though not large, is clean, well-lit, and very inviting: lots of bulk spices, packaged foodstuffs, fruit and vegetables, frozen ingredients for middle eastern cooking, even ice creams from Shatila in Detroit. And baklava from various local sources, as well a couple of foreign ones. There was also a small, but interesting, collection of Lebanese wines.

We picked up a $24 box of assorted Lebanese baklava from Hallab, a $12 bottle of Chateau de Ksara Reserve de Couvent 2002, and some glaceed Australian apricots to take home. The baklava was good, but I prefer Semiramis (Damascus) and Amal Bohsali (Beirut), and even Shatila (Detroit). The red wine was robust with a lot of concentrated fruit (you can tell I'm no expert), and would be best suited to gamier red meat. The apricots, at about a dollar apiece, were wonderful, fresh-tasting, with an almost jelly-bean texture.

There is a comfortable dine-in area inside the store, and our orders were delivered to us there. We had a beef shawarma platter, a beef kabob/chicken shawarma platter, a piece each of fried kibbeh and lahm bajeen, 3 dolmas, yoghurt with cucumber, and garlic fries. Platters come with rice, hummus, and salad. Prices were about $8-10 dollars for the platters and about $1.50 for the kibbeh, lahm bajeen, fries, and dolmas. Sandwiches were about $6, if I remember correctly.

Dishes I would not repeat soon: the beef dishes were nicely seasoned, but made for pretty tough chewing. (I must note that the meat shawarma was REAL meat--thick slices of beef and lamb stacked and sliced off the revolving stick--not that vile homogenized sausage meat that usually passes for shawarma or gyros at most places.) The base of the lahm bajeen had that cake-y texture I hate in bread, wasting an authentic-tasting meat topping. The dolmas were pretty standard.

I would certainly go back for the very good chicken shawarma, thick slices of lightly seasoned chicken breast drizzled with tahina sauce. Delicious with the slightly glutinous rice. Kibbeh was good, too, with a thin outer crust. The garlic fries were made with freshly cut potatoes, real minced garlic and fresh parsley. And they have good Turkish coffee, too: strong but not bitter. Perfect with some of the baklava and cookies displayed at the counter.

Alhana, 25 37th Avenue, San Mateo 94403. Tel. 650-349 3300.

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