Lisa Antinore | Feb 15, 199812:20 PM    

Spent a wonderful Valentine's Day devouring Brooklyn's best....

I began my day at 330 Hicks Street just off of Atlantic Avenue at Fatoosh Pitza. It's one of my faves on Atlantic Avenue and as much as I love Caravan, Moustache, Tripoli, and FountainCafe I can never resist this small Syrian storefront or it's sister restaurant, Fatoosh Barbacue, a couple of blocks down the street. I began with my usual, the combination salad platter- a giant plate filled wilth assorted Middle Eastern spaecialties- hommus, babghnooge, tabouli, foule and the most spectacular Muhammara- an incredibly fragrant dip made of ground raw red peppers, breadcrumbs, walnuts, garlic and a pinch of sumac. It is beyond belief and I always order an extra bowl and some more warm pita with which to scoop it up. My Mom had the falafel platter and it was disappointing- the falafel had been premade and reheated in the big pizza oven- a mortal sin in my mind!!! I don't remember if this is de rigeur or not, but I prefer to think it was just an off-day. (The falafel is made fresh to order at the other Fatoosh- so head there if falafel's your thing)

At meal's end, the adorable pitza-maker brought us over a little plate of sweet potato dip that had been seasoned with cinammon and garlic and olive oil. Other than Korean coocoma, I'm not too big on sweet vegetables of any kind, but this was something special. Eaten with soft, warm pieces of pita, it was so earthy and pure that it might force the muhammara down from its first-place status. If you go, ask for it on your salad platter.

Then off to do some shopping on Atlantic Avenue:
I find Sahadi (187 Atlantic Ave.) a bit arrogant in its fame and try to patronize the smaller shops, but I can never resist going in for a look. Their store-brand goods are excellent and they often have great prices on popular supermarket items. This time I got a great deal on Balsen dark chocolate cookies at a mere $1.50 a box. It stopped there because I really like to give my business to the father-son owned, Al Asmar (197 Atlantic Ave.) a few doors down. The bushy-mustached father (kind of resembles an Arabic Groucho Marx...) is a kind,generous man and he loves to chat about his products and takes great delight in giving samples of his wife's wonderful cooking at the back of the store. Their Mujaddara is almost as good as Kalyustan's on Lexington Avenue and that is saying a lot!!!! Got a jar of the North African harissa paste, a pound of excellent egyptian spicy carrot- stuffed olives, a tub of pistacchio studded halva(way better than that Joya stuff!!!!) a jar of zataar and chili-pepper coated Lebanese goat cheese balls called Labneh(delicious quartered and drizzled with olive oil over sliced tomatoes) and 3 pounds of my personal fave, sugar-coated dried chickpeas. The pastel-colored little balls are only $1.50 a pound and hey, they're fat-free!!!! An added Al Asmar bonus is that unlike their next-door neighbor, Sahadi, they ship anything anywhere. I've ordered whole cases of Foul Moudammas, and packages of the light, elastic Marouk Bread (perfect for making wraps or stuffing kebabs into) and the package has arrived, lovingly packed, within days. Al Asmar is the classiest operation on Atlantic Avenue, so give them your business.

I've always saved the best for last. Damascus Bakery (195 Atlantic Ave.) is just that. Sheer perfection. I ordered two Lahmbajin (ground lamb, tomato, onion, cilantro, and spices on a pita) and an assortment of baklawa and lady's fingers with both pistacchio and walnut fillings. Their basboosa, semolina cake that has absorbed copious amounts of honey and then topped with slivered almonds, is celestial and I love it best ice cold from the fridge eaten with a spoon.

Unfortunately I had to get home to get prepared for my 10:30 Valentine's reservation at Park Slope's Cucina (I'm a beast!!!! I'll write that up later- it was fantastic as always....) and this visit didn't leave me much time to get to Peter's Ice Cream Cafe (148 Atlantic Ave.) for their fabulous, can't be beat Chocolate Decadence or Sweet Cream ice cream. That's what next time's are for, huh?

Hope everyone's Valentine's Day was filled with much love and lots of sweet things!!!!

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