Melanie Wong | Oct 8, 200504:38 AM     3

Many thanks to mspea for continuing to pitch this Mediterranean-Lebanese restaurant. When the girlfriends asked to meet for dinner on the Peninsula Wednesday, this was on the top of my mind for a venue to try. On this warm night, we chose a table outside. We had intended a round with the hookah, but the sweet fruity smoke drifting over from other tables provided plenty enough atmosphere.

We started with a round of mezza and salads for the four of us to share. Beginning with the top row from left to right, the cheese buraq (cigarette-shaped) were our all-round favorite. The filo dough was fried to a crackly crunch and fragrance of the mint in the haloumi cheese filling was a nice touch. The samkeh harra, a blend of sweet and spicy peppers with tahini garlic sauce, was too hot and spicy for some. I loved the flavor myself, but the thick sauce gave it a gooey impression. The fool madammas of fava beans braised with coarsely crushed garbanzos had uncommon depth of flavor and interesting textures and I liked the rustic style.

In the middle row of the photo, the delicious mosakka badenjan featured thick slabs of soft and creamy baked eggplant topped with garbanzo beans stewed with fresh jammy tomatoes. The fattoush was made with toasted lavosh that had the texture of corn chips. The lemon and herb dressing was light and zesty and the romaine was a welcome palate cleanser. The spinach and sumac-stuffed fatayer were poor with stale-tasting filling and soggy crust.

The ferri in the bottom row was a marinated quail that was butterflied and sauteed. Juicy and beautifully seasoned, this was one of my favorites and I gnawed the tiny leg bone of my share clean. The tahini-heavy hummus was excellent and as delicious as the presentation was striking. It wasn't over-emulsified and had a nice lemony lift in the finish.

We shared three entrees. The lamb shawarma, served flat atop a piece of lavosh, was a disappointment. The meat was cut into thin shreds from only the dry crusty parts off the spit. In combination with the timid seasoning of the meat, skimpy tahini, underspiced onion slivers, and use of dill pickles instead of pickled turnips, this turned out completely blah.

Much better was the swordfish kabab. While cooked a bit firmer than my personal preference, the fish wasn't dried out. The grilled flavor with the cumin and lemon seasoning made it a standout.

The surprise for me was how good the shakshouka turned out to be. Who knew that zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and feta cheese could make something so delicious?

When it was dessert time, I asked if the kenafeh would be crispy. I was assured that the shredded filo would be. Well, some parts of it were, but mostly it was softened. The cheese had an out of place buttery flavor and tasted more like Monterey Jack that had been reheated than something freshly made

However, the outstanding rice pudding made up for this. The rice pudding maven among us declared it a life time best. Made with pearly short-grained rice, the grains were soft but not mushy and retained their integrity. The boiled down milk was rich and nearly syrupy. We liked the use of cardamon as well as the cinnamon sprinkled over the top along with pistachios. The orange-blossom perfume was subtle and not overdone, harmonizing well with the light sweetness. Bravo!

Corkage is $12 per bottle. I'd brought along the 1998 JC Cellars "Ventana" Syrah. This grape is meant for this style of food. Rich with dark plummy fruit and nicely integrated oak tones, the cool climate acidity helped it pair up beautifully with everything on the table. Showing well now, this wine could hold for one or two more years.

837 Jefferson St.
Redwood City, CA 94062

Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/21/c...

Image: http://home.earthlink.net/~melanista/...

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