3 years ago
|Dale F. Bentson , a Professional Reviewer, wrote:||
by Dale F. Bentson, Palo Alto Weekly (Dec 18, 2009)
The Middle East isn't so far away after all — or at least the tasty, fresh and filling east end of Mediterranean cuisine isn't.
Mediterranean Wraps on University Avenue in Palo Alto incorporates Greek, Jordanian, North African and other ethnic foods of that region into a quasi-fast-food environment. Open since April, the eatery is located on the site of the vanished Andale Mexican Restaurant.
Physically, not much has changed. Diners still order from an overhead menu, pay and sit. The food is brought. The decor is a tad shinier than before and Middle Eastern music holds sway over the dining area. Functional tables and chairs are spaced so there is never that sardine-in-a-tin-can feeling, even during busy times. A few tables linger on the front patio, ideal for observing the reconstructed Lytton Plaza.
This is the second Mediterranean Wraps in Palo Alto. The original, now 12 years old, is located on California Avenue. Both are owned by partners Abdul Lama and Abraham Khalil, who also operate the Kan Zeman restaurant in downtown Palo Alto.
Hailing from Jordan, Lama and Khalil were college buddies at San Jose State University. Khalil trained as a computer engineer while Lama became an aeronautical engineer. Early into their careers, neither liked their chosen profession, and, 22 years ago, opened an insurance brokerage.
But there was a more primal calling for the partners — food. "We enjoy the restaurant business very much," Lama said. "Our recipes are traditional, adjusted for local tastes. ... This is the kind of food we ate in Jordan.
"We use the best ingredients; everything is fresh made from start to finish. We make hummus twice per day, marinate all our own meat. Cleanliness is very important to us. Everything is kept very clean."
Lentil soup, Greek salads, meat kababs and many vegetarian offerings are the essence of the menu, along with shawerma plates and wraps, where the meat comes from a large vertical rotisserie. Chunks of fat in the meat keep it juicy for long periods on the rotisserie, and the meat makes delicious, flavorful, sandwiches.
Besides the tender meat, the lamb and beef shawerma combo plate ($11.99) included chopped fresh tomatoes, dolmas, a tabouleh salad (minced vegetables, olive oil and spices), hummus dip and warm pita bread. It was a lot of food for the money, all fresh and flavor-packed. Chicken shawerma plates and various combinations of meats are also available.
I was a little surprised with the falafel deluxe ($6.99). Not that it wasn't deliriously large and chockablock full of eggplant, potato, lettuce and chopped vegetables dressed with a light tahini sauce (sesame seed paste, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice). The wrap itself left me somewhat perplexed; it was more Mexican-styled tortilla than Middle East pita.
Actually, it was a little of both. The wrap featured what is called lafa or taboon bread in the Middle East, making it slightly chewy, tortilla-thin and fairly elastic. It didn't tear when loaded up with ingredients. According to Lama, the wrapper is made specially for Mediterranean Wraps.
I was particularly fond of the beef kabab plate ($11.99). Two skewers with about a half pound of meat were nestled atop a mound of moist white rice, sliced onions, chunks of green pepper, hummus, a chopped vegetable salad and warm pita bread. The beef was juicy without being fatty, with a good flavor profile.
Mediterranean Wraps offers tasty side dishes too: hummus, baba ghanoush (mashed eggplant with spices), tahini, mujadarah (rice and lentils). The fried eggplant was worthwhile ($2.75), a filling, good-sized plate with a squiggle of tahini sauce.
Three baklava dessert bites were available. I liked the walnut baklava ($1.95), which was sweet enough to satisfy without jarring the teeth, and sticky, soft and fresh-made, nutty and respectably flaky. Other flavors were pistachio and chocolate.
Mediterranean Wraps is fast enough food for those on a timeline. The ingredients are fresh, high-quality, colorful and tasty. It's a good place for an anytime snack, a midday repast or a leisurely dinner — and a great alternative to anything that comes in a bun. It's a spot that can satisfy both meat eaters and vegetarians.