In the weird way these things work out sometimes, I’d eaten so-called “Mediterranean cuisine” all over the Mediterranean itself – including forays into all corners of Turkey, plus Morocco and Egypt, plus the melting pot that is Israel – before I made it to Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine at the fabled corner of Westheimer and Montrose.
And since that corner is about to get even more fabled with the opening of Uchi, I thought it was high time yesterday that I let my friend Samira Anne Salman and restaurant owner Ali Nahhus show me the Mediterranean ropes, Texas style. Aladdin itself is clean, comfortable and unadorned, built to be affordable in other words. And the food, delivered as a kind of far-out version of the cafeteria, is amazing.
In these travels, though meats like chicken and lamb figure in many memories, what I remember most are the wonderful vegetables. And even more specifically, the salads. People in the eastern Med don’t have a salad for an entree or even as an appetizer – they have a roomful of the darn things, mostly chopped and carrying the telltale regional signature of olive oil mixed with lemon juice (instead of vinegar) and plenty of fresh herbs led off unexpectedly by mint. As such, their salads have a light, cleansing quality that keeps you munching on them throughout your meal.
Meats kept hot for the choosing at Aladdin (there actually is a “1 meat, 4 veg” special, just like in old-time lunchrooms across the South), include several versions of chicken, beef and lamb, ranging from quick-grilled to slow-braised. And there are a couple impressive spins on what the Greeks, and therefore most diners in Houston, know as the gyro – apparently a Greek word first used for this dish in Chicago. All the meats are delicious, sided by a puffed-out bread that combines my favorite aspects of Greek pita and Indian naan, plus salads like Lebanese taboulleh and another one built on chick peas and what, for all the world, seemed to be pinto beans.
And there are some terrifically exotic meatballs in gravy, meatballs made with lots of spinach in the mix. In fact, the next time somebody tells me, “Eat your spinach,” I’m not going anywhere near Turkey, Morocco, Egypt or Israel. I’m heading straight to the corner of Westheimer and Montrose.