Maalouf’s- Taste of Lebanon
I was raised appreciating the finest Mediterranean foods. Hummus, falafal, fresh pita, rose water and skewered foods dipped in garlic infused butters. Nothing brings me back to happy childhood memories more than a perfect falafel. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have unreasonably high standards for texture, moisture and flavor. That is why I will only eat it at one restaurant in Sacramento- Maalouf’s.
When I moved here years ago, I asked folks where to find the best falafel. My good friend Christine, who has never steered me wrong on a recommendation for anything from food to hotels, told me that I could end my search. All I needed was Maaloof’s. Hello, King of falafel, my search ended. Maalouf’s- Taste of Lebanon, is a small family style restaurant in a strip mall on Fulton Avenue sandwiched between a cultural center and some irrelevant pizza shop. It is a diamond in the rough.
The Chef/Owner, Abdul Maalouf, his wife Rita and their daughter Layal, run this 11 table restaurant with military precision, freshness, and consistency in service and food quality. Mr. Maalouf is very secretive about his recipies no matter how hard you prod him, so don’t even try. He always steps away from the grill for a few minutes to greet his customers and gets to know them. I have to be honest. Maalouf’s quite simply, is a meat eaters paradise. I joke that Mr. Maalouf serves meat stuffed meat, because his strict Halaal standards command that he stuff his homemade sausage in approved intestinal casings.
That said, both vegetarians and vegans can find the most delicious, savory and hearty meals here including salads, falafel, lentil soup, grilled eggplant, babaganouj, tabouleh, cheese pies and vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. All are heavy with olive oil, so it is not lowfat. But really, when we are eating at Maalouf’s, I could care less about my pant size. We ventured out last night so that we could review the food for the blog. I was in such a food coma after dinner, I’m not even sure how I got home.
The appetizer we always order is the Foul Muddamas, which probably translates to “heaven in a clay bowl”. Fava beans crushed with loads of garlic, lemon juice and doused with olive oil. Do not try to re-create this at home. It is will be a let down. It can not actually be done outside the restaurant. Anyhow, it comes with unlimited freshly toasted pita and raw sweet white onion slivers. Yum!
Then…Hello, falafel perfection. I was an adult when I first tasted Lebanese food. This beautiful fried nugget is usually made with a mixture of garbanzo beans and spices. The traditional Lebanese recipe is almost an entirely different food by introducing fava beans into the mixture. These beans smooths out the texture and allows the fried ball to be perfectly moist without being overly oily or dry. Maalouf’s falafel sandwich is a monster. A large, freshly toasted pita bread, envelopes four large falafel nuggets, fresh romaine lettuce (I have never once encountered browned or wilted lettuce here. Ever.), tomato, tahini, and tart pickles infused with garlic. It is served with a side of homemade hummus that is also doused with olive oil and paprika(?). On the table, is a ketchup squeeze bottle filled with homemade hot sauce. So far, this entire meal has been vegan and only about 10,000 calories.
For dessert, we ordered the Aish Al Saraiah. The desserts are made by Rita who has a special gift for the sweeter indulgences. Unfortunately, there are no vegan dessert options but, vegans would be too full by now anyhow. Our choice was toasted french bread soaked in a “special syrup” topped with a “special pudding”. The syrup tastes like a simple syrup with ladles of rose water that is so aromatic, you can smell it when the chilled dessert comes to the table. The “special pudding” is a light, refreshing, and very sweet milk pudding. This layered square is covered with a ground pistachio mixture. I forgot that we needed a picture before I dug in. While Layal, the daughter, was helping other customers, I had a really hard time stopping myself from licking the plate. All of these dishes, plus Marcos’ Chicken Shawarma sandwich set us back $24.65 before tipping.
The other fabulous dessert that Rita makes is the Knafi with shredded filo dough and ricotta cheese. I also recommend that you spring for the Turkish coffee. There isn’t anything like it anywhere else.
For a fabulous vegetarian or vegan Mediterranean adventure, visit Maalouf’s at 1433 Fulton Avenue (between Hurley and Arden Way), Suite G, Sacramento, CA 95825. They get it.
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