EAST LONGMEADOW Have you had your fill of the same old Chinese food? Vietnamese cuisine? Italian selections?
If you're looking for something different, but not something trendy, a type of dining that is hearty and satisfying, then you should try the Middle Eastern dishes at Cafe Lebanon.
A fixture in downtown Springfield for years, Cafe Lebanon recently opened another location in the East Meadow Shops at 60 Shaker Rd. in East Longmeadow. The new restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The newly re-designed dining area is stylish but comfortable with one mural showing the view from the apartment of Chef Nadim's parents' house in Lebanon.
Nadim's kitchen staff prepared a veritable feast for the Reminder Publications news staff to sample recently and it was quite an experience.
If you're like me and know little of Middle Eastern cuisine, Nadim has you covered with his knowledgeable wait staff. Our server, Shelley, had detailed answers to our every question and guided us through the meal.
Lunch started with a Lebanese tradition of pita bread and a dipping sauce of oil, sesame seeds and other spices. That was quickly followed by an array of starters, including a fattoush salad with romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, parsley, mint and Lebanese spices (small $3.99, large $6.99). I loved the freshness the mint and parsley brought to the salad as well as the crunch the pieces of toasted pita bread added.
Our other selections at this point were jawaneh ($7.99) marinated chicken wings with garlic, cilantro and lemon juice a marinated artichoke dish ($7.99), baba ghannouj ($7.79) marinated and pureed eggplant and hummus ($7.99).
The chicken wings were very tasty far more flavorful than 90 percent of the various wing variations people are offered today and I loved the hummus. Forget what you can buy in any store. Nadim's hummus, which takes three days to make, is smooth and delicious. And like all of his food, it's available for take-out.
For a main course, we were offered a selection of kabobs: chicken, lamb, tenderloin and kafta (ground meat with Lebanese spices). I will readily admit that I'm a certified card-carrying meat-eater and any carnivore would be swept away by the flavors of these dishes.
Accompanying the kabobs were rice pilaf ($2.95), hashwee ($4.50) and mdardara ($4). The rice pilaf was light and delicious. The unexpected pleasures were the hashwee a combination of rice and ground beef topped with roasted pine nuts and almonds and the mdardara, which was rice, lentils and onions topped with caramelized onions. They were both fabulous.
Just when I was secretly adjusting my belt, out came dessert. I admit I'm a complete pushover for baklava ($3.99), the traditional confection of filo pastry, nuts and honey, but Nadim also included ismalia ($5.99) shredded filo dough filled with ricotta cheese and covered with sweet rose syrup and mahalibia ($4.99), a rose flavored custard drizzled with rose syrup.
They were all wonderful ways to end a meal.
Nadim has plans for expansion at his East Longmeadow location with the upcoming addition of a fondue room, which will feature various kinds of fondue dishes.
I think another trip will be in order.
For more information, log onto www.cafelebanon.com or call 525-1150.