Friday, August 31, 2012

Dining review: Andalous Mediterranean Grill in Irving - Fort Worth Star Telegram

Dallas-Fort Worth can't boast great options in every cuisine, but one that it does have in abundance is Middle Eastern. From Byblos and Terra Mediterranean Grill in Fort Worth to Ali Baba and Cafe Izmir in Dallas, we have hummus covered.

Add Andalous Mediterranean Grill to the list. Located off Texas 114 in Irving, it's a cafeteria-style restaurant in the mold of Fadi's, the Houston-based Mediterranean buffet chain with three branches in the DFW area, in Dallas, Addison and Frisco.Andalous has the same cafeteria line as Fadi's, filled with Middle Eastern staples including shawarma (meat shaved from a spit), tabbouleh (parsley salad) and, of course, hummus. The similarity is no coincidence: Andalous is a family spinoff from twin-brother chefs Sam and Wassim Merched, whose older brother Chadi owns the Dallas-area Fadi's. They worked for him for six years before branching out on their own.Andalous can seem intimidating at first -- so many options! You choose a sampler plate, either meat or veggie, small or large. Small comes with two sides, large four. Prices range from $7.99 for a sampler of meat and two sides at lunch, all the way up to the Andalous Sampler ($13.49 at dinner), which gets you meat plus four sides.There's no alcohol, but you can BYOB, and they'll bring out wineglasses.The recipes come from the Merched brothers' parents; their mother, Delal, oversees the kitchen. They use fresh ingredients, and the seasoning -- olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper -- is remarkable. They know how to cook the meats, and they offer dozens of salads and vegetable dishes, making Andalous a popular destination for vegetarians.Their baba ghannouj, aka eggplant dip, was about as good as it gets. They gave this mellow dip added dimension by roasting the eggplant until it was super-smoky, then pureeing it with tahini and garlic into a soft but chunky cream. There was something complex and addictive about the sesame flavor, punched up with a jolt of smoke and great on a piece of pita bread or scooped up with a spoon.Couscous salad was another revelation. This fine-grained pasta can be dull filler, but here it had loads of personality. They folded in diced onion and bell pepper, spinach, roughly chopped tomato and dried cranberries, and tossed it in a dressing with fresh oregano. This couscous salad, side-by-side with the baba ghannouj, was superb.Andalous offers three kinds of hummus: regular, spinach and spicy. Spinach was a pretty green but the flavor was subtle. The hummus runs on the soupy side, and the restaurant does a distracting thing with the presentation: It spreads the hummus on the plate, then forms waves with a spoon before sprinkling oil and spice. Please stop fidgeting with my hummus.Cauliflower has become a trendy vegetable thanks to Woodshed Smokehouse, where it's smoked. Andalous' cauliflower would make a good counterpoint. It was roasted until its edges were brown, yet the vegetable retained body. The key with all of the vegetables here is that they aren't chopped too small; they're visually pleasing and they don't turn to mush.And then there are meats: lamb shank with vegetables, roast beef, rosemary roasted chicken and red snapper. And kebabs: chicken, beef, lamb and shrimp, cooked proficiently, with blackened edges. There is shredded beef in phyllo dough crust, like a Middle Eastern version of beef Wellington, and shawarma in two versions, chicken and beef. There are meat pastries, 95 cents each, little triangles of piecrust filled with seasoned beef or a veggie version with spinach.Desserts included not only traditional items like baklava ($1.89) but a few Western sweets such as cake ($3.99) -- a little extra that brothers Sam and Wassim couldn't resist adding.

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