Ali Baba serves up a sensory overload of the tastes of the Mediterranean in what can best be described as a ‘Vegas meets the Middle East’ ambience.
In the same way you have to make a conscious effort to ‘start eating healthy’ so it is too with trying out Ali Baba restaurant. It sits in a strip mall, just one restaurant among the many that line Colonnade Square. Step inside Ali Baba, though, and it’s a completely different matter, possibly a different world altogether.
Almost a year in the making, Ali Baba spared no expense in terms of decorating and aiming to serve the finest Lebanese cuisine in all of Las Vegas. The walls are decked with murals an gold drapes adorn the main entrance, perhaps to complement the red and gold interior and numerous Tiffany lamps suspended from the ceiling. If it wasn’t for the giant TV screens playing videos of what can be described as ‘MTV Middle East,’ you might think you’re a guest at some dignitary’s home.
The food is no less elaborate even if Lebanese cuisine is deceptively simple. Deceptive because while it is fairly easy to prepare and only uses a handful of ingredients, it demands that the ingredients used be the freshest and of the best quality. There is no room for shortcuts here, otherwise you would be missing the point of Lebanese cuisine. Chef Dany Chebat add, “The ingredients are fresh and I make all the pastries and bread by hand – none of that frozen stuff.”
We started off with zaatar, a homemade dip comprising ground coriander seeds, toasted sesame seeds, Lebanese oregano, sumac and olive oil; this served as a perfect complement to the homemade, straight-from-the-oven-hot pita bread. No corners are cut at Ali Baba.
Sambousek, Fatayer and
We then opted for a mezza figuring it was the best way to get a representative sample of the cuisine. Similar to tapas in Spain, mezze is an array of small dishes which may be as simple as hommos, pickled vegetables and bread or as much as thirty hot and cold dishes. At Ali Baba, small doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to order more. Ours consisted of tabbouleh (minced parsley salad with diced tomatoes and onions), hommos (chick pea dip with tahini), baba ghanouj (char-grilled eggplant dip with tahini), labneh (homemade yogurt
topped with olive oil and mint), mjaddara (brown lentil cooked with rice, sautéed onions, olive oil and spices). In addition to the cold appetizers, we also had stuffed grape leaves and a selection of pies - sambousek (cheese pie), fatayer (spinach pie) and lahim bel-ajin (meat).
Stuffed grape leaves
We would be hard-pressed to pick any favorites as all of them were superb, but if we had to single out a few that we kept on ‘sampling,’ it would have to be the tabbouleh because it had the right kick and hint of lemon to give the salad that ‘zing,’; the baba ghanouj because the eggplant’s rich, smoky flavor is apparent in every spoonful, and the mjaddara, though not much to look at (it is brown lentils, after all), more than makes up for in taste with the right combination of spices and onions bringing out the flavor of the lentils and rice.
Nine plates later and we couldn’t summon up any room to sample a main courses or even dessert. But if the mezze was anything to go by, then make sure you order their specialties, namely the chicken shawarma, (broiled chicken marinated for over 12 hours in traditional herbs and spices), or any of the kabobs which are given the same attention-to-detail as the rest of the items on the menu. If you’re dining alone or coming for a quick lunch, our waiter, Peter, suggests you order one appetizer and perhaps a shawarma sandwich for a sampling of cuisine. Be warned though, the sandwiches come with french fries and the serving portions are fairly substantial.
In this day and age, where we live in the world of fast food, do yourself and your taste buds a favor and come to Ali Baba Restaurant. The cuisine is excellent and apparently, good for your health too, proof that you don’t have to restrict yourself to salads to eat healthy.
Ali Baba Restaurant
8826 S. Eastern Ave., Colonnade Square (corner of Eastern and Pebble). 688-4182. Ali Baba is open daily for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Take-out also available. Price range: Appetizers - between $6 and $12 per plate, entrees - from $12 to $22, desserts from $6 to $8.
Source: Today in Las Vegas Magazine