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
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
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
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).
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.