When I lived in Dallas, one of the things I missed most about my hometown of Baton Rouge was the abundance of quick Lebanese food options, so I was excited to review Almaza. I remembered ordering from the East Boyd restaurant during my days at the LSU newspaper, and I have fond memories of the gyros and chicken shawarma. The menu today also includes Persian specialties and “All American” food, but we decided to stick with the more Middle Eastern options.
We ordered two appetizers: fried cheese ($7.99) and fried kibbi ($8.99). The fried cheese consisted of five slices of halloumi, a cheese from Cyprus, that was sauteed in olive oil until the outside was pleasantly crisp and the interior was salty and springy — delicious and unique. It’s one of my favorite dishes, and the restaurant did it justice. The kibbi was two shells of cracked wheat, fried and filled with ground meat. The mild flavor of the meat allowed the spices used in the mixture to shine through, and the Grecian dip of yogurt and cucumber was the perfect accompaniment.
For our main meal, we ordered the All Mediterranean Extraordinaire ($28.99), because it seemed to provide a taste of everything. It was definitely enough food to feed two or three people, which the menu noted. It came with generous portions of salad, grape leaves, hummus, Grecian dip, beef or chicken kabob, chicken shawarma and gyros.
The stars of this platter were the gyro and shawarma. The gyro was meaty, delicious and sliced perfectly, and the shawarma was juicy and crisp with the perfect level of spice.
The chicken kabob had nice flavor and a beautiful yellow color, I’m assuming from the saffron. However, the chicken was a bit dry and unexciting.
The hummus was nothing impressive — it was fine, but not something that I’ll be dreaming about in days to come, as I do with really good hummus. It was a little thin, and a squeeze of lemon would have really brightened it up. We were not fans of the grape leaves. They were served warm, and it seemed as if they had been cooked too long because the leaves had no bite to them and the rice filling had turned to mush.
The salad was a little different than I’m used to at other Lebanese restaurants — it had a nice selection of greens rather than just iceberg lettuce, and it was lightly dressed rather than being soggy. A caveat: I love garlic and can’t remember the last thing I cooked that didn’t have garlic in it (probably chocolate cake). However, this dressing was so overwhelmingly garlicky that I coughed when I put the first bite in my mouth. I ate a couple more bites, but it really gave the whole salad a bitter flavor.
We also ordered the lamb shank ($14.99) served over basmati rice from the house specialties part of the menu, and added on the extra roasted onions, mint and garlic ($1.50). I was glad we went with the extras, because they provided most of the flavor. The bland lamb was cooked well and was falling off the shank, but the dish didn’t offer much beyond that.
The ambiance of the restaurant itself was nothing exciting, but it looked clean and well kept. However, the service left something to be desired. We were there for lunch, and the small space wasn’t crowded, but I felt like we were an inconvenience. Our server was a little standoffish, and offered nothing in the way of chit chat or recommendations. But the overall experience was good, and I’m likely to return the next time I want a quick Middle Eastern meal, but may try takeout instead.