by Jac Bergenson
The Hudson Valley, in all of its acclaimed culinary splendor, is not widely known for its Middle-Eastern cuisine. Every restaurant seems to offer some take on falafel or hummus, but beyond the staples, it’s hard to find a wide variety of food from the lesser-known side of the Mediterranean.
Aladdin Café wants to correct that. Referred to the Café by a few people, I finally had the chance to visit it, and I jumped on the chance. Admittedly, my experience with Middle-Eastern cuisine has been limited with my most extensive exposure to it coming from a few days’ worth of classes. But that limited experience was eye-opening, and Aladdin Café promised that same fresh, fruity, and nuanced take on cooking.
First impressions mean a lot, and Aladdin Café pours on the atmosphere. From the engravings on the wall to the mosaic lamps on every table, the dining room spoke of an authentic heritage behind it all; sure enough, the co-owner (who owns the restaurant with her mother) did it all on that slow Tuesday night, not only serving my guest and me, but helping to prepare our food as well.
To start off, I couldn’t resist the hummus plate, and ordered extra pita bread for a negligible cost; that way, my guest and I would each have our own. The hummus, with tahini and lemon juice, was fantastic—clearly made in-house, with whole chickpeas adding texture and bite, and a drizzle of olive oil and seasonings (paprika principal among them). That said, the pitas stole the show. The bread and the butter of the dish—pun intended—the pita steamed the way only fresh-out-of-the-oven bread can, and the hint of char from the grill added complexity to its flavor.
Two devoured pitas and one scraped-clean bowl of hummus later, my guest and I eagerly anticipated the main course. She ordered a pasta dish called, “Koshari,” an Egyptian vegetarian dish. I couldn’t resist ordering a dish called “Kepsaa,” a rice-based dish most commonly associated with the cuisine of Saudi Arabia.
Both dishes came piled high, and earned metaphorical points for their presentation. Creatively plated, the Koshari appeared as a mountain of pasta, curried caramelized onions, chickpeas, and lentils; my Kepsaa, a volcano, overflowing with peas, carrots, almonds, and raisins. That said, I ordered the Kepsaa with chicken, and the poultry could have been presented a bit more plainly. The morsels of chicken were buried in the mound of basmati rice, and until I dug it out, I thought it had been forgotten.
Both dishes were well-balanced in their flavors. With its chickpeas and lentils, the few bites I took of the Koshari led me to believe it would be the more filling of the two plates. I appreciated the lightly-dusted caramelized onions for their crisp and airy texture, and the slight sweetness of the onions went well with the curry.
I wasn’t as entirely fulfilled with my Kepsaa. Every component of the dish was cooked to perfection—the basmati rice pilaf light, the chicken moist—but I wasn’t as taken with the flavor combination. The almonds felt out of place in the dish, and I found myself picking around them. The dish was still pleasant to eat on the whole, and a different palate might have found the almonds more appealing.
My guest and I each drank a mint lemonade with our meals, and I found the lemonade refreshing. I missed the opportunity to find out whether the lemonade was fresh squeezed, but I would hope so, since the $4.99 price tag would be a tad heavy for a fountain drink. It did, regardless, carry a nice balance between tart and sweet, and I enjoyed mine.
My intention was to sample one of the desserts as well, but I was simply too stuffed after the hummus and the Kepsaa to keep going. Rest assured that the dessert menu has a large variety of plates and drinks and seemed very fairly priced with some desserts a mere half of the price that other local restaurants charge. The dessert menu was larger than many of the menu’s other components, as well.
I left the Aladdin Café as taken with it as I had entered. The service was not rushed, but pleasant, and the food was flavorful and well-prepared on the whole. For its refreshing take on the traditional flavors, and its confident approach on unique ones, I would recommend Aladdin Café without reservations.
Where: 2537 Route 52 Suite #4, Hopewell Junction, NY
Hours: Mon 10 a.m.-7 p.m..; Tue-Thu 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Price Point: $10-20 per entree