A recent immigrant to the East End, I pass by the lonely-looking strip mall housing Alibaba and Boise Fry Company multiple times a day. On occasion, I'll pause before pulling open the door to Boise Fry Co., thinking, "Should I try something new?" A hot second later, after fried air escapes through the door, I know my answer.
Late one recent evening, my boyfriend and I broke that pattern and waltzed straight into Alibaba. The interior was nothing like I had imagined--etched plastic lampshades threw watercolor splotches of light across a handful of tables. Elaborate murals dotted with sphinxes, columns and pyramids clung to both walls. I was immediately set at ease, recalling a similarly kitschy Mediterranean dive under the JMZ train near my apartment in Brooklyn.
After realizing the joint was booze-free, we forlornly ordered "just a water" and a Turkish coffee ($2.50). But when my tiny cup full of dark, thick liquid came rattling out of the kitchen, we started singing a different tune. The coffee was startlingly smooth and potent, with nary a trace of bitterness. When our server brought out a plate of baba ghanouj ($3.99)--encircled by a crown of pita triangles cut with a precision that would shame the most protractor-happy geometry teacher--we asked for another cup of the dark brew. Though Alibaba's baba had a pronounced zip of lemon and bitter sesame bite, it was under-spiced and generally forgettable. The pita, which could've saved the dip, was instead gummy, adding to the app's overall blandness.
Luckily, a bowl of creamy lentil bisque (which came with the meal) erased all previous thoughts. It was by far the best lentil soup that's ever warmed my tongue--welcomingly hearty, without any of the thick mealiness that often afflicts its peers.
The Assiette Falafel tray ($7.99) and the Assiette Crevettes ($11.99) were shruggable in comparison to the soup. Though the falafel looked amazing--six uniform fried dollops--their smooth innards suffered from the same blandness that afflicted the baba ghanouj. They had none of the pronounced cumin kick, garlic bite or cilantro zing that I've come to expect from good falafel. The dry grilled shrimp were brushed with the same dark red, curry-seasoning blend that coated our sides of Iraqi potatoes and benefited markedly from a dunk in the cucumber-y tzatziki and a chaser of moist, slightly sweet, pea-flecked rice.
As we tilted our empty coffee cups and searched for a fortune in the remaining sludge, I decided that the next time I ponder swinging into Boise Fry Co., I'm calling Alibaba first. If they've got a pot of lentil soup waiting, I might just change up my pattern.
--Tara Morgan needs a nudge on how to read her sludge.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Alibaba Arabic Restaurant here.