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Sitting out on the patio of La Fendee Mediterranean Grill under blue skies on a 70-degree January afternoon, we toasted the perfect weather with iced tea. The cute little cafe with the big wooden deck and the red fez logo is a welcome addition to the long list of alfresco lunch spots in the Montrose neighborhood.
Houston, TX 77006
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Falafel sandwich: $3.50
Baba ghanoush: $1.99
Mixed plate with shawarma: $6.99
Kafta kebab: $7.99
Chicken shawarma plate: $7.99
My falafel sandwich, stuffed with crunchy, deep-fried chickpea patties and dressed with yogurt sauce, was delightful. My dining companion's chicken shawarma, a pile of seasoned sliced meat wrapped in pita, was quite tasty, and the tabbouleh was the best we had ever eaten in a Houston restaurant.
My dining companion is an unusually avid consumer of Middle Eastern food and a certified tabbouleh addict. I usually buy her an extra tub of the stuff when I get this kind of food to go. But she's also very picky. Tabbouleh, she insists, should resemble a parsley salad with a little tomato, onion, mint and only the sparest application of the cracked wheat called bulgur, with a very light dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. And the parsley should be chopped, not processed into pesto. She judged La Fendee's version to be a shining example. The parsley was so coarse, it retained a pleasant saladlike consistency, and each leaf released its flavor as you chewed it.
The shiny hummus at La Fendee, on the other hand, was not at all to her liking. "Too much tahini and olive oil," she grimaced as she ate a bite. "It tastes like peanut butter." She likes her hummus to form dry peaks, like mashed potatoes made out of chickpeas. While I don't entirely agree with her on the subject, I have to admit the hummus at La Fendee is very oily.
But all in all, it was a wonderful lunch. And the pleasant-looking bunch of fellow diners seated around us seemed as happy as we were to be eating outside, even though our picnic tables were situated just a few feet away from the traffic zooming by on Westheimer.
There are hazards to cozying up to a busy thoroughfare, of course. Occasionally, when a big truck went by, we had to pause our conversation. And at one point, a piece of metal debris lying in the road got pinched by a passing car tire, which propelled it into La Fendee's parking lot with such force that it made a loud metallic ring when it hit the fender of a pickup truck. We gave thanks that the missile had missed our faces. A colleague at the Presstold me that one day when he and a friend were seated on the patio at La Fendee, a gust of wind picked up one of the large table umbrellas. It landed on their table, nearly spearing the two of them in the head.
As I mentioned last week, my kitchen is not operating at the moment, so we are eating a lot of take-out food at my house. Since sitting beside Westheimer in the dark isn't quite as appealing as it is in the daytime, La Fendee seemed like another good candidate for a dinner to go. So my housemate stopped by and picked up our evening meal on her way home from work. This time we tried a couple of the meat dishes along with the succulent fried eggplant with pomegranate sauce and the smoky baba ghanoush.
Baba ghanoush is properly made with roasted eggplant, but the best baba ghanoush is made with eggplant smoke-roasted on a wood fire, or, as we might say in Texas, barbecued. The "barbecued" eggplant in La Fendee's baba ghanoush is so smoky, they would be proud to serve it at Goode Co. It makes a sensational dip for pita bread, and an outstanding spread on a pita sandwich.
The meats included kaftakebab, a length of seasoned ground meat wrapped around a skewer and grilled, which was excellent. Slices of the Greek-style seasoned lamb-and-beef combination called gyro meat, on the other hand, were terrible. The meat slices looked like they had been shaved from some sort of lunchmeat loaf. I'll avoid La Fendee's faux gyros in the future.
Chicken shawarma, a pile of seasoned meat sliced thin, was slightly dry, but tasted okay wrapped in a pita slathered with baba ghanoush and moistened with yogurt sauce. But our disappointment with the meats was easily offset by more of La Fendee's fantastic tabbouleh, as well as the wonderful eggplant dishes.
I was about to write a rave review of La Fendee, but then, on a Monday night, we got one last dinner to go. And it was a complete disaster. Since the place calls itself a grill, I figured I should sample the beef kebabs and the beef shawarma before drawing my final conclusions. As it turned out, neither was edible.
The beef kebabs were large chunks of marinated meat overcooked on a skewer until they dried out and acquired the taste and texture of corkboard. The similarly seasoned and equally overcooked beef shawarma was cut into very thin slices that tasted like balsa-wood shavings. I tried rolling up these meats in spreads and dousing them with sauces, all to no avail. They were too far gone to be revived.