Fast Times

Hangover Smorgasbord from Aladdin's Mediterranean Cuisine

This week is "Reader's Choice" at Fast Times. On the suggestion of commenter Helenafromworchester, I made a trip to Aladdin's Mediterranean Cuisine on Westheimer for takeout the day after a late night with friends at Jackson's Watering Hole. My husband had a hangover-hangover, while I had a designated driver/exhaustion hangover. Both kinds rendered us unwilling to combine the ingredients in our refrigerator into anything resembling a meal.

We perused Aladdin's online to-go menu and chose a wide array of favorites for our Lazy Sunday Frozen Planet Marathon™. That's right -- we wasted a perfectly beautiful Sunday eating takeout, sipping wine and watching Frozen Planet on an inflatable guest mattress in our living room. I'll regret it in a couple of (sweltering) months, but Sunday, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Our complete order came in at just under $30, and consisted of:

• Spinach Mushroom Feta Salad • Eggplant Pesto Salad (baked & chilled eggplant on red radish with spinach pesto sauce) • Roasted Cauliflower • Felafel (6 pc.) • Kafta Kebob • Lebanese Mashed Potatoes • Parsley Salad • Spanakopita "Hot Pocket"

Aladdin was very quiet on a Sunday at noon. While I waited for the Lebanese mashed potatoes and kebob to be prepared, there was just one table of two eating in the restaurant. I chatted up the girl at the counter about her new pet iguana, and before I knew it, my complete order was ready -- about 13 minutes from start to finish. I was home and on my air mattress, enjoying the sights of the Arctic in summer within 30 minutes. Take that, Domino's!

I skipped the kafta kebob and stuck with all-veggies, loading my plate with parsley and spinach/mushroom/feta salads, spanakopita, cauliflower, eggplant pesto and felafel. Everything tasted very fresh, so I felt free to feed my exhaustion hangover to the breaking point, going back for seconds of felafel and eggplant pesto.

There was nothing overly exciting about the spinach mushroom salad, but the parsley salad was really bright and flavorful, with lots of lemon juice enhancing the herbaceous flavor of the minced parsley; the leftovers are going straight into ground turkey for meatballs. I also liked the felafel very much, as much for the assertive cumin as for its remarkable texture -- felafel can be dry, but this was quite moist and delicious. The felafel comes with a pretty spectacular tomato, onion and pickle salad that I really enjoy, although it's served with tahini rather than tzaziki as the dipping sauce. Both my husband and I missed the tzaziki very much, and would make sure we added an order of this cool cucumber dip on the side in the future.

There was nothing particularly thrilling about the roasted cauliflower for me, and I thought it was actually kind of bland and flavorless. The cold eggplant pesto salad was extremely flavorful, but be forewarned that the pesto has a very strong raw garlic flavor. I love raw garlic, so this was enjoyable for me. The crispy radish salad was terrific with the soft flesh of the eggplant. If you do not love raw garlic, you may want to steer clear. The spanakopita pocket was also quite good, but I would have liked a little more of a salty bite -- I could have used a little more filling and a little less phyllo.

The star of the show was the Lebanese mashed potato: "Aladdin's special mashed potato ball with smooth cream cheese center filling with a coat of crisp golden bread crumbs, baked to perfection," according to the menu. We only ordered one, and so I had to split it with my husband, but we both agreed the subtle flavors were fantastic. The outside is crunchy and gives way to a smooth, comforting mashed potato filling made almost silky by the cream cheese. This little gem doesn't look like much, but it hit the sweet spot, and I give it all the credit for a satisfying, restorative 90-minute nap.

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Christina Uticone