Fast Times

Muddled Mediterranean at La Fendee

I keep a list pinned up in my office of places Houston Press commenters suggest I try -- and it's a long one, because you guys are opinionated! I love it, though, because it usually leads me to excellent foods at restaurants I have yet to try. Needing a place to go for Fast Times, but looking for a healthier option (the gym in my building is closed for repairs this week, so workouts may be limited) I consulted the list and chose La Fendee on Westheimer for a weekend lunch.

Mediterranean is such a go-to favorite cuisine for me, I was really excited to try this place. La Fendee is right next to Aladdin on my Houston Press Commenter-Suggested List, and I loved Aladdin so much, I was confident this would be another amazing, relatively healthy option for us on a too-tired-to-cook weeknight. Wanting to try a bit of everything, I chose The Chef's Sampler ($12.99) and the Sauteed Mushrooms ($5.99) from the appetizer menu, and placed an order for pick-up.

When I arrived I was kicking myself for not bringing the husband along, because even though the day was rainy it was cool, and La Fendee has a terrific covered patio. Then I walked inside and was greeted with warm, open, friendly smiles -- seriously, I wanted to hug the older gentleman at the counter by the time I had paid for my meal. When I got home what I saw was pretty much what I expected: falafel, tabbouleh, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, plus chicken shawarma, and baba ghanouj (the sampler) plus the sauteed mushrooms, and a couple of big, flat pitas on the side.

But what I tasted was nothing like what I expected -- in fact, only the tabbouleh came close. If there was both hummus and baba ghajouj in the box they were next to, and indistinguishable from, one another; all I saw and tasted were vaguely lemon-y dips. The chicken was dry, the stuffed grape leaves mushy, the falafel hard and dry, and the mushrooms rubbery. And if the unfortunate textures weren't enough, the flavors just weren't there on any dish but the tabbouleh, which was beautiful, bright, and the only saving grace of the meal. Everything else was just sort of vaguely Mediterranean-ish, and I was left quite confused.

Now, I'm willing to concede that every restaurant can have a bad day, and maybe I ordered the wrong thing -- perhaps a full order of falafel might be more successful than two, small, appetizer portions. So if there are big La Fendee fans out there, please tell me how to get it right. Or is this one to scratch off my list for good?

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Christina Uticone