Sherman's Food Adventures: Aleph Eatery

Aleph Eatery

With the prevailing food scene in Vancouver, it is easy to overreact to cuisines that are unfamiliar.  We have such a wide array of Asian options, most people are quite well-versed as to what is good and what is average.  However, when it comes to cuisines less traveled, it seems like we will automatically go nuts for it since we've either never had it before and/or there is nothing to compare it to.  That would be the case with Middle-Eastern food where we do have some spots to chose from, but not all areas are represented.  Mijune and I met up recently at Aleph Eatery out on Powell to experience Chef Haitham El Khatib's take on Middle-Eastern eats.

Highly-recommended and stunningly beautiful to the eyes, the Silk Road featured hummus, eggplant and labneh combined into edible art.  It was finished off with honey, olive oil and zaatar with chimichurri saj on the side.  In comparison to the more well-known Jamjar, the hummus here was infinitely better featuring non-canned chickpeas blended smooth with noticeable hits of lemon and garlic.  Tender and not overprocessed, the eggplant was delicate with discernible texture.  It was lightly dressed in olive oil and was particularly good mixed with the zaatar and labneh.  About that labneh, it was thick and creamy with an appetizing tang.  It was complimented nicely by the honey.  Not to be ignored, the saj was warm, soft and had a mild chewiness.  I really wanted the Ultra Crispy Potatoes and they did not disappoint.  These were akin to the ones found at Pepino's, but dressed differently of course.  It consisted of tahini, aleppo and roasted red peppers.  Such a simple offering, but addictive.  Aromatic and firmly crispy, the potatoes were still soft and fluffy.  Beyond a mild saltiness, the flavours mainly came from the sweet peppers (with some spiciness) and nutty creamy tahini dressing.

Although we were there during lunch, we decided to get the Turmeric Cauliflower (which is on the dinner menu).  Turned out to be a good idea since they were also very good.   Unlike many of the fried versions in town, this one was roasted with turmeric and topped with tahini dressing, sliced almonds, aleppo and parsley.  Despite the repeat of a few ingredients, the cauliflower shared no common flavour profile with the potatoes.  Rather, the turmeric really came through with a gingery tanginess while complimented by the creamy dressing and the slightly spicy and sweet aleppo.  Texturally, the cauliflower was on point being firm with a moist crunch while cooked all-the-way-through.  Another hit was the Falafel with brined beat and carrot, radishes and garlic toum.  By appearances alone, it was attractive with a bright green hue surrounded by dark golden brown.  It ate as it appeared with a firm crunch giving way to a fluffy and soft centre.  There was noted hits of cumin, parsley and spice.

Our last dish was my personal favourite being the Enoki Mushroom Shawarma.  Initially, I was hesitant to order it, but upon Mijune's urging (or forceful suggestiveness...), we got it.  She was right though, it was fantastic from the first bite.  There was so much impact from the spices used on the enoki including nuttiness, aromatic bitterness and earthiness.  Combined with the hummus underneath, we got the lemon and garlic once again.  Eaten with the fantastic saj on the side, this was texturally and tastewise on point.  Okay, I got a little excited with this place (due to some of the aforementioned reasons), but compared to similar spots (in particular, Jamjar), Aleph does a much better job.  Would this be as exciting if we had the same amount of Middle-Eastern restaurants as Chinese restaurants in town?  Probably not, but given the limited options, Aleph is one of the better ones.

The Good:
- High-quality ingredients
- Small spot where the chef keeps things consistent
- Impactful flavours

The Bad:
- Some seats are a bit awkward in the small space
- Some creative license on certain dishes which might not work for some people

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