Thursday, April 28, 2011
Hartford Food Guy Reviews: Aladdin Halal
The Hartford Food Guy returns with his latest Thursday review of Hartford dining.
Mrs. HFG has been even busier, so I've been on my own for dinner a lot lately. A few days ago I decided to hit an old favorite, Aladdin Halal on Allyn Street in Downtown. (As an aside, Aladdin calls itself a halal because its menu and preparations are in accordance with Islamic dietary law as set out in the Koran. Think kosher, and then translate from Judaism to Islam).
Going back through some recent posts, I noticed I'd been talking a lot lately about how Hartford has seen better days. I don't think that's debatable, but that's not to say that it is without hope, or that there aren't any opportunities here.
Indeed, there are people who still come to Hartford from all over the world because they view it as holding out more promise than wherever it is they are coming from. Aladdin’s owner, Mohammed Agha, is one such person.
Agha came to Connecticut from Egypt to finish his engineering studies at the University of New Haven but a new wife and a baby forced him to make other plans. Taking over what had been a mediocre and very unsuccessful pizza and grinder shop, Agha turned it into exactly the sort of place you can find only in America; an Egyptian-owned restaurant serving pizza, grinders, and food from all over the Middle East and Greece.
I’ve had much (if not most) of the Middle Eastern/Greek food on Aladdin’s menu and it’s all very good. Still, however, I was tired and hungry when I got there so I didn’t muck around trying to figure out what I wanted, I just ordered one of my favorites - a side of dolma ($4.99) and the Koufta kabob combo ($11.99).
For the uninitiated, Dolma are stuffed grape leaves. There are a bunch of ways to do, but around here, I don’t think anyone does it better than Aladdin, who uses rice, parsley, chopped onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The grape leaves are steamed, then wrapped around the filling and topped with a generous portion of a lemon sauce. While grape leaves are a bit tough, steaming them and coating them in lemon sauces definitely softens them just enough to provide a great contrast to the filling. The filling is a nice balance of flavors that really unfold as you chew. Delicious.
Koufta is ground lamb, seasoned with onions, parsley, and spices. It is cooked on a skewer, over a spit, just like any other kebab and I think provides a bit more flavor than your basic kebab, though the texture is different, mostly because the lamb has been ground then re-formed, rather than sliced from the bone then skewered (don’t worry, Aladdin has lamb and chicken kebabs for the less adventuresome).
What’s nice about ordering the kebab combo is that you not only get a generous portion of freshly cooked and delicious meat, you also get a nice salad and some hummus and pita.
As I said, I have had most of the Middle Eastern food on Aladdin’s menu and it is all pretty delicious. One favorite, however, is the sautéed foul madammaz ($5.99). It is a combination of fava beans, garlic, tomato, onion, parsley, cumin, and olive oil (with a nice side of pita to mop it all up and into your mouth :> x 10).
I also like the tabouleh ($4.99) which is parsley salad with wheat bulgur, diced tomato, onion, mint, and a fresh lemon dressing. It is very refreshing on a warm day, which is probably how it became a staple of Middle Eastern cooking.
While the inside of Aladdin is nothing special (it did, after all, start life as a pizza place) the people who work there are exceptionally friendly and very hardworking; proof that at least some people still see in Hartford the same opportunity that has brought people here for almost 400 years.
Aladdin is not fine dining. It isn’t even a family restaurant. It’s really just a pizza place which has a Middle Eastern restaurant grafted on to it; a made in a America special that is well worth the trip.