Our food critic's name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years.
In Baton Rouge, we are fortunate to have access to many tasty international cuisines. Besides the ubiquitous Chinese, we have a recent influx of genuine Mexican restaurants, fantastic Vietnamese and tasty Thai, as well as French and Italian. But no international cuisine seems as longstanding in our community as Greek and Lebanese, with Albasha feeding Baton Rouge for the past 20 years.
For a recent mid-week dinner, we chose the convenient Sherwood Forest location. Tucked into a large shopping center at the intersection with Coursey Boulevard, the entrance is situated under a large overhang that accommodates a few outdoor tables. Inside, several large windows brightly light the front dining room. With the addition of a back room, the space can comfortably seat several diners. And with painted murals depicting scenes of ancient life, the vibe is cozy, transporting diners to European landscapes with Greek ruins.
I've noticed most patrons tend to go for familiar fare like grape leaves and shawarma and/or gyros. Having previously tried Albasha's versions of each, we decided to go a bit off the beaten path with our appetizers and entrees.
I love soups, so I was happy to see Adass, or lentil soup, on the menu. But it was still early, and we were informed that the soup would not be ready for at least another hour. Famished, we sadly ordered Spinach Pie and Meat Stuffed Squash for our appetizers instead. Soon the squash appetizer arrived: two large yellow squash, hollowed out then gorged with a hearty mixture of plump rice, ground meat and spices that had us stumped but wanting more. The two spinach pies were not nearly as exciting. The subtly spiced spinach mixture was moist and toothsome and served with a delicate, tangy cucumber yogurt sauce. However, the filo wrapping was pallid and neither crisp nor flaky, making for an overall disappointing dish.
Again bypassing the usual, we ordered Broiled Tilapia and Lamb and Beef Kabobs for entrees. All plates are served with a feta cheese salad, pita bread, hummus and rice pilaf. Wanting to try another dip, we asked to substitute baba ghanouj for hummus on one plate and were graciously accommodated. The hummus was lemony with a light tahini flavor and overall smooth texture. The baba ghanouj was a complete contrast to the hummus, with a pleasant smokiness and tart aftertaste. My companion declared it “a step above the hummus.” The salads were refreshing, though not terribly exciting, and the rice pilaf we found bland at best.
On past visits, I've always enjoyed the tilapia with its piquant garlic lemon butter and sautéed mushrooms, and I anxiously awaited delivery of my dish. When it arrived, the fish looked visibly dry, and one bite confirmed my fears: the fish was exceedingly overcooked. Expecting the same from the kabobs, I hesitantly asked my companion the verdict on the lamb and beef. I was told to try for myself. Wow! They were superb. Cooked medium rare as ordered, both were divinely tender and swimming in a splendid au jus that perfectly enhanced the large serving of both meats. The kabobs were accompanied by grilled onions and peppers, but the dish still had carnivore written all over it.
For dessert we bypassed the tiramisu and chocolate cake and went straight for the Ashta and Baklava. Described as “wrapped filo dough filled with cream cheese,” the Ashta was served with a honey/rose water-flavored syrup that I thought enhanced the dish, while my companion felt it detracted. This is a very different dessert, so order the syrup on the side and draw your own conclusions. As for the baklava, I've never met one I didn't at least like or even love. Albasha's was nutty, with the pastry cooked just right. My companion liked that the syrup was served on the side, saying it's too honey-sweet when served on top. Again we differed, as I prefer it slathered in the honey/rose water concoction.
I've always enjoyed the food at Albasha and can't remember a past misstep. Though there were a few misses this time, overall the food was good, with very healthy but not overwhelming portions. We had plenty left for dinner the following night. We just chalked up the missteps to a slightly off night. Don't worry, Albasha. We will still love ya for another 20 years.
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