A few weeks ago, while at work, one of my clients asked me if I read the review the New York Times food critic, Karla Cook, wrote about El-Sham. I wrote about El-Sham a while ago, and I remember it to be a good middle-eastern restaurant that lacked a good salad and more authentic Falafel. I have a particular taste when it comes to middle-eastern food as I grew up in a house, and region, that is very much familiar with this food (translate: you cannot fool me when it comes to Showarma, Hummus, and falafel).
Anyway, my client told me that it received a great review, and when visiting there recently with her husband they were quite impressed with the food. Intrigued by the information, we decided to pay a visit to El-Sham.
Things were different when we entered (we haven’t been there in 3-4 months). Nice new painting, pictures, and other middle-eastern decorations that add so much to the atmosphere (expect some middle-eastern music in the background). The first thing I noticed was that they have changed their menu. The food listed was the same food I remembered from last time, but our waitress (which gave us a great service) promised us that the food is a bit different since they changed some of the recipes.
Changed their recipes, I thought? Now I was really intrigued.
We ordered some Falafel, and Kibbe for starters, and two main dishes of Lamb Shish Kabob, and Lamb Showarma as main dishes. Both dishes came with Rice and either lentils soup or a salad. My recollection of the salad was a basic lettuce and tomato (not at all a middle-eastern salad), so I decided to go with the lentils soup. Irm, on the other hand, ordered the salad. The lentils soup was very good! I actually enjoyed it very much. The real surprise, however, was the salad. Finally, an authentic middle-eastern salad, one that you can find if you ever traveled to the Golan Heights in Israel where a big Syrian descent Druzes community lives (though I am sure you can find the same thing in Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries that I am not allowed to visit).
The falafel was better than I remembered it tobe. Not burned, fluffy, and most importantly, tasty! It was definitely a nice change. The kibbe, however, was not as authentic as I wanted it to be. I have tasten a few Kibbes in my life that will make your day, but unfortunately the ones El-Sham serves don’t fall under this category. But I did enjoy the falafel, which is a good thing.
The main dishes where very good as well. For ~$12 you get a lot of food on your plate. So much that even I could not finish it. The meat was well spiced, juicy, and tasty. It came with some long grilled peppers and tomatoes (very middle-eastern) , and lots of Syrian rice.
I had to save some room for desserts, which I did. Ma’amouls-shortbread pastries filled with dates, pistachios, and walnuts- are probably my favorite middle-eastern cookies. I remember as a kid eating these cookies straight from the oven, sometimes burning the root of my mouth, standing in my mom’s kitchen. I had to have them! So we ordered one order of Ma’amouls, and wow(!). They were delicious!
All in all, we truly enjoyed ourself today at El-Sham. The new recipes are great, and the food is great too. If you live in Central Nj, you must pay a visit at least once to get a taste of El-Sham homemade cooking.