When Israeli restaurateur Oded Rauvenpoor laid out his plans for OR by Falafel Bar, his new restaurant, he spoke passionately about offering customers a broader slice of the Middle East's flavors.
But what I was really looking forward to was the bread. Fresh pita bread elevates everything it touches, from hummus to kabobs.
On March 2, Rauvenpoor and his fiancee Keri Bigaj Lock invited the first guests into their new restaurant, at 3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. A family-style meal including some menu items would give customers a taste of the new place.
The space, formerly Himalayan Kitchen, has been completely redefined under Lock's direction. Now it's cloaked in earth tones and decorated with photographs of Israeli markets and landscapes.
Some of the food, like earthy hummus drizzled with tahini, and a salad of tomato, red onion and cucumber dressed with olive oil and lemon, were present at former incarnations of Falafel Bar. With fragrant, minutes-old bread, though, simple dishes are even more satisfying.
Vegans and vegetarians will be quite well served here. It doesn't end with salad, falafel and hummus, either. Rauvenpoor's first two courses were vegan, but their flavor and satisfaction level made it an afterthought. Crisp paper-thin brik pastry came stuffed with cinnamon-scented potatoes and topped with avocado tomato salad (lead image).
Babaganoush, roasted eggplant puree with tahini and garlic, is a Middle Eastern standard. Rauvenpoor serves an entree version by charring whole eggplants, splitting them open and dressing them with Beirut tahini, pine nuts, and shaved garlic. Served with that fresh pita, it was a vegetable delight that happened to be vegan.
The vegetable hits continued with a foursome of Moroccan carrots, spicy with caraway and chile, cabbage salad with garlic and lemon, Turkish stewed eggplant salad, and tabouli.
The meat course included three types of kabobs: ground beef kofta, chicken souvlaki, and shashlik, dark meat chicken marinated in onion juice and spices. I've had Rauvenpoor's versions before, but now I had fresh pita to wrap around them.
For dessert, he served a frozen tahini mousse and kataifi, shredded phyllo with a custard center.
OR by Falafel Bar is open for business. It's the first day, so expect service to be slow as everyone gets used to the new space, and the new pace. But I'd also expect the flavors to be right.
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