People can debate the merits and minuses of major world religions all they want, but to Chow, Baby, at least one aspect is a no-brainer. In the heavily Catholic city that Chow, Baby grew up in, “fasting” meant that you’d go without meat for 40 days and then get one afternoon of Easter lamb. This did not seem like a fair trade-off. Especially once you learn that for Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, observant Muslims take no food or drink between dawn and sunset every day — but they can eat all the lamb they want every single night. Now we’re talking.
At the Ramadan buffet ($11.99) at Al Amir Lebanese Grill (2349 W. Pioneer Pkwy., Pantego), the lamb kabob station was jam-packed five minutes past a recent sunset, but fast-breakers very kindly let Chow, Baby muscle in for thirds. For that matter, Chow, Baby went for thirds on all the yummies, most of them drawn from Al Amir’s regular menu of Lebanese standards (regular menu prices noted): creamy hummus and chunky, smoky baba ghannouj ($4.99 each); fattoush, a lemony/garlicky tomato-cucumber salad ($5.49); and shish tawook ($10.99), marinated chicken breast grilled in the Lebanese style, which is to say that people raised on KFC will find it too dry, but the culinarily open-minded will come to appreciate the intense chargrilled taste and flavor-bomb crispy bits.
Chow, Baby’s personal conversion moment came with the zahra mekleyah, a dish of yuck-my-least-favorite-vegetable fried cauliflower with ground beef and tahini sauce. With bright notes of garlic, lemon, and olive oil, this dish is a revelation, and henceforth is Chow, Baby’s favorite Levantine side. Alas, it’s not on the regular menu; Chow, Baby will add that to its prayer list. There were other marvelous buffet-only items, but Ramadan, and hence the lamb-happy buffet, ends Thursday. We may not have to wait until next year to enjoy the off-menu goodies, though, as Al Amir’s owners are considering starting a weekend buffet soon. Or here’s a better idea — open a second Al Amir location that does a Ramadan-style buffet all year round. Please, please build it in Chow, Baby’s neighborhood.
Sinning for Seafood
Partly out of respect for Ramadan and mostly for the cost-effectiveness of a pre-buffet empty tummy, Chow, Baby had planned to fast all day before visiting Al Amir. But the opportunity to learn a new Spanish food word proved too tempting. Cruising on Rosedale Street just after no-lunch time, Chow, Baby was tractor-beamed into a faded shack sporting the name La Jaibita (1224 S. Ayers Av.)., where once again we find that so little of communication depends on language.
Charades and menu-picture pointing conveyed that jaibita means “crab” — an appropriate name for a Mexican mariscos restaurant, though La Jaibita’s menu consists mostly of camarones (shrimp) and pescado (fish), served fried or in green sauce or, Chow, Baby’s all-time favorite, al mojo de ajo (all about $9, with salad and fries). Well, not today, but just a teeny snack couldn’t hurt or offend anything. Whoops: Chow, Baby’s tostada de ceviche ($5) came with a heap of warm chips and addictively spicy salsa, and the fabulous marinated whitefish was piled as high on the tostada as the law of physics would allow. If Chow, Baby gets struck dead, either by god-lightning or a burst stomach, blame The Crab.