Dorian Hargrove 12:47 p.m., May 19
Ian Pike did a nice piece on Aladdin’s Mediterranean Café a while back, so I was happy to see that the same family has opened a sister restaurant, Amardeen Café, within walking distance of my place recently. Located in the Renaissance Towne Center on in University City, hopefully three times will be the charm for this spot, which has housed a burger/grill joint and an Indian restaurant in the past four years.
The renovations have certainly improved the space, which had been a plain counter service layout. Out front, they’ve managed to eke out a cozy patio, bordered by square planters filled with cypress trees and flowers. Inside, paprika and butter yellow walls reflect the natural light from the windows, dark wood trim and beams, and a slate floor add earthy touches.
The menu at Amardeen’s is nearly identical to Aladdin’s, featuring appetizers, wraps, biryani, salads, meza platters, and traditional Lebanese entrees.
Our waitress was obviously having a bad day, I think she was seriously short-staffed, but she was handling it very well, stopping by right after we were seated to say hello and be right back. She managed to be fast and friendly without looking or sounding ruffled. Fortunately, additional help arrived shortly.
I ordered a Koufta Wrap ($8), which comes with a small salad - soup, rice, fries or burghul pilaf can be substituted. Koufta has as nearly as many variations in ingredients and shapes as it does spellings. Here, it’s made with ground sirloin, parsley, onions and warm spices, rolled into a sausage shape and grilled. Tucked into the very good pita with it was a big slather of lemony, garlicky hummus, and finely diced herby onions and tomatoes. It was juicy and flavorful; great contrast between crunchy and smooth, spicy and tangy. On the side, romaine lettuce was dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette and bits of tomato, red onion and cucumber.
John’s Lamb Shawerma Pizza ($12.50) was a pizza only in the sense that it was bread-based with toppings. I mean that in a good way. The thin, crispy crust had more of a flatbread texture, generously topped with melty mozzarella, Amardeen’s signature garlic/lemon/tahini sauce and herbed onions, sliced tomatoes and a good pile of tender, well-seasoned lamb strips. Baked in a stone oven, it delivered big, fresh flavors in a familiar form.
The only downside I could see is that the prices are a bit higher than other, similar places, but that is easily compensated by the high quality ingredients, fresh, made to order preparation and excellent service. Budget-minded diners have the option of half-orders on several appetizers and generous looking shareable platters. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are also well represented on the menu.
Amardeen Café is located at 8915 Town Center Drive, Ste. 103, San Diego, CA 92122.