My Meal Cost: $14.30 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars
I didn't post a restaurant last week. Did you miss me?
This weeks post is actually from last week. Last week I visited Aladdin Jr. in the Grove shopping center during a rainy Tuesday. When I got home I told my wife about my experience and she suggested that I return at a better time (see below for explanation) as the place was empty and she felt I should give it a better chance. I returned there last evening figuring that dinner might be a better time, despite the heavy rain. I walked in the door and once again it was empty. I stood there for a bit and no one came out to greet me, and, while the main dining room was empty, there were some folks in the "private room" smoking hookah. The place smelled of scented tobacco smoke and it made the place unappetizing. So I decided to go with my original visit for this post.
While it was raining, I have been to a couple of restaurants in the intervening week and, despite the rain, have found them to have at least moderate business.
When I go to a restaurant, I'm looking for not only good food, but a clean, friendly place to enjoy my meal. I've been to some places where the experience has been so good, that the food was secondary. I've also been to some places that were not the cleanest, not the friendliest, but the food was so extraordinary that you overlook the rest (Seinfeld's soup nazi would be an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about).
I love going to Cicada in downtown's temple to art deco, the Oviatt building, not only because the food is very good, but the service is bar none. This is a place where if you get up and go to the restroom, the wait staff comes, refolds your napkin, and puts a cloche over your plate to keep your food warm.
I really don't expect that kind of service from everywhere, but I do have some expectations. At fast food, order-at-the-counter places, I expect a clean place and that the person behind the counter is not rude (a very low expectation). At a sit down restaurant, I expect that the wait staff will be a little attentive, seating you when you arrive, perhaps going over menu items, refilling beverages, and not making you wait too long after your meal to bring you the check.
Which leads me to my experience at Aladdin Jr.
Because of construction, I had forgone them the previous week and skipped ahead. I arrived about noon on a Tuesday in moderately wet weather. I walked through the front door and it was obvious that there was still work going on. A gentleman come up and asked me what I needed to which I responded that I was there for lunch. He apologized that they were undergoing renovation (although it was not in as much turmoil as it had been the previous week), and they didn't have the lunch buffet, but they were open if I wanted to take a seat and order from the regular menu. I did so. Eventually another party did come in and have lunch as well.
I was seated about 12:05. I perused the menu, which is middle eastern with a number of kebab items as well as grape leaves, cheese pie, soups, hummus, salads and lamb shanks.
The waiter asked me for my order and I decided on the Aladdin chicken kebab's (2 skewers), and a diet coke. I was then informed that they were out of syrup and the only option for a cold drink was water. So I ordered water. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. After about 5 minutes a bowl of pita was brought to the table. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. While waiting I looked around the room. I've eaten here in the past and remembered the large mural of Aladdin on his flying carpet on the south wall, which it appears is a victim of the remodeling. There are some murals still left at the pay station, as well as a TV which had Arabic music videos playing. The waiter did ask me if I would like him to turn down the volume on the music, which he did, making it a little less noisy.
Finally after having been there for about half an hour my plate of chicken skewers arrived. It included hummus and a smear of yogurt. While waiting I had eaten a few of the pita wedges dry so it was nice to have the very flavorful hummus to dip them in. I had noticed that the menu said that this dish included basmati rice, but none arrived with the meal. I called over the waiter and asked about it, which seemed to confuse him, but he apologized and brought out a plate of the rice. Unfortunately, in waiting I became hungry and when the food arrived I sort of dug in, forgetting to take a photo before I had finished one of the chicken skewers. I took the photo when the rice arrived.
After all that the chicken was quite good, if a little dry. The spices made the tender chicken sing on the palate. Adding some of the yogurt helped with the dryness, but was a distraction from the flavor of the chicken. I was so impressed with the basmati rice at Zuby's 2 weeks previous that I was looking forward to it here. While it was good, it did not rise to the level of creaminess, and buttery goodness of the previous place.
So it came time for the check. As sometimes happens, it appeared that the waiter had disappeared. When he finally came back and I indicated that I was ready, it took him another few minutes to get the check to me. I was ready and presented my credit card (I always make sure they accept them--looking at the decals on the front door--before I enter) only to be told that their machine had not been "authorized" yet, so he couldn't take it. My having no cash, he suggested that I go next door and use the ATM machine. I left the restaurant, walked several stores down the row and didn't see any ATM machines anywhere. I went back into the restaurant to find that the guy who knew how to work their POS system had "authorized" it and I could now pay that way.
It was now about 1:30, an hour and a half after my arrival. Not a quick lunch at all. Thankfully, as a retiree, I wasn't on a lunch hour. So the overall experience was not very good, the food was OK, but nothing to get excited about.
The above was related to The Lovely Mrs. C, who suggested that I go back at a better time. After a week, I did, and as stated above, was not even able to get seated. I hope that this was an anomaly, but my feeling is if you're open, you should be at your best. I used to go to their location in downtown at 2nd and Main, so was familiar, and enjoyed, with the food. Since it's closure I haven't been back.