Middle Eastern Aromas- South Melbourne- 3.25-Stars
Commodity fetishism -- the perception of the social relationships involved in production not as relationships among people, but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade.
Food, generally speaking, and the sharing of it is considered among many cultures as a ceremony of honor. When someone is invited into a person's house in Japan, for example, they are served first, deferred to in all things and are made life long friends. The same holds true for the Arabic culture. If you were invited into a Bedouins tent for a meal back in the day, you were his honored guest and under his protection. You were afforded all luxuries the Bedouin had as well as a family to protect you in case of marauders. This sense of sharing food has followed cultures to modern times. This is why I was surprised at the offerings found at Middle Eastern Aromas in Melbourne.
Located off of Babcock, a stone's throw from F.I.T. is where this cultural center of all things Lebanese and Middle Eastern is to be found. It is a restaurant, a grocery store and a belly dance review. Tucked behind the Middle Eastern grocery store is where you will find the restaurant. Winding my way through the maze of goods, I finally arrived at my destination. I was warmly greeted, shown to a table and offered a menu being told my server would be with me shortly. Perusing the menu, I found the standard Middle Eastern fare. Nothing out of the usual, nor extraordinary, just your average run of the mill offerings. As such, I pretty much had my order set when my server appeared at my table. Forgive me for forgetting his name, however, he was prompt, courteous and professional in all aspects of performing his job duties. After going over the specials of the day, he took my order for an appetizer of Labneh and some Hummus, one Tabbouleh salad, one Shish Taouk and one Kafta Kebab pita sandwich.
The meal began with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth as I found their Labneh to be the cream of the crop. This alone counted for the extra .25 rating. As you can see by the picture, this was made and presented with perfection. This dish was like John Zorn hitting the perfect note...it transcended space and time. I usually take one or two bites for a review and box the rest, but I just had to have a few more of this as it was so amazing. Next up was the order of Hummus. I found it to be well done overall, but lacking some fresh lemon juice for the kick that all Arabic hummus has.
With both apps out of the way, it was time to meander over to the salad course and try out their Tabbouleh. If the Labneh was worth the .25 rating, the Tabbouleh is worth 2.5 all by itself. I found this extraordinarily done with proper seasoning and presentation included. This is now in my top 5 Tabbouleh in all of Brevard County (so far). With the apps and the Tabbouleh accounted for, it was time to move on to the entrees. I had high expectations going in as the apps, as mentioned were well done and certainly set the standard high for the rest of the meal.
Sadly, this is where the commodity fetishism comes into play. I found the first two items to be very representative of Middle Eastern culture. They were prepared with care and passion and presented professionally as if I mattered as a customer. As if they valued my patronage. The Shish Taouk however, fell far short of this. It was prepared in an American way, not the traditional Arabic way and as such, it was overly dry and to top it off it was placed over some rice that was not cooked properly either. With one bite I went from feeling like an honored guest to an uncultured buffoon who didn't know good from bad when it came to Lebanese food. Did I mention I am half Lebanese? I know good Shish Taouk when I have it, and this wasn't it.
This brings us to the final item to be reviewed, their take on the ever-popular Kafta Kebab. This is standard Arabic fare found at most, if not all, Middle Eastern eateries (at least 95% of the ones I have been to). While this was rolled properly (not an easy task) and well seasoned, it was missing the desired freshness. I can only assume that these are prepared beforehand and not made fresh to order. I can understand prepping for a lunch or dinner crowd, but some things just shouldn't be done hours beforehand and Kafta Kebabs are such an item.
The Big Boy says, "For the top of the line Tabbouleh and perfect Labneh, this is the place. And while you are there pick up some Pomegranate Molasses (it is amazing on duck breast)!" #iamthebigboy #bigboydiningout