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Middle East

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Oasis

Sahara

Middle Eastern cuisine is new to Lexington. Only five restaurants have opened and the two that remain are small storefront places with a dozen tables each. Their original clientele was the Muslim population , which has certain dietary restrictions imposed by the Islamic religion. However, this is delicious food, very healthy, inexpensive, served in plentiful portions. Slowly but surely, their following has grown. The two surviving eateries are in malls, and shoppers began dropping in for lunch. Many became regulars, and brought their families and friends back for dinner. They spread the word, and over the noon hour and the 6-8 dinner hour those restaurants are now full. Lunch Specials are common. There are plenty of meats on these menus, but no other cuisine offers as many vegetarian choices. Middle Eastern cooking is very creative with such greens as chickpeas, eggplant, grape leaves, spinach, fava beans, olives, mint, yogurt, lentils, and falafel. All four menus feature complete vegetarian sections, additional salad sections, and appetizers half of which are vegetarian. Dieters, cardiac rehab patients and fitness lovers can become regulars at these establishments without worry. But you have to watch the desserts. Baklava, Kazan Dibing, Nammoura and Rice Pudding are sinful. Turkish Coffee is a rich, sultry drink, nothing like American coffee. Doogh is an Iranian yogurt milk, like liquid custard. Flatbread is an unleavened, thin crust. With these and other new tastes to try, Middle Eastern restaurants offer a delightful new culinary adventure.

Oasis was the first Middle Eastern restaurant in town, and is great for both lunch and dinner. Under appetizers, you must order the Oasis Dip (baked egg plant pureed with onions, tomatoes, peppers, mint, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil). It may be the greatest appetizer of any restaurant in Lexington. Some one at your table should order Spinach Pie. Lentil Soup is very good, especially if you add a pinch of salt. Of 20 entrees, we recommend the Oasis Platter (three skewers of various items, a chicken and beef shawarma, two falefels, two kibbles, plus grape leaves, hummus, and rice). Shawarma is meat soaked in a tart marinade, cooked vertically on a rotisserie and shaved very thin. The blend of tastes on this platter is wonderful. There's the Oasis Dish (tender chunks of meat cooked in tomato sauce with eggplant, chickpeas, celery, peppers, onions and spices) and Moussaka (eggplant cooked in tomato sauce with chickpeas, celery, peppers, onions and spices). Arabic Mint Tea is exquisite, even though the pots don't keep it warm long.
Sahara is run by three Sayyed brothers who worked in other restaurants before opening their own. It shows. They know what they're doing. The appetizers are a treasure of choices, of which we like the Falafel, Kibble, and Chicken Wrap best. Falafel has a delicate flaky exterior with a steaming center of mixed vegetables. Chicken Wrap is the same thin crust around a spicy chicken paste. Kibble is a mix of bulgar wheat, lamb, spices, pine nuts and onion. You must order the Babaganoush Salad. It has a smoky flavor, with finely chopped roasted eggplant, tahini, garlic and lemon. But the Cucumber Yogurt Salad is also outstanding. Their Lentil Soup is made with yellow lentils and has turmeric added for a rather unusual flavor. The Specialty of the House is their Lamb or Goat Chops. They could seriously compete for best entree of any restaurant in town. However, their other entrees are intriguing as well. We particularly like the Lamb and Beef Shawarma Over Hummus (meat is cut into thin strips, done on that vertical rotisserie). Some people consider Sahara too casual; they use plastic plates and utensils and the storefront is basically undecorated. Just remember you're going for the food.

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