Restaurant Review: Lavash Cafe
The shawarma wars have started on North High Street. Firing the first spinning meat torpedo across the bow of its obvious target and competition is Lavash - and it's caused quite an aromatic explosion.
Lavash - steered by the Middle Eastern food captain who years ago launched the original Firdous Cafe - was recently christened just up the street from Aladdin's, thereby breaking the latter's local hummus monopoly. The benefactors of this baba ghanoush blending battle are all the denizens of Clintonville, who now have two commendable Middle Eastern options to choose from.
Lavash is a counter-ordering operation occupying a bright, new and modern space with simple wooden tables - a few of them communal. Contributing to the at-ease mood is track lighting, exposed duct work, fun Fiestaware-colored walls and, especially, an eye-attracting wall-length quilty assembly of patterned fabric pads that rhymes with the painted colors of the other walls.
Lavash takes its name from a flatbread that here translates into the Middle Eastern equivalent of a burrito wrapper. So you can have your shawarma sandwich rolled in that or stuffed into a pita.
Speaking of which, Lavash makes a very decent (gyro-like) shawarma out of beef and lamb ($5.50), but I liked their chicken version even better (it's not on the menu, but just ask). It came generously stacked with juicy, gently seasoned chicken meat that was slathered with a fluffy garlic sauce plus a thick tahini dressing.
The excellent kefta sandwiches ($5.50 for chicken or lamb) were at least as good. They're grilled sausagey ground meats flavored with parsley, onions and peppers and arrive juicy and decked out with tahini, hummus (sometimes), plus lettuce, cucumbers and onions.
Lavash also features its various sandwich fillers in un-bread-bound form. Called "meat entrees," they're all around $10 and are served with a salad (chopped romaine, cucumbers, scallions and tomatoes, a little radish and a bit of fresh mint and curly-leafed parsley in a "golden Italian"-style dressing perked up with tiny crumbles of feta) and a mound of rice (nice - scented with saffron and topped with toasted almond slivers).
While I've had juicy good results with both dependable keftas and the recommended chicken kabob entree, I've found the half roast chicken and roast leg of lamb dinners to be too often too dry. And herein lies a weakness at the quick-service Lavash - not all items are wholly prepared right to order and some heated-up edibles wind up disappointing.
Like the otherwise delicious fatayers ($2.50). The menu calls them "our bakery masterpiece made to order," but when served to me, the delicious-looking savory pastries were unappealingly soggy and flabby, causing me to think their name (you pronounce it fat-tire) translated into English all-too-easily.
The mojadara ($7.25) - a hearty rice and lentil mix topped with caramelized onions - has also suffered in the texture department. Fortunately, it's served with a moist and crunchy Lavash salad - like a Jerusalem salad, it's a thick tahini dressing refreshingly binding together diced tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, parsley and mint.
As with that salad, I found Lavash to consistently excel with its veggie preparations. I particularly dug: the rich, smoky and creamy baba ghanoush ($3.50); the smooth, lemon and garlic-kissed hummus ($2.50 - dotted with oil and lightly peppered with paprika); plump grape leaves (3 for $2.50); crunchy, golden-brown fried, sesame-seed-sprinkled aromatic falafel (6 for $2.50); and one of the better taboulehs around ($4.50). Happily, you can get all these winners rounded up in the highly recommended Lavash Combo ($8.25).
Tack on a bowl of top-notch pureed lentil soup ($2.50 -tangy but very comforting, with cumin, lemon and garlic plus some sweetness from onion and carrots) and one of the many desserts from the gleaming glass case (they taste as good as they look) and, like me, you'll hope this is one food fight that'll never end.
2985 N. High St., Clintonville