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If you're looking for an oasis of tantalizing flavors in the culinary desert along S.R. 434 in Longwood, look no further than Ali Baba's.
Ali Baba's Persian entrees includes a variety of shish kebabs, khoreshi stews and mixed-rice dishes. The chelo kebab sultani ($10.95), a marinated grilled beef tenderloin huge enough to feed Ali Baba and the 40 thieves to boot was served with a spicy ground-beef kebab, saffron rice and grilled tomato. Both of the meats were tasty, the rice a tad bland.
If you're a newcomer to Persian fare, however, try that buffet $7.95 for dinner, $5.95 for lunch. Half the fun is figuring out what you're eating.
For starters (priced at $3.95 when ordered off the menu), sample the kashk-o-bademjan a mouth-watering eggplant dish topped with cream of whey, fried onion and mint or maybe the aushe reshteh, a thick stew of legumes, veggies and pasta enlivened with pungent herbs. The exotic-sounding salade Olivier was good but unexceptional just regular potato salad with chicken.
My companion raved about the shirin polo (menu priced at $6.95), a zesty dish of carrot-and-orange flavored rice with marinated grilled chicken. Another winner was the gormeh sabzi (menu priced at $6.95), a minty khoreshi stew with kidney beans, mysterious spices and melt-in-your-mouth beef.
We also sampled the house dogh ("doo") but don't. The bitter, yogurt-based soda ($1.50) shouldn't be confused with lassi, a sweet concoction from India. Apparently, we weren't alone in our disliking of this Persian drink. "Most people don't like it." the waiter admitted. Fortunately, more traditional and Western-palate pleasing beverages are offered.
More familiar Greek and Middle Eastern dishes like souvlaki, falafel, tabouli and moussaka also are on Ali Baba's menu. The hummus ($1.95) was superb, with just the right blend of garlic, sesame paste and chickpeas. Unfortunately, the pita bread was cold.
Service was friendly and fast, and our waiter patiently answered questions about the food. The restaurant's atmosphere was tasteful, but hardly cozy somewhere between a diner and a dining room. The plush upholstery, tuxedoed wait staff and faux marble columns seem at odds with the bare Formica tables and paper napkins.
Overall, Ali Baba is a great place for a quick gastronomic adventure that's easy on the wallet. Just skip the dogh.
Update (published 1/08/98): Omelets, Bloody Marries and carved roast beef are fine for most Sunday buffets. But when you want to break out of the box, try a taste of Persia at Ali Baba’s. This small but classy restaurant is steeped in exotic aromas. On Sundays, it’s all-you-can-eat from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. for $.9.95. Sample an array of menu highlights, including falafels, gyros, stews and skewered grilled kebabs served with saffron rice and grilled tomatoes. Look for favorites such as joojeh kebab, a chicken dish marinated in lemon, saffron, herbs and spices, with barberry rice on the side. Or try sweet-and-sour cherry rice with a dollop of yogurt cucumber sauce. For dessert, there’s anything from baklava to Persian ice cream. A children’s menu features some plainer fare, with french fries or rice, for $4.95.
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1505 E. Colonial Dr.
Orlando, FL 32803
Phone: (407) 377-0400
Classified Phone: (407) 377-0415
Fax: (407) 377-0420
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