I've passed by Aleppo on Quinpool Road dozens of times---always on the way to another restaurant. But today, Middle Eastern cuisine is the name of the game, so my friend and I stop in for dinner.
Aleppo is a small, simple restaurant with an equally simple menu. Though the atmosphere is somewhat stark, the server's friendliness quickly warms up the place. Our server is new to the position and isn't very knowledgeable on the menu, but she makes every effort to answer our questions, scurrying back to the kitchen to "ask the chef."
There are some recognizable dishes---the Middle Eastern standards of hummus, tabouleh and baba ganoush---and some other intriguing ones that pique our curiosity. We decide to go with a mix of both, the familiar and less so, starting with a couple of falafels. Sold individually at 75 cents each, the falafels are served warm, drizzled with a creamy yogurt sauce. The texture is just right, with a light crust and a soft, mouth-filling centre. However, as the aftertaste sets in, so does the realization that they are slightly on the salty side.
For appetizers, we try some light, meatless fare in the form of the olive and pine salads, both at the reasonable price of $5.50. As an avid olive-lover since birth, I'm instantly excited by the prospect of an olive salad. This is a mix of sliced black olives, onion, tomato and plenty of fresh parsley, but my salad doesn't quite meet my expectations. Between the meaty texture of the olives combined with the olive oil dressing, the taste is too cloying. I also have a feeling that the olives may have come from a can, which would explain their almost tinny taste.
The pine salad, on the other hand, is a delightful mix of buttery chickpeas, fresh parsley, tomato and onion in a yogurt and garlicky dressing. The cool yogurt complements the earthiness of the chickpeas nicely, creating a lovely texture contrast as well.
For my main I choose the chicken shawarma pita while my friend opts for the all-barbeque platter ($13.50). When our server informs me that the wrap doesn't come with a side, I'm a little disappointed. My disappointment quickly turns to relief, though, when my plate arrives, housing the enormous pita---a great value at $6.75. Tender chunks of warm chicken with fleshy tomato, cool cucumber and crisp lettuce are bound together by a tangy garlic and yogurt sauce, enclosed within the soft whole-wheat pita.
My friend's all barbecue platter is a "little bit of everything" meal. The stars here are the three kebabs---chunks of lamb meat, chicken and lamb kafta resting on a bed of flavourful rice, which is both earthy and slightly sweet. This platter also contains a waha salad and hummus with pita. Though the hummus is silky smooth, it lacks a little character and would benefit from another clove of garlic. The salad is somewhat generic---iceberg lettuce, cucumber and tomato tossed in vinaigrette that tastes mildly of dill pickle.
We find challenges with Aleppo. The menu only lists the restaurant's offerings, with no descriptors---quite the predicament when you're dealing with unfamiliar cuisine. Although the restaurant offers takeout, there aren't any takeout menus available. And it's not licensed, which means no beer with your shawarma and no wine with your lamb.
Our meal certainly has some tasty moments, but as we leave the restaurant, we find ourselves less than enthused. The dishes are hit or miss, with even the staples of Middle Eastern fare leaving something to be desired.