By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
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By Nate Hemmert
We didn't have dessert on that visit. After more than two hours -- we had bought two bottles of wine, the second of which came when we were mere bites away from finishing our entrée, and the check wound up taking fifteen minutes to arrive -- we simply weren't going there.
But we did have to go back, and while the service this time was better by a slim margin, the food remained dicey. The shrimp teka ($7.25) featured shrimp that seemingly had been cooked the same way as the kabobs, so dry and chewy were the four sad specimens, and the cilantro-garlic sauce promised on the menu was not in evidence at all. But the zaalouk -- a Moroccan dish that's like a cooked eggplant salad -- that sat beneath the shrimp was delicious, a heady mixture of the purple fruit stewed with garlic, tomatoes and cilantro. Another Moroccan specialty, the pastilla ($5.25) -- which is never made in this country with the original filling, shredded pigeon -- had just the right balance of almonds, powdered sugar and cinnamon between its phyllo layers, and the pigeon substitute, chicken, was tender and juicy.
That was the last moist meat we ate. The chicken with couscous ($9.50) offered chicken so dehydrated I wanted to hook it up to a saline IV, and there were exactly two one-inch-long pieces of carrot and three half-inch-thick slices of zucchini serving as the "vegetables" in the dish. In direct contrast to the chicken, the couscous was a wet pile of goo, somewhere between cream of wheat and farina in texture and taste. We would gladly have traded some of that wetness, however, for the lamb brochette ($10.95), which, according to the menu, is "only the best leg of lamb...selected to create this dish," but who could tell? The two skewers of meat looked like black sticks stuck through charcoal briquettes, and the taste was comparable. Only slightly less overcooked were the sahen gyros ($8.95), lamb that had been ground, wrapped around a huge skewer and rotisserie-broiled until nothing about it resembled anything that had ever come from a juicy, tasty animal. The shards that had been cut off the rotisserie looked like shavings from the roof of a burned building, with the edges all blackened and curled up. I'm starting to get why this eatery is named after the desert.
9636 E. Arapahoe Road
Englewood, CO 80112
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
It's always nice to end on a good note, though: The baklava ($2.95) had a lot of pistachios in it, which gave it a more sophisticated flavor than the versions that use walnuts or almonds.
But that wasn't enough to make eating at this mostly charmless spot worth sitting around for. Even Gerry -- who has always grumbled that Sahara, like most of the other Middle Eastern eateries in town, doesn't serve kibbeh, which is considered to be the national dish of Lebanon -- thinks maybe the restaurant will be off her list for a while.
Because when it comes to mediocre food, it is a small world, after all.