Occupation: Online Candy Store Owner
Favorite Restaurant: Babalou's Mediterranean Restaurant
Reviewed Babalou's Mediterranean Restaurant: Wednesday, April 4, 2010
Babalou's is the best place in Walnut Creek for consistently fresh, fast, inexpensive, and delicious Mediterranean food. I go there when I need food NOW and don't want to worry about whether or not it will be good. My visit for Check, Please! was no exception.
I was looking forward to trying a variety of dishes, so I picked up my sister and headed downtown. It was a weeknight, and we found a parking spot practically across the street. Upon entering Babalou's I was distracted, as usual, by the bright and amusing murals on the walls. The dancing characters with scenic backgrounds remind me that I'm somewhere unique, despite the slight chain restaurant feel of the layout. My sister had not been inside Babalou's before, but she somehow managed to stay focused on the menu displayed above the deli case/kitchen/counter. A bench runs along the opposite wall of this skinny space with small tables and chairs completing the seating. Since I'm familiar with the menu (I've tried practically everything at least once), I took a moment to look at the kids' menu with its funny paintings of meals arranged as faces. I reminded myself to borrow a kid someday soon so I can see if they really do arrange the food in faces.
It didn't take long for the man behind the counter to determine that my sister was a newbie, and he quickly started offering us samples of all the salads in the glass case. He informed us that all of the dishes on the top shelf were vegan and proceeded to give us spoonful after spoonful of salads to try. His “famous” hummus was light and creamy, the baba ghanouj had a rich smoky flavor, the tabbouleh had plenty of parsley, and the cucumber salad was smothered in nutty tahini sauce. I was pleased that the mujaddara salad was generously flecked with small pieces of fried onion. mujaddara, a homey dish of lentils, brown rice, cucumber, and tomato is even more satisfying when there is a high ratio of caramelized/fried onions to salad. The standout salad for the night was the fool salad. My sister and I were both drawn to the intense garlic and lemon in this marinated fava and garbanzo bean dish.
After eating our appetizer of samples, we settled on the Mediterranean Combo and a Chicken Shawerma combo. We skipped the wine, beer, and Hansen soda offerings, opting for pomegranate juice instead. It came to us in stemless wine glasses -- looking the part with it's deep red color -- and tasted like an actual pomegranate instead of the watered down stuff I've had elsewhere. Minutes later our food came out. We were both glad that my fiancé was waiting at home for the leftovers, because there was no way we were going to be able to eat everything in front of us.
The Mediterranean Combo came with the hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, cucumber salad, two dolmas, two falafel balls, and pita bread on the side. I'm not a huge fan of the pita bread (I think it's one of the few things they don't make in house, and it just isn't on the same level as everything else), but it makes a great pouch for make-your-own veggie sandwiches. I opened the pita and stuffed it with almost every item on the plate. The falafel had the perfect crunchy exterior I expect from good falafel, and the interior was moist and flavorful. Only the dolmas didn't make it in the sandwich. There was another dolma on the shawerma plate, so we each got one and a half. There may be better dolmas out there, but I still have a thing for the ones at Bablou’s. I had a difficult time splitting the third dolma both physically and mentally. As I cut through the grape leaf wrapping, the rice filling went in many directions with possibly a teeny tiny bit more making it onto my side.
We ordered the chicken shawerma wrapped in a flatbread called lavash (the other choice was over rice) with the mujaddara and fool salad as our sides. My sister could hardly stop herself from eating all the fool salad, and I had to partake in a little sibling rivalry to get much of it. At least I know what to get her for her birthday next year!
The shawerma itself was good, but the chicken was not as flavorful as I was expecting it to be. When I do order meat, I usually get the lamb shawerma. I love that it's made with Niman Ranch lamb, and that the flavors are powerful enough to stand up to the tangy tahini sauce, thinly sliced raw onion, and roasted tomatoes in the wrap. I found myself wishing we had ordered the lamb instead of chicken.
We ended our meal with a square of baklava. The phyllo was flaky, and the nut layer was dense. I thought it was a bit on the dry side, but preferred it to the overly sticky sweet baklava I'm used to. We ended up bringing a large square takeout container full of shawerma, salads, and pita bread home to my fiancé. I decided not to mention that he missed out on the fool salad, dolmas, and baklava.
I recommend Babalou's to anyone who craves savory, fresh food on a budget. Normally, when I'm picking up something on the run, my bill is $10 or less. But you can also enjoy a more substantial meal (with lots of leftovers) for around $15. The staff makes you feel like a valued customer of their family business, even when it's your first time. With flavors as bright and cheery as the murals on the walls, the food is satisfying and makes you feel like you made a healthy choice.
Occupation: Program Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Sushi Groove
Reviewed Babalou's Mediterranean Restaurant: Friday, April 16, 2010
My Babalou's experience is a classic, "You can’t judge a book by its cover" story. I was working in the East Bay this particular day and thought it would be a great opportunity to head over to Walnut Creek to check out Babalou's. After combating a considerable amount of Friday night traffic, I picked my husband up at the Walnut Creek BART station, and we headed over.
We circled for at least twenty minutes looking for parking (I was pretty frazzled at this point) and decided to give up and paid for parking at a lot across the street. We walked in and were surprised to find the place completely empty -- not a single soul sitting down on a busy, unseasonably warm Friday night. The décor was a little bizarre as well. The walls were covered with strange murals (including Spock from Star Trek smoking a hookah and SpongeBob SquarePants on a dolphin, just to name a few) that looked like they had been painted by a second grade art class. The chairs and tables looked very hard and an uninviting.
The gentleman behind the counter was extremely friendly and upbeat and got us our food in very short order. We were a little dubious to dig in, but all the trepidation melted away with the first bite of falafel and hummus. The falafel was light and crispy and had hint of sesame seeds and spice, unlike so many I’ve had that should be used for paper weights. I don’t know what they put in their hummus, but it was divine! Fluffy, creamy, garlicky, delicious goodness -- without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. Then there was the baba ghanouj! My husband hates eggplant, but we were both fighting over scraping the bottom of the container with our fingers when it was gone. It had intense, rich flavor but still managed to be delicate. Amazing.
Brian had the chicken shawerma wrapped in lavash for his entrée; I was lucky to get a bite. Thinly-sliced, marinated chicken, tomatoes, parsley, seasoned onions, and tahini sauce, the flavor combination was savory, decadent, and extremely satisfying. I had the eggplant napoleon, which was eggplant marinated in olive oil and stuffed with garlic, cilantro, and couscous. It was a good thing that we weren’t going out after this dinner because my garlic breath could have put down an elephant after that dish, but the intense garlic flavor made it so delicious I wish I had gotten two of them.
Finally, for dessert, we split the baklava and the burma. Not sure if these were made in house, but they were both really good.
I was impressed and surprised by how good the food was at Babalou's, and wish it was in my neighborhood!
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: La Ciccia
Reviewed Babalou's Mediterranean Restaurant: Saturday, April 24, 2010
Upon entering Babalou's, you’re immediately greeted with a casual and festive atmosphere. The first thing that grabs your eye will probably be the crazy mural that wraps around the walls of the bright restaurant; you’ll see such crazy scenes as people playing cards and using falafel as currency, Captain Spock smoking a hookah, and a kitschy snake charmer with a sign reminding you to not feed the snake. It’s clear that this restaurant doesn’t want you to take it too seriously.
Walking up to the counter, you’re met with a comprehensive menu with all sorts of combinations -- from lamb to vegetarian to a "Greek burger" consisting of a burger chopped in half to lavash with tahini and cucumber -- you’ll find all sorts of Greek favorites here. I chose to order the Lamb Shawerma Combo, while my partner ordered the Kefta Kebab Combo. I chose my two sides: classic hummus and pita, and a salad that I hadn’t heard of before, bakdonsieh, which is tahini with cucumbers, fresh garlic, lemon, and parsley, all mixed together and left to marinate.
The lamb shawerma was incredibly good. It tasted of very complex spices, and the spicy sauce accompanying it was delicious. The lavash that it was wrapped in was perfectly toasted to give it a little crispiness while still having a great chewiness to it. Just as good was the bakdonsieh, which went delicious both on the included pita and also on the shawerma sandwich itself. It added a cool creaminess that offset the spicy sauce, and the vegetables added another textural dimension. The dolmas and hummus were merely average, but complimented the rest of the dish well. I also tasted a bit of baba ghanouj, which tasted of perfectly roasted eggplant and was very well seasoned.
Finishing up, I tried a piece of baklava, which rates with the best baklava that I’ve ever had. Speaking with a server, I found out that the owner makes it himself offsite and brings it to the store daily. It definitely tasted homemade and had just the right mixture of flakiness on the top and sweet and savory cake on the bottom.
If I happened to be in Walnut Creek again, I would definitely return to Babalou's. It wouldn’t necessarily draw me out of the City for it, but it’s definitely one of the best lunch and late-night options to be found in the East Bay. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.