Belly of the Feast

By Bill Gerdes

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Posted March 10, 2011 in Eats

A revolution has been breaking out lately, and I’m not talking about the outbreak of democratic change sweeping across the Middle East, from Egypt to Tunisia and points in between. No, I’m talking about some new and interesting restaurants popping across the Inland Empire. There’s the Salted Pig in Riverside, the new Australian chicken-burger chain (Oporto) that just dropped in Rancho Cucamonga and my new favorite Middle Eastern place in the 909, Babylon Restaurant & Hookah Lounge in Pomona.

Babylon is a destination restaurant—freeway-worthy—and one reason for this is the general ambience of the place. The interior dining area was a bit cold on the Sunday morning we showed up, but the service was not. Our waiter led us out to the patio and explained everything on the menu that we might have questions about. Then Louie, the head chef, came out to say hello and reiterate what we’d be experiencing. We felt pampered, taken care of, feted. And we hadn’t even eaten yet.

And then the appetizers arrived, and all was suddenly fine in the universe. Can I say I don’t enjoy grape leaves? Okay I’ve said it and I feel better. But what about everything else? Various versions of hummus were presented, including a variant with pan-seared meat; all were freshly-made and both were deliciously simple and plain delicious. The labneh (yogurt mixed with mint and garlic) and the tabouleh salad were also gorgeous, but my two favs were dishes I had never had at a Middle Eastern restaurant before. Fatayer, or cheese boreg, is everything I’ve always wanted from an egg roll but never found—namely cheese; delicious, slightly sweet, grilled-cheese-consistency white cheese fried up in a turnover. I would eat the fatayer at Babylon for breakfast if only I lived closer and Babylon was actually open for breakfast.

And while I was eating it for breakfast, I might just pair it with the mhammara, a spicy little dip made out of red peppers and walnuts that’s so freakin‘ tasty I found myself inventing menu items that needed dip. Hmmm, how about putting mhammara on hummus—now that’s some double-dipping George Costanza could get behind!

After such appetizers, an entrée seemed superfluous, yet an entrée was brought; a heaping grill showcasing filet mignon, lamb and chicken along with some grilled onions and tomatoes and a brilliant white garlic sauce that reminded me of the strong aioli they serve at the El Glop restaurants in Barcelona—and so unlike the mayonnaise slop they mostly serve up in most American restaurants. In short, it’s delicious.

The meat on the grill is also delicious, cooked simply, but with love and care and time. There’s a tenderness to the meat—especially the steak—that echoes the more than 30 years the owner and chef have accumulated in the restaurant business. Heck, even their French fries are a cut above. On Friday and Saturday they’ve got live entertainment, including belly-dancing, as well as the hookah lounge.

Babylon Restaurant & Hookah Lounge, 205 E. Second St., Pomona, (909) 622-4444; www.babylon-restaurant.com. AE, D, MC, V.


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