Kebabs and beer

Middle Eastern fare gets paired with a full bar in Farmington Hills

Jul 14, 2010 at 12:00 am

For many diners, the lack of a liquor license is a deal-breaker. That proclivity can relegate most Middle Eastern spots to a lunchtime treat rather than an evening pleasure. Farmington Hills' 2Booli addresses the problem with not only a full bar but a happy hour that lasts all evening long, Monday through Friday. Draughts are $2.50, margaritas and martinis are $4, and featured wines of the week are also about $4, or $12-$15 a bottle. Can't beat that with a swizzle stick.

As the name makes clear, the restaurant has aspirations to address several cultures around the Mediterranean, rather than just the Lebanon from which the owners' parents emigrated. Bruschetta, polenta, fritto misto, clam linguine, and a meatball sub share the menu with tabbouleh and falafel.

Open for more than a year, it's on the site of a former La Shish that was taken over by the Ansara family. Their more extensive experience with Big Boy and the burgers of Red Robin doesn't show a bit. The walls are decorated with huge, bright paintings depicting sun-drenched villages, domed buildings, camels and kabobs. The outdoor tables are pleasant — you can concentrate on your dining partner rather than the strip mall surroundings. Photos of Frank Zappa, Shakira, Salma Hayek, Keanu Reeves and other luminairies line a back hall. (What, no Tiny Tim? Keanu, of course, was born in Lebanon.)

Almost everything at 2Booli is made in-house. Both versions of 2Booli's lentil soup are wonderful. I preferred the whole version, cooked with potatoes and Swiss chard, to the crushed lentil, but both illustrated well the symbiosis of lemons and lentils. Hummus is rather plain, pretty much a pure chickpea flavor. 

Grape leaves are also standard-issue, and they're stuffed with ground beef, and beef is much more common on the menu than lamb. Even the traditional lamb strips served over hummus and sprinkled with pine nuts become a beef dish, and the kafta is made from beef. A manager tells me the restaurant is in the process of revamping the menu to include more lamb.

For now diners can get lamb shanks or chops, among the pricier items. A slow-cooked shank was tender and very large, so large and strongly flavored my friend thought it might come from a sheep — but really, lambs have pretty long legs, if you think about it.

Two in our party ordered a combination platter to share: beef and chicken kebabs, kafta, grape leaves, grilled vegetables and lots of rice pilaf. The chicken was juicy, with just the right amount of char-grilling on the exterior. It's all served with an excellent garlic spread, creamy and snow-white, with the garlicky corners rounded off by the olive oil, which, to my mind, is one of the main reasons to eat Middle Eastern.

Two appetizers came beautifully presented with slices of yellow lemon, red tomato, pink-purple pickled turnips and white radishes prettily arranged. Falafel was excellently spiced; spinach pies were served with a good yogurt sauce and could have been stuffed a little fuller.

My one foray out of the Middle East was salmon scaloppini, which I found somewhat dry and really too buried in almonds. Shrimp lasagna, frutti di mare and rigatoni ragu are other Italian choices, along with Greek salad and American-born spaghetti and meatballs.

It often happens that restaurants don't trust their diners' palates when it comes to dessert, so they revert to American favorites. Here it's chocolate or carrot cake, or apple pie, rather than the rice pudding or baklava that might have topped off the meal. We tried tiramisu and it served well, if not as ethereally as some. (Desserts are not made in-house).

Two small pieces of advice for the Ansaras: It's a wonderful idea to serve olive oil with the bread course, which is puffy hot pitas, but try a tastier brand. And I've tried but failed to imagine the diner who would enjoy deciphering the out-of-control menu descriptions ("mixed greens invite cucumber, onion & tomato along to skinny dip in the dressing of your desire"). Just the facts, please!

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].