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Thursday, November 7,2013

Comfort and warmth in Arabesque's kitchen

By Grace Boyle
Photo by Grace Boyle

With my Italian family, the kitchen is the focal point of our lives. Gathering around the kitchen table is where we find ourselves as we sit through laughter, joy, sadness and loss. It is our common denominator and of course there is always endless food to fill our bellies. Visiting my Nunnie and Popo (Calabrese Italian for ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’) on the East Coast, their small kitchen is really the only place we socialize and for that reason it’s incredibly special as we all find ourselves back there on those old, wooden chairs, year after year.

Arabesque’s small, sun-lit restaurant evokes that same special kind of inviting kitchen that wraps you up, enveloping you in warmth as soon as you enter.

Owner/Chef Manal Jarrar was born in Israel and she helps transport customers gastronomically through her authentic, home-style Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Sitting in a small brick building off the beaten path on the corner of 17th and Walnut, they’ve been open since 2009 and are only open 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch.

Jararr is the epitome of warmth and hospitality. The moment you walk into the small restaurant you see her smiling broadly over a pot, stirring, humming and dancing around the kitchen. You can always find Jarrar — who was a longtime ballerina — gracefully whisking through the restaurant, hugging and chatting with customers, clearing tables, making jokes tableside, ringing guests up at the end of their meal and singing to herself as she prepares dishes from scratch in the open kitchen over the only two burners in the restaurant. Along with her quippy sense of humor that’s infectious, it’s obvious that she finds deep gratitude and joy in cooking and sharing her favorite childhood dishes from both sides of her family.

Arabesque is a true family affair. When you enter, Jarrar’s husband, Saib, or their children serve as front of the house and motion you to a table if one’s open, then promptly bring you cool, rose-scented water. The service is casual and nothing over the top, but it’s comfortable. The space is small with just eight tables in addition to a few small couches in a corner by the door, which are perfect for comfortably waiting for an open table, or enjoying some Arabic coffee and baklava. In warmer months, you can also sit outside on the brick patio at the restaurant’s few outdoor tables under bright orange umbrellas.

The menu is hand-written on a chalkboard on a wall showcasing their staple dishes to choose from — for lunch, there are just nine items. Arabesque doesn’t hand out menus and at the end of your meal, you pay by going up to the cash register and relaying what you ordered.

I always gravitate toward the succulent Chicken Shawarma Plate that comes with vibrantly saffron-in-color chicken shawarma spiced to perfection — but Jarrar’s lips are sealed, the recipe is a secret. The plate comes with house-made, pillowy, warm Arabic bread, creamy hummus sprinkled with bright orange paprika, fresh salad greens and baba ghannush.

You can also find a tasty appetizer in their hand-rolled dolmas that are filled with brown rice, fresh squeezed lemon and tomatoes that are cool to the touch and freshly wrapped.

For dessert, look in the cooler up front by the cash register and choose between fruit tarts, baklava, mousse, brownies or tiramisu. When asked if the baklava and Arabic bread are made in house, she gives a “What do you take me for?” face and exclaims, “Oh yes, everything made here!” motioning with her slender fingers to the tiny kitchen behind her.

You will find the lunch prices range from $9-$14 and you can guarantee the food is all made from scratch. With the small family staff and Jarrar being the only main chef, occasionally dishes take longer to get to you, but the restaurant isn’t meant to be speedy. An indulgent, leisurely lunch is more Arabesque’s speed.

If you, too, find solace and enjoyment in the kitchen around a table, you can find that same comfort at Arabesque under Jarrar’s warmth and homey Middle Eastern food.

Arabesque is located at 1634 Walnut St., Boulder. Call 720-242-8623.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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