The first time I was rendered speechless by a dip was when I was three years old and my friend Kim put a worm in my peanut butter sandwich; the peanut butter was the extra-sticky kind and it fused my mouth shut until the death throes of the worm somehow broke the seal and allowed me to open my mouth and scream as though I'd been stabbed.
There. That is the worst lede I have ever written. I dare the editors to leave it. (Gustavo note: I did--it was GANGSTA!)
The second time I was rendered speechless was by a life-altering taramosalata in a nondescript Greek restaurant in Tarrytown, New York. It was a fish roe dip of such ethereal lightness that it felt like the precursor to some kind of caviar "air" served in one of those pretentious temples of molecular gastronomy.
The third time I was rendered speechless by a dip was last night, at Aleppo's Kitchen in Anaheim's Little Arabia.
Yes, the same Aleppo's Kitchen that is the subject of this week's This Hole In The Wall Life. I hadn't yet read the review, and stumbled upon the restaurant after going to Community next door. Gustavo's review concentrated on the kibbeh, as well he should--because they have more kinds of kibbeh than you've ever heard of, from raw to oven-baked to mesquite-grilled.
We ordered our food, and the first thing to come out was a dish of roiling red paste and a basket of fried pita; I looked at it, confused because we'd ordered muhammara, the red bell pepper dip that my daughter loves; I tasted it, and my mouth lit up. This wasn't muhammara; not even close.
I asked, anxiously, what could possibly be in this incredibly intensely flavored spread, and the server smiled. "It's our own recipe," he said, "with pomegranates, peppers, and za'atar." Any further attempts to winnow the recipe out of them were met with polite restatement of the main ingredients. Rats.
Whatever went in there--there's obviously a huge hit of smoky Aleppo chile besides the za'atar--it was absolutely outstanding. A tiny bit on the end of a pita was enough to set tastebuds dancing; a smear of it in a fresh, hot pita brought the fried kibbeh to a new level, especially when the raging flavor was damped just a bit of the yogurt dip that came with the kibbeh.
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The muhammara, too, was one of the best I've ever had; even the dressing on the salad that accompanied the kibbeh was fantastic. I can't wait to go back and try the babaghannoush. The entire dinner was one of the best meals I've had in a very long time, with plenty of food, and the bill with fresh juice and tea was $30.
Then there are the off-menu specials. Our server came by and told us there was kabsa, rice cooked with spices and topped with either lamb shank or chicken, just like at Olive Tree across the street. We were fixated on kibbeh, so we didn't indulge, but it's good to know about for later. After all, I'll need to do a lot more research to ensure that that dip is consistently great.
Meanwhile, if you haven't already put Aleppo's Kitchen high on your list of places to try, you are missing out; as Gustavo said in his print review, it's worth the effort to find its tucked-away location.