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A Semi-Sweet Meal

Misty lusts after a new restaurant, but finds true satisfaction in one that's been around for years.
Monday Jun 09, 2008.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Homemade hummus can't be beat.

Before I came home to Chicago last week, I'd read all about a new Middle Eastern joint that had opened in my 'hood. With all kinds of sassy reviews and write-ups streaming in from the 'net, it was impossible not to salivate. I was dreaming about their hummus before I even got back to Chi and don't you know it, the second I set foot in my own neighborhood, I was ringing up my bud Lisa saying, "Let us eat at Habibi immediately." She was in the same boat, having read all about it, so one fine afternoon, we headed on over for lunch. Man, what can I say? I was devastated. The utilitarian vibe was so not what we wanted, the food was forgettable (save for the lentil soup) and the place was totally deserted. Not a good intro back into Chitown grub, you know?

Then, soon thereafter, I remembered Semiramis. I used to live over in Albany Park and passed by this tucked-away gem all the time, but I never stopped in. Not even when an avid reader of my blog told me it was the must-have Lebanese in town. Well, after Lis and I hit up Cousin's Incredible Vitality one day last week on the hunt for a "clean slate" and whirled around the buffet, we decided that we'd be real unhappy with raw food due to our current craving for something steaming and exotic. Nearby Semiramis to the rescue.

After entering the laid-back, very chill restaurant, we knew immediately this was the exact emotional connection we'd been searching for in Habibi but didn't get. First off, it was early in the day and the place filled up quick. That's not so usual for a place on Kedzie. Second of all, our waitress was so happy to serve us and toss out informed suggestions, it made our job as diners real easy. We started with the hummus, followed up with french fries with garlic mousse, and finalized it all with roast chicken and lentils with rice. The place was lit up like an X-mas tree from the afternoon sun and we had barely had time to inhale the complimentary pickled beets and olives before the whole kit-n-caboodle rolled out to our table. Everything was fresh off the grill and clearly someone has put some thought into this simple food. Deep thought.

You might not want to eat these fries before a big date.

The frenchies were beyond perfect, dusted in paprika and tucked into a basket with a ramekin of garlic mousse. Though my mouth tasted of kickin' garlic for 24 hours, it was so worth it to dunk each fry into this inventive little concoction. The hummus was obviously homemade and topped with a steady swirl of olive oil, pickles, tomatoes and paprika; swooped up with a wedge of hot grilled pita, it was another winner. The lentils and rice were the ultimate veggie-lover combo, turning up fat-in-the-plate with a crisp salad. It was perfect for dousing in tart yogurt sauce (you must request the sauce). Lisa tore into her half-chicken served on cracker-thin lavash like nobody's business and quickly scarfed the giant bird down. Scary what good food can do to your instincts. We were like a couple of mountain men after seeing all the pussycats at Cousin's gently nibble on their raw goodies. Wish I had that sort of control when it comes to food.

Just when we thought we were too full to even entertain the idea of dessert, I caught a whiff of cardamom-infused Arabic coffee and we told our gal to round up some crispy baklava and dense pistachio cookies to go along with our after-dinner perk-up. You gotta have the proper sweets with good coffee, no? Middle Eastern food ain't no joke in this city and when you find a hideaway as pristine and well executed as Semiramis, you spread the word, quick. Even if it has been around for ages.

THE FINAL RAVE: Everything on the menu reads like the dish you are always craving, so head on over with pals for the ultimate food-sharing experience. And the kicker is, it's BYOB. Beat that.

DO IT: Cousin's Incredible Vitality
What made me check this place out was the idea of raw cheesecake. They'd just pulled a mango one out of the back and it was so fresh it hadnít even set yet. I gotta go back and get me some!

EXPLORE IT: Kedzie Avenue
The whole dang street is full of Middle Eastern joints, it just takes a little digging to figure out the real shiners. You can't really go wrong, though, on this avenue of cheap eats.

EAT IT: Habibi
I wanna give them some love. I truly did enjoy the lentil soup and the staff was friendly as heck. In a pinch, I'd give them another go, especially since the cinnamon tea was so tasty.

In my never-ending quest for true health, I'm investigating going on the five-day raw plan that Karyn's offers; $175 gets you five days worth of home-cooked raw food, and there is pick-up and delivery available. Sounds like a winner to me. I'm sure my thrashed body would thank me for it.


Explore More

Bars & Clubs

Brand-New Bars

Brand-New Bars

Get divey on Grace; go downstairs at River North's Curio.

Food & Dining

New Restaurants

New Restaurants

Go Dutch at Vincent and satisfy a familiar sweet tooth at BomBon.

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    $3 pints of Blue Moon, $5 Three Olives martinis, $5 bombs
  • America's Bar
    $4 long islands, $2 Liberty Shots, $3 wines and Miller Lite drafts, $3.50 Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy; $4 Rumple mintz and Cuervo Gold and Silver