Atmosphere: Plain but pretty.
Price range: Entrees around $7 a la carte, $10 on dinner.
Credit Cards: Accepted but generally not needed.
Special facilities: No off-street parking; good wheelchair access.
A few years ago the Arabian Nights was an unpretentious but pretty little place where one could get good, if unspectacular, Middle Eastern food at very reasonable prices. We found, on a recent visit, that nothing's changed here except the prices, which seem to have jumped a bit higher than one might have expected just from inflation.
To continue with the money blues, there's no children's menu and, with most of the entree portions on the smallish side, it's not really feasible to economize by sharing adult dishes with the children. Although the menu offers the possibility of splitting an entree for an extra charge of $1, kids would have to have Lilliputian appetites for this to be a convenient option.
There are 12 entrees, all available either a la carte or as complete dinners, which include salad, Syrian bread and dessert. Most prices are in the $7 range a la carte, and around $10 for a dinner.
All three of the usual Middle Eastern appetizers -- really dips meant to be eaten with the warm Syrian bread -- are $1.85, and all are good. Tabbula is crushed wheat with bits of parsley, tomato and onion, along with a touch of olive oil and lemon juice. It's cold and refreshing; the wheat gives it a delightful, rough -- yet-soft texture.
Baba ghanouj and humos are smooth dips, both made from a base of crushed sesame seeds and spiked with garlic, lemon juice, and enough pepper to make them just a little hot. The difference is that the primary ingredient in baba ghanouj is eggplant, while in humos it's chick peas. Being eggplant lovers, our family prefers the baba ghanouj.
The salads that come with the complete dinners are nothing much -- just snow-white head lettuce with some tomato and green pepper. But there's a good, no-nonsense oil-and-lemon juice dressing that, for all its simplicity, still beats the bottled dressings served in so many places nowadays.
There's a combination platter, at $7.10 a la carte or $9.95 complete, that allows one to try small portions of several entrees. If ordered individually as a dinner, each component in the platter costs $9.75.
The platter includes kusa (stuffed squash), malfuf mahshi (stuffed cabbage) and waraq inab hamshi (stuffed grape leaves). All are excellent. The vegetable wrapper in each dish is firm and not overcooked, retaining some of its original texture and color, and the grape leaves are well rinsed of any brine in which they might have been packed. The ratio of ground lamb to rice in the filling is high enough to give the requisite meaty flavor.
The combination also includes kifta kabab of charbroiled ground lamb -- pure, fillerless meat that's moist and flavorful. If there's a timid eater in your crowd who wants the food to be familiar looking, you can pass this dish off as a kind of superior hamburger, which it is.
Less successful is kibeh, a mixture of ground baked lamb and crushed wheat. We found it dry and overcooked.
We'd advise saving room for the desserts, which all are first rate. They're included with a dinner, or 95 cents a la carte. If you're used to baklava that's icky with honey and oozing excess oil, you may find the delicate, restrained version served here, which is a light gold color and comparatively dry, somewhat unusual. We think it's superb, because it shows off the wonderful, many-layered filo pastry and lets one appreciate the separate textures and flavors of the nuts, honey and dough.
Burma is similar to baklava except that the filling is rolled inside the filo pastry, and it's a little sweet. There are also excellent cookies made of a rich dough something like shortbread, filled with chopped dates, and with just a touch of what tastes like anise flavoring.
The check for four, with tax and tip, came to $54.85. That included two shared appetizers, the combination platter, three of the other dinners and a half carafe of the house wine.