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June 07, 2011

Alice Eats: Farah's Place

147 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington, 540-3093

IMG_2371 This is a very special Alice Eats. Special because, rather than the review of a one-time, anonymous visit to an eatery, this is my paean to a favorite.

A favorite? regular readers may ask, but didn't Farah's Place open just a month ago? You're right. The place still doesn't even have a sign. But I've already dined there four times. And, I  wrote a story and did a video about chef-owner Farah Oberlender in her previous location in Johnson.

Since Farah's Place opened, quietly and signlessly in Burlington, I just haven't been able to stay away. And it's not just me. One of my Seven Days colleagues put the menu on the office fridge while I was on vacation.

Farah's is still getting its footing. The restaurant has been busy enough that Oberlender is often understaffed — in fact, for weekday lunches she's usually alone, cooking and serving. Because of that, service can be inconsistent. In another month or so, I doubt this will be a problem.

IMG_2307 Across the board, everything I've eaten there has been delicious, though admittedly also somewhat inconsistent. Baklava, for instance, has been slightly different each of the three times I've tried it. Good every time, but different.

One thing that is unerringly excellent is the tah chin (right). Available as a frequent special, this brick of saffron-colored basmati rice is filled with a creamy combination of chicken, yogurt and eggs. The crisped outside and soft inside makes it something like giant arancini. Instead of marinara, it's topped with dried barberries, somewhat akin to cranberries. A lightly dressed salad of fresh greens adds color, but who are we kidding? It's all about the tah chin.

IMG_2342 Kofteh, fist-sized split-pea-and-beef meatballs, are also a wonder every time, with a spicy tomato sauce and side of bread for dipping. Best of all, the soft, raisin-and-walnut-stuffed balls are so large, I get two meals from the $6.50 order.

Speaking of the fluffy, warm pita that Farah serves, one would be remiss not to try it with the mirza ghasemie (right). A small portion (easily enough for an appetizer for two) is $2.75.

Somewhat like a comfort-food baba ghanoush, this eggplant dip is flavored with tomato and garlic, then topped with fried IMG_2308 mint in oil and surrounded by a moat of a yogurt-like whey product called kashk.

Kebabs dominate the menu at Farah's Place. They're available as platters or tucked into naan or pita bread, and, either way, the meals are shimmeringly fresh. This is not a surprise, since local products also dominate the menu. Even the lamb comes from Winding Brook Farm in Morrisville.

The koobideh (right) are unaccountably juicy lengths of ground chicken, lamb or beef. They are lightly spiced with tiny flecks of red pepper throughout, but somehow their flavor is so complex, they need nothing but a squeeze of lemon to dress them.

IMG_2343 However, the greatest kebab of all has got to be the boneless chicken. Just be sure to ask how long it's been marinating when you order. Half a day isn't enough. This moist, flavorful chicken is at the peak of its power around three days.

The yogurt-based marinade does something for me that nothing else in Vermont has — take me back to my favorite Indian restaurants growing up around New York.

The tangy, aromatic flavors are strong but comforting and as big as Texas — or rather, the whole Middle East.

The side of saffron rice benefits from its accompanying charred tomato. Cut it up and combine the two for a real treat.

But whatever you do, go to Farah's. Chances are, I'll be there.


Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected]

I would urge caution on this place. We ordered take-out last weekend and they burned the falafel. Meanwhile, the $10 spicy chicken dish was nothing but a meager chicken breast surrounded by white rice in a Styrofoam container.

When we brought the falafel back, they blamed US by saying we were late in picking up the meal. Huh? When I phoned it in, the guy who answered waffled on the time expectation. When pressed, he said 25-30 minutes "I guess". Real professional, huh? We showed up after 35-40 minutes, knowing that Burlington restaurants are often inaccurate with their estimates. From there, burnt falafel which was obviously our fault.

We do not share Alice's enthusiasm for this restaurant. Their cutesy growing pains reveal more about how they view customers than we care to support.

I agree with reserved's comments on the service. The food was great (koobideh lamb = delish), and I hope with some time the staff get up to speed. I think it's worth giving them some patience...

I went last night and thought the service was awful. Ordered an appetizer and 2 entrées. The entrées actually came first when I point this out they just "opps Sorry". Naan bread did not seem fresh, my falafel was nice but I have had better, my partners lamb kebab was tasty enough. Won't be rushing back. Pity because I really wanted to love it.. :(

Alice, your review was posted quite a while ago, and for it to be so glowing you must have received "media" treatment. The comments don't support your enthusiasm, nor does my experience there last night. The bad service for which they are criticized hasn't improved. Four of us phoned ahead for a 6:45 reservation. We arrived on time and were seated immediately. Only two other tables were occupied. After that, everything went downhill. We waited more than half an hour for our order to be taken; the server always gave attention to the walkins and the telephone orders, ignoring us completely. Finally, I wrote out our order and handed it to the waiter: 2 appetizers and four entrees. New people were coming in, giving their orders and receiving their meals while we continued to wait. Although we gave him several pleasant reminders, the waiter finally brought us some grape leaves. . . but no plates. We waited two full hours for our meal. Finally -- still hungry and in the process of walking out -- the waiter apologized for the umteenth time and promised our meal would be ready in 2 minutes. I watched the clock and it was done in two minutes. My question remains: Why wasn't it ready 2 hours ago?
The food was good, but because of the inept service the experience wasn't very pleasant.
More than a two hour wait for dinner, plus the absolute worst service I've ever experienced in Burlington, does not add up to a second visit.

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