Up until about a month ago, there was a great Egyptian restaurant called Aladdin's Palace on Hamilton Avenue in Trenton. They made their own pita which would come out the size of a pizza, so hot you'd burn your fingers as you'd go to rip apart its steamy soft goodness. Imagine the best fresh-from-the-oven bread you've tasted, the kind you dream about -- that was this. It was also my boyfriend's and my favorite hummus -- incredibly smooth and tahini-centered -- though some of our friends wished it had more lemon or garlic. Other favorites were mousaaka so luscious it could have been dessert, lamb shank that fell off the bone, chicken liver rice. The inherent charm of the low-rent Disney Aladdin decor and the friendliness of Imam, the hostess/waitress and proud creator of a secret special garlic sauce, all added to making it a favorite.
Well much to our dismay the place shut down suddenly, and we thought all was lost, until they reopened last week "Under New Ownership." Those dreaded words -- it's like having a loved one be cloned with all the same traits, but just not being the same person. We were encouraged when they told us they still made their homemade pita, it was still piping hot when it came out, but it was just different. The old pita had a perfect balance of fluffy vs. chewy, while the new pita was unevenly doughy, with a more yeasty flavor. (We still managed to eat 3 of them between 4 people -- I think there's just some hard-wired pleasure in eating hot bread...) The hummus was different as well, more like what you'd find in any decent Middle Eastern restaurant. Everything was good -- we had foul, kibbe, baba ghanoush, shish taouk, koufta kebab -- but those were never what drew us back time and time again, it was that pita and hummus. It's still a solid Middle Eastern restaurant, it's still miles ahead of our other local places with their store-bought pitas. The new staff is welcoming and friendly, but sadly there was no sign of the secret-sauce nor it's inventor.
Standard critic practice is to always go twice, in case they had a bad day. Some friends from Philadelphia may be coming to town, so we're going to take them and give it one more chance.