Take the garlic cure at Karam's
Special to The Seattle Times
Some people are on a mission. Anis and Julie Karam's mission apparently involves saving the world with garlic. How else can you explain the couple's Capitol Hill restaurant, Karam's, which misses no opportunity to sing the praises of the stinking rose and put it on your plate in mass quantities. And how else can you explain Anis Karam's signature T-shirt, which reads, "There is no such thing as too much sex or garlic." (Since this is Dining Deals, we'll concentrate on verifying the garlic part of the credo.)
"Garlic is good for you," promises the menu. "Garlic is particularly effective against organisms which are difficult to destroy with antibiotics." Such as vampires.
But the Karams care more about garlic's flavor than its medicinal properties. There are no odor-free garlic capsules on the premises; you'll get your RDA in the form of Karam's Garlic Sauce, which you may have seen on your supermarket's shelf.
The restaurant is a small space below a dance studio, and the décor features photos of the Karams in Lebanon. Anis Karam is likely to take your order and then march back to the kitchen and start cooking it. This means service can get slow when the place is full, so remind yourself that garlic is also reputed to have a relaxing effect.
For a small restaurant with no taps, Karam's has a superb beer selection, featuring imports from England, Germany, Belgium and Seattle, all carefully selected to match the food. Many of the beers come in large-format bottles, perfect for sharing. They are so serious about beer, in fact, that Karam is pictured on the front of the menu drinking a Pike Place Pale Ale ($4) while cooking. (Could this explain his profligacy with the garlic sauce?)
There's also a wine list emphasizing Middle Eastern wines from Lebanon, Morocco and Algeria, with a couple of European and American choices.
After dinner, you'll be offered a stiff shot of Turkish coffee ($1.95).
The menu never strays far from Middle Eastern standards. Appetizers include tabbouleh ($6.75) and hummus ($4.95); entrees include crunchy falafel ($11.95) and broiled fish ($12.95), chicken ($12.95) or lamb (14.95), served with hummus and fluffy rice, soup or salad, and a liberal application of garlic sauce.
Karam announced the vegetarian pumpkin kibbeh special, and my friend leaned across the table to whisper, "It was also the special the last three times I was here." That's Karam's: a little predictable, but always conscious of the fact that there are certain things in life you can't have too much of.
Baba ghannouj: It was hard to stop dipping into this veritable lagoon of pureed eggplant and (surprise!) garlic, served with a basket of warm pita. Nothing unusual, but a good solid baba ghannouj.
Lahm mashwi: Chunks of boneless Washington lamb are broiled and served over rice with hummus and garlic sauce. The sauce is a tart concoction of tahini, lemon juice and garlic, and it's not as oppressively garlicky as the hype might lead you to believe. The lamb was reasonably tender, the rice fluffy and fragrant. The hummus was a bit pasty. Entrees include a romaine-tomato salad with nicely balanced house vinaigrette or a warming bowl of lentil soup.
Pumpkin kibbeh: Pumpkin is steamed and mixed with onion, parsley, mint and bulgur, then layered with more onion, pine nuts, walnuts, tomato and spices, and the whole thing is broiled and served over rice. A delicious vegetarian alternative to lamb kibbeh, with firm texture and a satisfying mix of flavors.
Lindeman's kriek: This beer flavored with sour cherries is an easy introduction to the world of lambic, spontaneously fermented Belgian ale. It's as easy-drinking as a wine cooler but lurking in the background are the funky flavors, somewhere between citrus and damp attic, that come from a cacophonous blend of wild yeasts and bacteria rather than the carefully controlled single-yeast fermentation of most beer.
Baqlawa: A small square of the phyllo and nut pastry, better known as baklava, was flaky but not greasy, and even a baklava skeptic like me enjoyed it.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Baba ghannouj $5.95
Lahm mashwi $14.95
Pumpkin kibbeh $12.95
Lindeman's kriek $8.50
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org.