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Dome Cookin'

April 01, 1993|JONATHAN GOLD

As you pound down Alondra toward Cerritos, Golden Dome Falafel is almost a surrealist's apparition of a fast-food restaurant, Arabic script standing starkly against the east-Bellflower landscape of Taco Bell signs and mortuary facades, a picture of the namesake dome painted in the flat but searching manner of some sign-painter Giotto; an old burger stand made over into something both familiar and ineffably exotic. Even if you're on your way to lunch somewhere else, it's hard to resist a double-take and a quick U-turn.

At the restaurant's outside tables, you'll usually see dining Middle Easterners and pickup-truck loads of blond, lunch-scarfing guys in painter's caps, hear swift, melodic Arabic and the drawl of So-Cal dudes. In the dim dining room, posters offer immigration assistance and video-tape conversion; a small hutch in a rear corner displays camels carved out of wood and gilt souvenirs of the Dome.

The Jerusalem shrine from which the restaurant takes its name, better known as the Dome of the Rock, is one of the holiest places of Islam, the spot from which, according to Muslim belief, Muhammad ascended to heaven. The very existence of Jerusalem's Golden Dome--built on the site of the Second Temple--is something of a sore spot with certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects. One gathers that, unlike the many falafel stands in the Fairfax district, the Golden Dome does not cater primarily to an Israeli-emigrant trade. Business seemed kind of slow last month during Ramadan, the annual Islamic fast; the staff, presumably unfed, seemed grouchy.

You may consider the shwarma (greasy) or learnedly discuss the contents of the pita burger; but in practice everybody gets the falafel, which is the stuff of every vegetarian's dream. First, consider falafel qua falafel: college town-style pellets of fried stuff stuffed into pocket bread with vegetables, doused with sour white sesame paste. Then consider Golden Dome's falafel, starting with the patties: crisp, gold-brown balls of spiced, ground garbanzos, thin crust giving way to a dense interior colored moss-green with herbs, exterior crunchiness giving way (just like a perfect bagel) to a slight but definite chewiness underneath.

The balls are tucked into a whole-wheat pita with fresh cabbage, tomatoes, a slice of beet-red house-pickled turnip. You slick it yourself with the house's sesame sauce, light tan in color, a toasty intensity that is quite different from the blander tahineh sauce you may be used to. If you're that kind of person, you can add a dab of fiery-hot Arab tomato salsa. Simply, Golden Dome falafel is a superior product.

When you order falafel as part of a platter, it comes naked, four little balls afloat on a sea of smooth, cool hummus or a nicely textured, tahineh-rich version of the eggplant dip baba ghannouj . The chopped parsley salad tabbouleh is ultra-fresh, studded with chewy dots of soaked bulgur wheat, powerfully tart. You can get falafel balls on the side, sort of like fries, with sandwiches made with the loose, juicy, powerfully garlicked ground-beef sausage kofta , served with caramelized onions, or made with grilled bits of chicken that are hot with black pepper. The special combination plate has bits of almost everything they serve here--Golden Dome's menu is on the small side.

* Golden Dome Falafel

10316 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower, 310-925-6013. Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $5-$11.

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