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Specials Are Best Route to Take in Bigger Jerusalem


ANAHEIM — When Jerusalem Restaurant and Bakery opened four years ago, it was a tiny, intensely authentic Middle Eastern dining spot with terrific food.

Now it has more than doubled in size, dropped the word "bakery" from its name and gone upscale.

It's still in the old neighborhood, though. Cruise along this stretch of Brookhurst and you'll be impressed with how many signs are in Spanish, Thai or Arabic. Jerusalem Restaurant's mini-mall location is also home to an Arab video store, Jerusalem Bakery (now physically separate but still affiliated by ownership) and a host of other small Arab businesses.

The new restaurant is not only more spacious but also brighter. The tables are now set with linens rather than being protected by uncomfortable glass tops. Sumptuous ivy-covered trellises crowd the ceiling; ivory-and-pink sconces adorn the walls. Behind the cash register is a large photo of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque, its golden dome gleaming under a midday sun.

In the background is haunting oud music, suggestive of belly dancing and the sultry mood of a Middle Eastern cabaret. Unlike many Middle Eastern restaurants, though, Jerusalem has no live entertainment. The restaurant caters mainly to Muslims and particularly to families.

The chef-owner, native Palestinian Shadra Issa, is capable of preparing some of the best Middle Eastern cuisine in California; unfortunately, she is cooking less and less these days. Jerusalem's cooking chores are now performed by a team of chefs who don't cook with the passion of their boss.

In the old restaurant, customers were plied with a complimentary plate of olives, pickled radishes, hot pita bread and an astonishingly creamy version of hummus, dusted with paprika and chopped parsley. Today the welcome is limited to the pickled radishes and a straw basket of pita bread--served at room temperature. The hummus is no longer free, but it is still a bargain at $2.99. I strongly suggest ordering some. It comes pressed out flat on a dish, with a small depression in the surface filled with greenish-yellow olive oil.

It is almost unthinkable in the Middle East to begin a meal without a few appetizers (mezzeh in Arabic). The fragrant grape leaves are stuffed with rice and pine nuts; their healthy dose of lemon juice makes them a bit sour. Kibbeh (spelled "kubbeh" here) are egg-shaped balls of cracked wheat with a stuffing of fried minced meat and pine nuts.

The stuffed falafel are light-textured balls of spiced garbanzo bean flour, stuffed before deep-frying with a tart pinch of dried sumac berries. The creamy eggplant dip baba ghannouj (spelled "baba ghannoush" on this menu) is perfect for smearing on pita. It's a tempting blend of pureed grilled eggplant, tahineh (sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. And don't forget fool mudammas, the national dish of Egypt, where it's eaten at breakfast. It's a heavy but addictive spiced fava bean and olive oil dip.

You may be tempted to try the fatteh. Resist. I was intrigued by the description--simmered pita bread mixed with garbanzo beans and hummus and topped with pine nuts and olive oil--but what I got was a giant bowl filled with an excessively oily tahineh layer, under which were garbanzos, soggy pieces of bread and even more oil.

Instead, refresh your palate with Jerusalem salad, served in a small side dish. This salad looks a lot like the yogurt and cucumber salad called raita in Indian restaurants, but the base is actually sesame paste. The salad components are tomatoes, cucumber, green onion and parsley.


Most of the main entrees are of good quality; grilled kebabs, marinated grilled lamb chops and a grilled, flattened half-chicken that looks like the pollo al mattone (chicken cooked under a brick) served in northern Italian restaurants. All of these meats come on the proverbial mountain of perfectly cooked basmati rice.

Generally, though, the most interesting entrees are the two daily specials. The regulars evidently agree; the kitchen usually runs out of them before 7 p.m., so come early.

You might call ahead and find out whether they're going to serve maklubeh, a dense stew of cauliflower and chicken cooked in rice, then turned upside down (that's what "maqluba" means in Arabic) and unmolded onto your plate. Another not to miss is musakhkhan, the classic Palestinian dish of chicken baked with onions, tomatoes and tart ground sumac, served on crisp pieces of pita toast.

Curiously, the restaurant's expansion has reduced the dessert menu.

The old Jerusalem had several desserts, but today the selection is limited to baklava. The finger-sized cylinders are in the dry style, not dripping with honey or syrup as in a Greek restaurant.

If this doesn't satisfy your sweet tooth, during the day you can go next door to the bakery, where there is still a star-studded array of cookies and pastries. My favorites are ghreibeh, a dome-shaped butter cookie that crumbles in your mouth, and manaqish (spelled "mana'ish" here), a flat, sesame-studded cookie with the rich texture of Scottish shortbread.

Unfortunately, the bakery closes at 5 p.m. Still, the restaurant pours a good demitasse of sweet, muddy Arabic coffee at any hour.

Jerusalem Restaurant is inexpensive to moderate. Appetizers are $1.99 to $4.59. Entrees are $5.99 to $8.99.


* 808 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim.

* (714) 991-7500.

* Lunch and dinner 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

* Visa, MasterCard, American Express.

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