On a recent mental health day off from work, I found myself wandering around the south end, maybe my favorite part of Boston. It was freezing outside and I found myself looking for a hearty, filling meal. I took a quick glance at my ever-growing list of restaurants and settled on Anoush’ella, a new fast-casual Middle eastern restaurant I’d heard about from a friend.
Even with the help of a great employee, I was a bit confused by the menu, which annoyingly doesn’t distinguish between meat and veggie dishes with the same names, so I found myself ordering twice, to hit the requisite / reckless calorie count I was looking for. It wasn’t expensive, but I felt a bit tricked – each of my two little orders, an appetizer platter and a sandwich, ended up racking up little extra costs that were frustrating in totality.
My first impressions of Anoush’ella were lovely – unfortunately, as I dove further into the menu, I found myself far less impressed.
First bite: Saj bread – Saj bread is a very thin flatbread, almost like a crispier pita bread, that’s grilled on the stove top with a bit of oil. Anoush’ella’s was very good, even on its own – it’s got the tiniest bit of crunch but still holds on to its doughiness. It’s better for scooping liquids and mezze dishes than pita is, and still more handy than a tortilla chip. It kind of exists in the sweet spot in between.
Labneh – Anoush’ella makes Labneh in house, which is a soft, creamy cheese made from strained greek yogurt. It’s served in thick, ice-cream type balls with a bit of fresh pomegranate, and it is wildly good, easily the best thing I tried. It’s thick and filling and creamy as all hell, perfect for spreading over the saj bread or spreading in your sandwich. There’s an entire Labneh bar at the restaurant, which I’ll unquestionably make my priority if I’m ever back.
Lentil kofta – This was pretty bad. I’m big into lentils lately, as I try to eat less meat for sustainability’s sake, but this was pretty flavorless, like shittier, drier hummus. The kofta was thick and dry by design, but so thick I couldn’t even scoop any with the saj bread.
Armenian salad – This was thoroughly mediocre and boring. Tomato and onion and cucumber and parsley, exactly what you’ll find at any middle eastern restaurant, but doused in a bit too much oil and lemon juice.
Za’atar chicken m’anoush wrap – I couldn’t fill up on the mezze the staff had recommended, so I had to head back for what looked to be the best wrap on the menu – slow-roasted chicken marinated in Anoush’ella’s “secret sauce”, hummus, spicy potatoes, some pickled veggies, and garlic sauce.
It sounds excellent; it tasted okay. The highlight, once again, was the saj bread used for the wrap – grilled and crispy, like a great quesadilla. There was barely any chicken involved – I certainly couldn’t taste it over the potatoes, which weren’t spicy or crispy as promised, but rather lazily prepared steak fries. The pickled veggies and garlic sauce were tangy and lent a bit of forgiveness, but overall, this tasted like a potato sandwich, which, not surprisingly, isn’t a thing.
TL;dr: A few great specialties augment a surprisingly bland, middle eastern menu.