- 313 E. Locust St., Des Moines, IA, 50309
- Overall User Rating:
- (15 ratings)
- Lunch Monday-Thursday: 11am-2:30 pm Friday-Saturday: 11:00am-2:30 pm Dinner Monday-Thursday 5:30 pm-10pm Friday&Saturday 5:30pm-12am Sunday 12pm-4pm
- Official Web Site:
Preliminary visit — not yet rated.
Every time I venture out to preview a new restaurant, I find myself wondering, “in what way will this place not quite have it together?” Believe me, it’s always something. However, I experienced no growing pains whatsoever at Open Sesame. From the food, to the mood, to the staff, everything’s seamlessly coming together for one gem of a place.
Who/what: It helps that owner Mario Gazali has plenty of practice in the biz; he currently owns the casual Drake-area Gazali’s, and he also opened (and subsequently closed) the more upscale Adonis Mediterranean Grill in West Glen.
The look: The old East Village storefront building (which previously housed Baby Boomers Café) is a much better fit than sleek West Glen for the ancient appeal of the Lebanese cuisine found here.
In fact, there’s nothing sleek or sparse or about this spot. With stenciled minarets on lush red walls, fairy lights outlining the bar and some dashing artwork of Middle Eastern scenes, the exotic room manages to be both casual and romantic.
Menu: Mediterranean dishes star here, including hummus, gyro salads and platters, beef or chicken kabobs and falafel. A few lesser-known (around here, anyway) items include kibbeh (a kind of Middle Eastern meatloaf) and kafta (Lebanese-spiced ground sirloin patties). Entrée prices range from $10 to $18.
Vegetarians and vegans are going to flock to this spot — many dishes explode with flavor without a speck of anything from an animal.
First bites: Everything we tried tasted irresistibly fresh and bell-ringingly vivid; spices are warm rather than searing, flavors are straightforward rather than muddled. A generous use of lemon and olive oil makes many dishes sparkle and satisfy.
For three or four diners, I recommend kicking off dinner with the fascinating vegetarian plate; though listed on the menu as an entrée, it brings a carnival of great nibbles: garlicky hummus, smoky baba ganouj (eggplant dip), generously herby tabbouleh, crunchy falafel patties, lemony-fresh grape leaves and glistening salad.
The Kibbeh plate brought a meatloaf-like concoction with bulgur and intriguingly sweet spices in the mix. The Vegetarian mousaka plate proved a thoroughly satisfying stew of eggplant, garbanzo beans and potatoes in a warmly spicy sauce.
Stay for dessert? Yes — get the honeyed, nutty and flaky baklava; here it’s a classic, not a cliché.
Bottom line: A stellar start.