Review: El Karim, Roseville

It’s sad, but K and I rarely eat out in our neighborhood – it’s almost a case of the proverbial “grass is greener on the other side”, and we often find ourselves eating out ‘on the other side’ rather than on our own turf.

However I’ve been fascinated by¬†El Karim in Roseville for a while – it seems like every time we drive past, the restaurant has been absolutely packed with diners, regardless of whether it’s a weekend or weekday. Any place with that kind of a dedicated customer base is always worth a visit, so when it popped up on the Good Food Under $30 list, I made it my mission to go!

We showed up on a whim late on a Tuesday night without a reservation, greeted with nothing but smiles. It was late and I was hungry, so we didn’t waste time dilly-dallying about the menu, quickly made our choices and sat back with a glass of ‘Rose de Ksara’ Lebanese wine as our food started arriving.

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Grilled Haloumi, $11

Grilled. Haloumi. Put those two words together and you get pure heaven. I am a total cheese addict, a fiend if there ever was one. These were grilled well, and had the delicious salty tart taste that only the most excellent haloumi can maintain. The addition of the sliced tomato and cucumber was a really nice touch as well, providing a fresh contrast to the saltiness of the haloumi.

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A basket of delicious pita bread is delivered to our table as we wait for our main course, and I find it hard to stop myself from continuing to reach for more as I keep eating piece after piece of pita bread! I often find the pita bread I buy at the supermarket to be quite stale – this on the other hand, is lovely and fresh and very moreish.

Samak Med: Chargrilled fish fillet topped with garlic, chilli and parsley in a homemade tomato sauce. Served with rice. $18
Samak Med: Chargrilled fish fillet topped with garlic, chilli and parsley in a homemade tomato sauce. Served with rice. $18

Ordering off the specials menu proves a hit in this main course! The fish fillet is deliciously smokey and crispy on the outside, but lovely and soft on the inside – the flesh of the fish is tender and flaky. While the idea of pairing fish with a tomato sauce sounded strange on the menu, this particular style worked well. The chunky chutney-style sauce was extremely flavour-rich with lots of garlic and chilli that left a lovely afterburn. A surprisingly excellent dish – one that definitely deserves to be on the main menu and not just a specials menu!

Shish barak. Tortellini-like parcels filled with mince lamb, onions and parsley in yoghurt, garlic and coriander sauce. Served with vermicelli rice. $18
Shish barak. Tortellini-like parcels filled with mince lamb, onions and parsley in yoghurt, garlic and coriander sauce. Served with vermicelli rice. $18

Our next dish was more miss than hit – it took a while to come out of the kitchen (making the tortellini from scratch perhaps?), and I found the thickness of the tortellini parcels disappointingly thick. While I am used to the Asian-style dumplings with thinner wrappings, I think these tortellini were definitely on the thick side and without the yoghurt sauce, would have been quite bland and unappealing. The yoghurt sauce was what saved this dish, but even that was on the overly sour side.

Baklava ($6) and Znoud El Sit (Filo pastry filled with semolina custard and dipped in orange blossom syrup, $4 each)
Baklava ($6) and Znoud El Sit (Filo pastry filled with semolina custard and dipped in orange blossom syrup, $4 each)

Luckily we finished our meal with some sweet treats to counteract any sourness of our main dish. Ordering baklava is a must for me any time I’m in a Turkish or Lebanese restaurant, and these ones didn’t disappoint, with just the right amount of rosewater syrup infused in the flaky filo pastry. The Znoud El Sit was a hit as well – while I thought it might be too sweet (syrup and custard?), it was just sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth but not to make it ache!

Overall, I rate El Karim a solid 8 out of 10. The service is friendly, and most of the food is excellent – if you stick to the more traditional Lebanese fare rather than choosing to venture into more unusual dishes.

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