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TODAY

Monday, April 22

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Airbags

"I want to go out for dinner tonight," I said as Brian got into the car at the Forest Glen Metra station.

"Noon-O-Kebab?" he said, because I'm always game for Noon-O on Kedzie south of Lawrence. It's because of the moosir, an intoxicating combination of shallots and thick yogurt.

We drove through Albany Park and parked just south of Noon-O-Kebab. As we headed to the restaurant, we passed a spot we'd seen, but couldn't try because it hadn't yet opened. But Semiramis had finally opened and seemed inviting. The moosir could wait.

Semiramis is quite at home in a Middle Eastern/Latino block of Albany Park/Lincoln Square literally steps from the Kedzie Stop on the Brown Line. Just outside the door, a sidewalk sign advertised daily specials including kibbe, a meat-and-bulgar dumpling.

The restaurant is separated into two rooms, a smaller just for take-aways (that's "to-go" for we Americans) and a larger room for dining. Semiramis is so new that it was still being decorated as we ate. Two women delicately daubed gold leaf onto chevrons protruding from the walls.

As we sat down, we were greeted warmly by our server and presented with a bowl of green olives and pickled radish. Brian mentioned another restaurant that he'd like to try, but I always thought looked way too dodgy. He said, "You're just not that adventurous!"

I popped a green olive into my mouth and bit down. Then I immediately spat it out into a napkin.

"You hate olives," said Brian.

"But I was trying to be adventurous!" I said, sipping water to wash the taste from my mouth.

We surveyed the menu, sporting a yummy selection of mezzes, or starters, including salads such as mint-based fattoush and bulgar-based tabbouleh and purees such as the ubiquitous hummus and batinjan mouotabbal, an eggplant puree. We chose the hummus, and Brian opted for a thick Arabic coffee flavored with cardamom.

When it came to picking our entrees, we could have gone with a healthy sized sandwich or a plate. The menu was heavy with lamb, beef and chicken but also featured several falafel combinations. Brian went with a falafel sandwich with red cabbage, eggplant, pickles, tomatoes, hummus and harrisa. Our server also coaxed him into a side of the owner's specialty, French fries dusted with sumac and a dip of garlic-potato puree. I went with chicken chawarma with baba ghannouj.

Our orders arrived quickly. Brian took a big bite of his sandwich and commented on the crispness of the falafel and the spicy bite. "It's the harissa," I said. "It's a sauce with red pepper, garlic and other spices." He tasted the garlic-potato puree and responded with a "wow!" It packed serious flavor and went with the fries nicely.

My chawarma, shaved off a spit in the back, was arranged neatly atop a divine swirl of baba ghannouj. The chips of chicken were nicely grilled and sliced thin, very different from a skewer. And the eggplant puree made my tongue tingle with garlic and spice.

We asked about the desserts, but our server could only recall baklava. We shook our heads and asked for the check. With it, she brought a plate with a rose-water and pistachio dumpling. Flaky, sweet and totally unique.

Our total bill was just under $21 — approximately what we'd spend at Noon-O-Kebab, along with new and interesting flavors. We're definitely putting Semiramis on our regular restaurant roster.

Semiramis is located at 4639-41 North Kedzie and is open from 11am to 10pm Tuesday through Sunday.

Starters range from $2-4; Sandwiches from $3.50-5; Entrees from $5.50-8.50.

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About the Author(s)

Fork It Over is the result of weekly dinners with members of the Gapers Block staff. This week's review was written by Shylo Bisnett.

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