Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Oren's Hummus Shop

Oren's Hummus is an institution in the Palo Alto area, starting as a little shop and farmer's market stand (by a techie who missed good hummus), and expanding into a very successful catering business, and now multiple restaurants.

I've heard about Oren's for years, as everyone raves about it, but, Mediterranean food is really not my cuisine of choice so I never sought it out.  Then, about a year ago, a friend of mine catered an event with Oren's and I was blown away by the flavors.  I didn't take notes, but it left a lasting impression, so when we were looking for somewhere in the Palo Alto area for a casual dinner for 6, and I actually wanted to eat light and healthier (due to an epic wait for brunch at ai'na, we were eating only 4 hours after we finished a huge brunch!), Oren's seemed like a good choice.

And healthier and lighter it is.  Oren's takes pride in the ingredients - they use as many organics as possible, chicken, eggs, and beef are all natural.  The pita is housemade, baked fresh daily, available in white or wheat, or even gluten-free.  They import ingredients from Israel.  They don't use preservatives.

My visit to Oren's was with a group of 6 on a Sunday night.  When we arrived, the restaurant was full, right at 6pm.  Palo Alto is an early dining crowd!

I was able to put my name on the list and was quoted a 10 minute wait time.  They took my phone number, and actually sent me a text message when the table was ready.  Very easy.

We were seated at a table that barely fit 6, 3 of us crammed along one side.  Once we had a table full of food, it was a bit impossible, and we had to very carefully re-arrange everything in order to move things around.  But, we did get seated within the quoted 10 minutes.

Overall, the food was fine, but, not memorable, and not nearly as good as I remembered from my previous catering encounter.
Menu, Place Setting.
Oren's is a very casual establishment, with lower end furnishings and cutlery, and plastic laminated menus.  They do have table service, but it was not particularly attentive.  Also on the tables were little pots of red and green sauces.  The red one was uninteresting, but the green was quite spicy.

The menu at Oren's is divided into 6 sections: Hummus Bowls, Grilled Skewers, Salads, Israeli Favorites, Pita Sandwiches, and Sides.

It isn't entirely clear what is intended to be an entree, but I think everything but the sides was.   For example, the salads listed in the Salad section are all large size salads, priced the same as entrees, and smaller side salads appear under the Sides section.  The hummus bowls too seem like entrees, again, priced like entrees, they come topped with options like ground beef or lamb, and the sides menu contains a smaller portion of hummus.  My read of the menu was that basically everything besides the sides is entree sized, but you could obviously share hummus bowls or salads to make them appetizers?

And then, the sides.  Oren's has a seriously impressive lineup of sides.  Some of the entrees come with your choice of sides, but they are also available a la carte, 1 for $4.50, 2 for $8.50, or 3 for $11.95 (except for the different types of fries, priced at $4.95).  Sides include smaller salads, hummus, and falafel, so you could easily make an appetizer platter out of these, or even, really, a meal.  The total list of sides is 17 (!) items, all vegetarian.  The list included 5 different preparations of eggplant, smaller portions of the Israeli salad and hummus, two types of tabule, marinated beets, spiced carrots, pickles, labane, fries, sweet potato fries, "cauliflower fries" ... lots of options.

So, a slightly confusing menu, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it.  I thought it just meant that everything was family-style, and so I ordered a bunch for the table, but, the resulting service we got made it clear that that wasn't really intended.  For example, as each dish came out, servers really wanted to put a dish in front of a specific person, rather than shared in the center of the table.  They didn't bring any serving utensils.  They didn't pace the meal out into separate courses.  Oops?
We ended up ordering one hummus bowl, two types of skewers (each of which came with two sides), one large salad, and one of the Israeli favorites, and it was too much food for 6 people, even though that seemed like less than 5 main dishes.

We opted not to stay for dessert, and headed down the street to Yogurtland (which, I may or may not have planned from the start ... ).
Slaw (Complimentary).
Provided nearly as soon as we sat was little bowls of complimentary slaw.  It was mushy and not fresh and crisp, and not mayo based, so, I didn't care for it.  We were given 2-3 bowls of it, and it went mostly untouched.
Hummus Triangle. $9.85.
"The classic topped with masabacha, fava, and tahini."

Since Oren's is most famous for the hummus, we obviously had to order a hummus bowl.  We had 9 choices of hummus bowls, ranging from classic to topped with vegetarian options (fava beans, stewed chunky eggplant, mushrooms and sauteed onions) to topped with more substantial meat and poultry (ground beef with pine nuts, braised lamb shoulder, or even chicken livers).

We let indecision guide us towards the "Triangle", topped with 3 different toppings: masabacha (whole and pureed chickpeas blended with tahini), fava (slow-cooked fava beans), and tahini.

Now, I'm pretty sure I've never really liked hummus.  I don't care for chickpeas and bean flavors, so, hummus has never been for me.  And I didn't care for this, as expected.  That said, I could appreciate that this was good hummus.  It was far more creamy than I knew was possible.  I also didn't care for the toppings, since, well, legumes.

The others remarked that it was good hummus though, so, I guess it was?
Mixed Homemade White and Wheat Pita (included with hummus).
Hummus bowls are served with your choice of white or whole wheat pita (gluten-free available).  We opted for a mix, since we couldn't decide.

The pita is all homemade at Oren's, and is their other claim to fame.

Since many of our side dishes were essentially dips, we were hoping to have pita to use for those too, and the basket of pita initially didn't really look substantial enough to last through our meal.  But, looks are deceiving, and this was more pita than we needed.

The pita was served warm.  It was clearly very fresh, very fluffy.  But just like I'm not a hummus girl, I'm also not a pita girl, so, to me, it was still pita, but again, I recognized the quality.
Greek Salad. $10.95.
"Chopped romaine, cucumber, tomato, kalamata olives, bell pepper, and imported sheep's feta cheese."

Some of the group was concerned I wasn't ordering enough, and wanted to add in a salad.  There were 4 entree salads on offer, all of which started with cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions: Israeli salad, Fatush (with feta and pita chips), an "Alpha Beta Salad" with rice, lentils, and bell peppers in addition to the base trifecta, with lemon tahini dressing, and, a classic Greek salad.  My group selected the Greek.

I didn't try this, as there is basically no ingredient in there that I liked.  It was, however, the only dish which we managed to finish, so, clearly the others liked it.
Vegetable Skewer Entree with 2 sides (Sweet Potato Fries, Falafel).  $12.95.
"Onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers, eggplant, and mushrooms."

The Grilled Entrees section of the menu contained 3 types of skewers: chicken, beef, and vegetable.  We had a vegetarian in the group, and, although all the sides, and many of the other options were vegetarian, someone thought we should also order the veggie skewers to make sure he was satisfied.  Thoughtful, but I'm not sure necessary given how much other vegetarian fare we had.

Anyway, the veggie skewer was ... well, not a skewer, just a pile of grilled vegetables.  The vegetables were all fine I guess, but not a single vegetable was particularly notable, they didn't have a nice char, there was no sauce ... really, as boring as could be, and these went basically untouched.

"5 falafel balls topped with tahini." 

Each skewer entree came with our choice of 2 sides, from the massive list of 17 choices.

I selected the falafel because it seemed like a classic , and I figured folks could make little falafel wraps with the hummus and pita (they didn't).  The order came with 5 balls, and since we were a group of 6 I opted not to have one, since, well, guess what? I don't really like falafel either.  No one really commented on the falafel.

"Sweet potato fries with red pepper mayo."

The second side I picked was the sweet potato fries.  I'm pretty sure I was the only one who wanted this, and sweet potato fries are entirely not Mediterranean cuisine, but, I wanted something that I'd like too!  In the fried carbs department, I also had the choice of regular fries or the interesting sounding "cauliflower fries" served with pesto labne, but, sweet potato fries and aioli were impossible for me to move past.

The sweet potato fries were actually very good.  They were super crispy, and chunky enough to really have a strong sweet potato flavor.  The red pepper aioli wasn't particularly flavorful, but I was glad to have a creamy, mayo based dip.  I really enjoyed these, and would gladly get them again, and I was thrilled no one else seemed to even be interested in trying them.  I polished of 90% of them myself.
Beef Skewer Entree with 2 sides (Labane, Babaganoush). $14.95.
"All natural ground beef and lamb with blended herbs and garlic, drizzled with tahini."

The second grilled entree we picked was the beef skewer.  Again not a skewer, but rather, 3 balls.  Unfortunately, I didn't read the description before ordering, and assumed that a beef skewer would be, well, beef.  Not beef and lamb.  Since I really don't like lamb, I didn't try these.

"Fire roasted eggplant mashed with tahini, garlic, and herbs."

We also had to pick 2 sides to go with this.  Since the menu had 5 different eggplant options, it seemed like we should pick at least one of them.  There was a pureed "Greekstyle" version, a mashed Romanian version, a chunky version, another pureed "Oren's" version, and, Babaganoush.  I advocated for the Oren's (it had caramelized onion in it!), or the chunky (stewed with garlic), but, babaganoush was the crown consensus.

It was ... fine.  It was babagaoush.  Standard, nothing special.  It combined nicely enough with the hummus and pita.

"Strained yogurt cheese topped with za'ata spice and olive oil."

The final side I picked was labane, because I wanted something rich and tart to compliment everything else.  It came topped with very flavorful tomatoes, olive oil, and spices on top.

The labane was a hit, with nearly everyone declaring it their favorite.  I particularly liked the flavorful toppings.  Interestingly to me, about half the table had never had labane before, so I was glad to introduce them to something they enjoyed!
Schnitzel de Noir. $13.95.
"Breaded chicken breast, mashed sweet potatoes, and garlic green beans".

Our final dish came from the Israeli Favorites section of the menu (which also included shakshuka, couscous, and a rice bowl).  This was the pick of one diner, who I think was concerned by the random hodgepodge of items I was ordering, without a real entree.  We had no choice of sides for this, and interestingly, the sides it was served with are not available as regular sides.

I didn't try the schnitzel, but the others did, and seemed to appreciate having some chicken.  I did try the sauce, and it was just standard Dijon mustard.  No one ate the green beans.

I tried the sweet potato mash, but, it was not very good.  No one ate that either.
Oren's Hummus Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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