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Old Jerusalem

February 14, 2007

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Old Jerusalem is a Palestinian restaurant located on Mission Street, on the somewhat quieter southern end near Army Street. With its unassuming storefront, the inside of Old Jerusalem is surprisingly nice; painted on the walls is some scenery depicting Jerusalem as it might have been in more peaceful times. The restaurant, which only has about half a dozen tables, has a cozy, comfortable, and casual atmosphere.

Old Jerusalem’s menu features a lot of the usual suspects, including shawerma, shish kabab (lamb/beef), shish taouk (chicken), and kefta, either prepared in the form of a sandwich, or as a whole entree plate. There are also a variety of salad and appetizer items, including foul (fava beans), hummus, falafel, baba ghanouj (mashed eggplant with tahini), mossabaha (hummus with whole chickpeas), tabouleh, and several others. The two dessert choices are warbat (an Arabic pastry featuring a cream or custardy filling) and kunafa (which has goat cheese and a sort of wheat dough with sweet syrup). Vegetarians should take note that every entree and sandwich item on this menu involves meat, but that the salads and a great number of the appetizers are meat-free, so a vegetarian coming to Old Jerusalem would likely want to order a selection of smaller dishes.

For lunch, we ordered the shish kabab entree:

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The entree includes some rather forlorn pickles to start, several pieces of thick, warm pita bread, about a dozen chunks of meat (you can choose between either beef or lamb — we chose lamb), vegetables, and a choice of rice or hummus. As you see in the above picture, we chose hummus, and while the hummus was not exceptional, it was definitely much better than what one finds at most places. This hummus had a smooth, uniform texture (no odd lumps) that was simultaneously soft yet sturdy, in that it held its shape and was not the least bit “gloopy.” It had a mild yet clearly discernible flavor of tahini and chickpea, but it would have been even better with an ever-so-slight touch of additional lemon juice for a bit more brightness. Still, the hummus was properly (if somewhat sloppily) garnished with olive oil, fresh parsley and paprika. All in all, the hummus was quite good, and as you see in the above picture, you get a lot of it with the entree. The lamb was pretty good quality, but not great. The meat was well-seasoned, and some pieces were good quality, while others were tougher with gristle. You do get quite a bit for the price of the dish, though, so we suppose it’s a tradeoff. Short Exact would have preferred less but better quality lamb, seeing as how we were unable to finish this whole entree in one sitting anyhow. On the other hand, the onion and tomato were very nicely charred.

The service at Old Jerusalem is generally helpful and good-natured but not top-notch in terms of attentiveness. Everything was actually fine up through when our food was delivered. Shortly thereafter, the man who graciously welcomed into the restaurant (who also turned out to double as both waiter and as a cook in the kitchen) suddenly got involved in a rather loud and impassioned discussion in Arabic with a few other people, out of which the only words discernible to us were “San Jose” and “Santa Clara.” Perhaps they were angry about the 49’ers moving out of San Francisco. In any event, once that discussion started, our host/waiter/cook seemed to forget about us, making it a bit difficult for us to close off the meal. Also, because the discussion took place at the edge of the dining area, near the kitchen, the noise also carried out to the tables. Eventually, after waiting for quite awhile, we had to interrupt their discussion to ask for the check. Still, other than this slip-up, the service was good, and seeing as how Old Jerusalem is a small, family-run operation, our experience here was in no way out of the ordinary.

Our final thoughts here are that Old Jerusalem is quite a decent restaurant. It seems like a good place to drop in on every once in awhile, and although the food is not transcendental, it is better and more authentically prepared than at many restaurants in the Bay Area. The Bay Area, for all its diverse selection of restaurants showcasing food from around the world, has a strangely small and often lackluster set of choices for Middle Eastern cuisine, which makes us appreciate places like Old Jerusalem all the more.

RATING:

COST:

2976 Mission Street (between 25th St. and 26th St.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.642.5958
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:00 am – 12:00 midnight; Sun, 11:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Neighborhood: Mission

How to get there: Muni bus lines 12, 14, 26, 27, 48, 49, and 67. The 24 Street Mission BART station is a couple blocks away.

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5 comments

  1. I completely agree with your statement that “The Bay Area . . . has a strangely small and often lackluster set of choices for Middle Eastern cuisine[.]” Other than the shoddy service, it sounds like it might be worth another visit.


  2. I think it’s definitely worth visiting, despite this story about the service. The restaurant was not really full when I went, so it’s possible that they were less attentive just because there wasn’t as much to do. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily that much worse than what you’d get any other small, family-run place. At places like this, it’s more about the food than the service anyway.


  3. Oh man, that kebab entree looks delicious! I absolutely adore Houmous, chickpeas, falafel and tabouleh!
    Unfortunately living in an average sized uneducated town the best we can hope for is bangladeshi food.


  4. Short Exact, I’d like to tag you for the “Save Our Faves” meme, if you are interested. You can find more about it here and here.


  5. Media Roundup – 2/14/07 – Mindless Eating, Excess all Around, Heritage Piggies

    No common threads this week, just a lot of hearty reading and listening about the varieties of food and cooking.Newspaper…



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