Jerusalem Cafe like taking a vacation

Authentic-tasting Mediterranean meal served with a smile

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Dining Out review: Jerusalem Cafe

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays. Noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Where: 516 E. Chkalov Drive, Suite 45, Vancouver.

Contact: 360-891-1490 or www.thejerusalemcafe.com

Health score: Jerusalem Cafe received a score of 5 on April 12. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.

Why: The Jerusalem Cafe was first established in 1996 in downtown Vancouver by the Farran family. The Chkalov location opened in 2002. The restaurant is still family owned and operated and serves fresh and healthful Mediterranean cuisine using family recipes for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

What I tried: To start, my dining companions and I had the Mazza Platter which is a vegetarian option that includes hummus, tabouli (tossed fresh parsley, greens onions, tomatoes, cucumber, bulgar wheat topped with olive oil and lemon), falafel, Mediterranean salad (tossed tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley, topped with olive oil and lemon), Turkish salad, which is similar to chili with bell peppers, tomatoes and other sweet and spicy ingredients, tahini, pickled cabbage, and a potato-like salad with peas and carrots incorporated. The platter is served with a basket of warm, fresh pita bread. We also tried the grape leaves.

For our entrees we settled on the chicken shawarma, the Jerusalem special and the shish kabob — all served with tabouli, rice and Mediterranean salad.

The chicken on the kabob was seasoned the same as the chicken shawarma. Both were tender and juicy. The chicken was cut into bite-sized pieces which allowed the seasonings to completely envelope every piece for a flavorful experience. The rice was mixed with a bit of vermicelli and provided an interim option between the chicken and the fresh green profile of the parsley in the tabouli. I enjoyed the flavor of the Mediterranean salad mixed in with the tabouli.

The chicken with the Jerusalem special, although it looked the same as the other chicken dishes, had a different flavor and the green bell peppers that were combined with the chicken were very distinct with their presence and complimented the protein well.

All of the platter elements were top notch and the grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice were soft and delicious.

We wrapped up our meal with a few pieces of the pistachio baklava. These were sweet and buttery — the perfect finish to our Mediterranean meal.

Atmosphere: The strip mall location of the Chkalov restaurant does not afford a space of creative dimension but it was improved to pleasantly and creatively convey a village-type atmosphere where different dining areas accommodate an intimate dining experience. Faux painted walls appear as stucco covered block, doorways and interior partitions are arched and a non-operating fountain is used as a focal point in the front dining room. Seating consists of booths and tables with chairs to seat two to six guests.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Dinner entrees include saniha (a mix of ground lamb and beef with onions, parsley, and special seasonings cooked with tahini sauce), shish tawouk (pieces of chicken served on grilled pita bread smothered with sauteed onions and mushroom sauce), and the Jerusalem fish special which is grilled fish topped with lemon garlic sauce. Entrees at dinner are served with selected appetizers, pita bread, rice, tabouli and Mediterranean salad. Lunch entrees are not as numerous as dinner but include zytonna (sauteed pieces of chicken with green olives, onions and bell peppers mixed with special seasoning) which is not on the dinner menu. I thought the babaghanooj sounded delicious. This consists of smoked and roasted eggplant mixed with tahini, garlic and lemon topped with olive oil and parsley. Kids menu items include chicken strips with fries in addition to traditional fare. Bakalava walnut and baklava pistachio are available for dessert. Other than Pepsi products there is lemonade, guava-strawberry juice, hot tea and Turkish coffee. Beer and wine are also available.

Other observations: Every time I have visited the cafe I have felt welcome and treated like family. I have, likewise, always had a consistent and authentic cuisine experience at this location.

Cost: Starters cost $3.99 to $6.99. Soups and salads range from $3.75 to $9.99. Platters cost $12.99 and $14.99. Sandwiches are $4.99 to $7.99 or may be made into a basket with either garlic or seasoned fries for $6.99 to $9.99. Dinner entrees start out at $12.99 and top out at $16.99. Lunch entrees are $9.50 to $11.99. Lighter fare options are $7.99 and $9.99. Kids menu choices are $6.99 and $7.99. Desserts are $2.50 and $2.99. Beverages are $2 and $2.50.