Taking It In

A t Sesame Falafel, most customers take out, though sometimes one or two people take a seat instead.

The day of my visit, I was one of them, when my eyes landed on the back of a sign taped to Sesame’s front window: “Outdoor Patio Seating! Now Open.” The woman behind the counter told me how to get there: leave the restaurant, walk around Rudy’s onto Howe Street, then dart into an alley behind, brightened by strings of bulbs overhead, where she had popped out of the kitchen to set up a table with wooden chairs.

The restaurant’s been open since January, making it a relatively new contender in the city’s Middle Eastern/Mediterranean scene. A block and change from Mamoun’s Falafel, which is famous for its late-night hours every day of the year, and just a little farther from Kasbah Garden, known for its lush outdoor seating, opening Sesame here was a bold move. The menu doesn’t seem so bold, mostly composed of standards from shawarma to spanakopita, along with a handful of American favorites like chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks. (Thankfully, Sesame has resisted the urge to tack on pizza.) But it’s the execution that counts, and here it’s very good, with tweaks that make familiar foods feel new.

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I started with a half-portion of the Vegetarian Dinner For Two ($14.95), featuring hummus, baba ghanoush, dolma, falafel and salad on a colorful plate, with a basket of pita to the side. The hummus was silkier than any I’ve tried, an effect that comes from carefully shelling the chickpeas before blending it with lemon juice and tahini. The baba ghanoush, sprinkled with paprika and cilantro, was smoky and creamy, with an occasional meaty chunk of roasted eggplant. The only disappointment was the dolma, a.k.a. the stuffed grape leaves. Filled with soft rice and flaked carrot, that day’s batch was painfully sour from too much lemon juice.

But the falafel redeemed them. Though I’m generally wary of the fried balls of chickpea and spices—too many I’ve tried were cooked into pucks—Sesame’s were fluffy and light, with a velvety interior encased in a thin crispy crust. The flavor was also excellent, if unusual: along with the mild earthiness of the chickpeas, there was an overtone of cardamom. Nearby were long strips of flavorful pickles and a fresh, tasty garden salad tossed in lemon juice and a splash of oil.

I also tried the Chicken Kebab Combo ($13.95), which came with a choice of hummus or baba ghanoush, as well as rice or salad. The peppery, tender chicken had been marinated in yogurt and spices, sliced into chunks the perfect size for dipping into cooling tzatziki, rich tahini and garlicky toum.

But my favorite dish was the Lentil Soup ($4.25). Generously portioned, its orange broth glowed in the afternoon light. It was both savory and light, with some added bite from the cilantro sprinkled on top. I ended the meal with a piece of Sesame Falafel’s homemade Baklava ($2.50), which had been rolled into a tube of tender phyllo layered with honey and nuts.

By then, evening was quickly approaching. Rudy’s back patio was starting to fill up with revelers, as pallets of pita rolled into Sesame’s kitchen ahead of the dinner rush.

I, for one, was in no rush. Though most people get Sesame to go, it was gratifying to enjoy the meal slowly, as if on Mediterranean time.

Sesame Falafel
1217 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun noon-11pm
(203) 498-8001

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

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A California native and world traveler, Anne came to New Haven for graduate school and discovered that New England is as cold as everyone said it was. She loves reading books, playing guitar, exploring new towns and taking road trips but only as long as she gets to pick the music.

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