Simon Lam loves to eat. Although he isn't a trained chef, he sure knows what good food tastes like.
Overall Assessment: Pretty Good
Alibaba opened in 2011 and has become a well-received restaurant in downtown Kingston. Their atmosphere is warm and inviting. I visited them in early June with a small group of friends. We ordered a large plate of garlic potatoes to share. It was alright, a bit on the salty side and wasn't as spicy as I thought it would be. For the main, I ordered the shawarma mix that comes with chicken and beef, rice, salad, pita, garlic sauce, and hummus. The rice was perfect, nicely separated and played a minor role, taking on the flavours of the meat and garlic sauce. The meats were not bad, but they were a bit dry. The salad was a disappointment as it was not fresh and appeared wilted. The most outstanding element of the plate was the garlic sauce. It was rich, perfectly seasoned and just heavenly. It really enhanced the meats and rice quite nicely. The price was reasonable for the amount of food I got. As for the service, it was good, timely and efficient. Their washrooms were small and clean but lacked paper towels. Looking at their inspection results, I found that they had two minor violations that they corrected during the inspection. Overall, Alibaba is a fantastic little eatery and I would recommend it.
A Bit of History
Alibaba Kabab started serving their Middle Eastern fare in 2011. The restaurant, which is located on Princess near Clergy, was the brainchild of Ala Abdulla. He hired his friend, Hameed Tajiki, as the chef for his new restaurant. Together they have developed the restaurant into a favourably reviewed downtown eatery.
When you step into Alibaba, you feel a sense of warmth. This is created by the soft orange wall on the right and the amber glow from the oversized ornamental pendant lamps. The left wall is exposed stonework, which appears to be limestone, and bricks. Golden artifacts and art pieces punctuate the stone walls. Artwork and tapestry add interest to the entire space.
Black wooden tables and chairs populate the dining area. Some of the tables are brown, which matches with the wooden floors. The tables are not set, but instead have utensils and napkins in a black plastic holder, making it a very casual setting. Overall, the space is inviting and relaxing.
The Alibaba Tea
Our meal began with a serving of complimentary Alibaba tea served in small glasses. It contains their blend of tea with cardamon, rosewater and some sugar. It was quite good.
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Alibaba offers a variety of Middle Eastern food, including falafel, shawarma and kebabs. My friends and I visited Alibaba in early June to check the little eatery because one of my friends had been raving about it. We ordered a large plate of garlic potatoes ($4.99) to share. For the entree, I ordered the Shawarma Mix ($12.99), which comes with shawarma chicken and beef and is served with rice and pita. Shawarma is basically roasted meat that is placed on a spit. This dish also came with garlic dip, hummus and salad.
The Garlic Potatoes
The garlic potatoes are spicy fried potatoes served with garlic dip. My first bite into one tasted a bit salty. I guess my taste buds got used to them being salty because they didn't taste as salty after the second bite. To me, they weren't very spicy. They just had a smidgen of warmth. The garlic dip added a nice creamy touch to the potatoes. Overall, I thought they were alright. It was a good thing we shared it, because I don't think I would have enjoyed eating a large plate of it.
The Shawarma Mix
The portion size was quite large, which was nice. The chicken and beef were served on top of a bed of rice (basmati I believe). The rice was perfect, well-separated and light, and it did not overpower the other elements of the dish. The chicken and beef were a bit dry but not bad. The pita didn't appear to be homemade and wasn't noteworthy. The worst part of the plate was the salad. It didn't appear fresh. The lettuce looked old and wilted and not very appetizing. For this reason, I didn't finish my salad. I thought the stand-out of the plate was the garlic sauce. I love this sauce. It was rich, creamy and well-seasoned. It enhanced the otherwise slightly bland meats, rice and pita. It was just divine.
Our server was quite nice. He brought us water and complimentary tea in a timely manner. Our meals came out in a reasonable amount of time. Overall, he was quick, efficient and friendly.
The state of a restaurant's washroom is an indication of their cleanliness and upkeep. The washrooms at Alibaba were located on the right side behind a curtain. They are quite small. However, they looked clean. For the most part, it was well stocked, except that they didn't have any paper towels or a hand dryer so I had to use the toilet paper to dry my hands. Other than the lack of paper towels, their washrooms are pretty good.
The local public health unit posts their health inspection results on their website. I checked to see how Alibaba did on their last inspection. They were last checked in February 22, 2018 and had two non-critical violations. The violations were 1) foods not stored on racks, shelves or pallets and 2) equipment surfaces cleaned and sanitized. These were corrected during inspection. Although they had two non-critical violations, these were corrected.