AMER'S is one of those unexpected treats that sometimes can be found when you're willing to venture into one of the ubiquitous little shopping centers in these parts. Tucked in the back of Belair Beltway Plaza in Fullerton, the 3-month-old Mediterranean restaurant exudes warmth through its melon-colored walls, soft lighting and cheerfully attentive servers. And to fire up the ambience even more, a belly dancer gyrates through the dining room every other Friday.
The food isn't bad, either, particularly the Egyptian dishes that owner Mohamed Amer makes from scratch.
At the top of the list are the appetizers.
Amer's baba ghannouj was the best we've ever had. The creamy, pale-green dip of baked eggplant had a wonderfully fresh and fruity flavor that we couldn't get enough of. (Luckily, there was plenty of the stuff to slather on fresh pita bread, served hot and looking just like a slightly squished chef's toque.)
Sensing that Amer had a way with dips, we tried the hummus. His version is lemony and moist, much easier to spread onto pita wedges than the dry stuff we've had elsewhere.
The third luscious dip we devoured was a traditional Egyptian dish called foul, a pinkish concoction of mashed fava beans, tahini sauce, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil that was redolent alternately of the creamy sweetness of mayonnaise and the garlicky spiciness of hummus.
Amer also does wonders with stuffed grape leaves, which, like his baba ghannouj, deserve the title of "best ever tasted." Instead of cramming bland rice into briny, greasy leaves, Amer puts a sparing number of grains inside each leaf - moistened just enough to be pliable - along with a little onion, lemon juice and parsley. The result is a finger-length roll that held together well and actually had taste as well as texture.
We were less impressed by appetizers of rubbery fried calamari and pretty but tasteless falafels dipped into an equally tasteless tahini sauce. And we were downright disappointed by the sauteed chicken sandwich. The menu said it came topped with curry, walnuts and red onions and included a side of mango chutney.
We had no trouble seeing and tasting the judicious amount of spicy, hot curry sauce on the chicken. However, nary a walnut or red onion could be found. No chutney, either. In fact, when we asked for chutney, our server said that nobody had ever requested it before.
Amer's made a comeback with the lamb schwarma entree: a large, attractively arranged oval plate of thinly sliced lean lamb marinated in herbs and cooked with onions in a spicy red sauce. Served on the side was a crisp salad of romaine lettuce tossed with chunks of tomatoes, carrots and green peppers.
The dessert display case that greeted us when we walked in had a number of yummy-looking offerings.
Given the restaurant's Mediterranean expertise, we chose the baklava. Amer's version was much less burdened with honey than other baklavas. After a heavy dose of appetizers and entrees, the dessert was a welcome touch of light sweetness.
7624 Belair Road, Fullerton
Open: For lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Prices: Appetizers $3.50 to $8.95; entrees $5.95 to $14.95