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Amsterdam falafel... so so

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  • Falafel Guru Jan 7, 2005 04:44 AM
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Been there recently... the experience was so so.

There are 3 crucial elements in falafel: the falafel balls, the tahini sauce and the pita. The salad bar is of secondary importance.

The falafel balls were OK, but nothing to write home about.

The tahini sauce, which is a crucial ingredient to falafel, was plain awful. Since raw tahini is very expensive, many restuarants use various substitutes. Some places mix with flour. The sauce in Amsterdam didn't taste like real tahini. And it was sweet instead of sour. Only god knows what they use.

The pita was yet another disappointment. It was thin and hard and small, so it broke quickly. Good pitas for falafel are large and thick and soft.

The salad bar looked nice but the stuff we tried didn't shine.

Conclusion: If you must have falafel, go.
If you want a good one, keep looking.

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  1. I recommend Jerusalem (Palestinian restaurant) in Bailey's for good felafel. And it is cheap ($2.88). While you are at it....there is a good middle eastern grocery in the same strip mall (Mount of Olives).

    4 Replies
    1. re: Foodgeek

      I don't have a problem with the falafel or tahini at Amsterdam, but I do agree about the pita. It is too small and is breaking apart just with falafel in it, before you put in any toppings.

      What's more, they got rid of the red baskets, so there's no way to "manage" your toppings; you have to put all the toppings on the very top instead of removing some falafel and layering it. So you end up with a few bites of all toppings and then all falafel.

      The execution is so close to greatness for me; I wish they didn't skimp. I realize the small pita and lack of baskets are ways to minimize topping usage, and it's sad...I would pay extra for a big soft pita full of toppings, in a basket to manage things.

      1. re: Dave

        They seem to have made a few changes since they opened.... and not for the better. The baskets being gone is a pain, for the reasons you stated. More importantly some of the toppings seem to have declined in quality (the tahini wasn't sweet before), though that seems to vary from visit to visit. I'm much less enthusiastic about the place now than when they first opened.

        1. re: Spade

          Agreed. I enjoyed it the first time I went (they had the baskets then and I don't remember noticing a sweet taste to the tahini). Too bad.

          I agree with an earlier comment SteveS made--the best felafel I've had in DC (they've really got the bread part down!) is at Breadline.

          Smokey

          1. re: Smokey

            I should emphasize that the pita and lack of basket work together to produce frustration. The pita is very "tight" - there's no room for any toppings except perilously positioned on top, wheras usually in this sort of place you can place toppings in the pita, alongside the falafel - so the lack of a basket to manage layering is even more frustrating. Why have this amazing toppings bar if you can barely use it? Bah.

    2. I agree. But it is a convenient and cheap alternative for Adams Morgan, so I'm glad it's there. Do not go out of your way for this.

      1. I have to disagree on your pita rule. Thick, pillow-like pitas are for mom & pop gyro joints that specialize in hamburgers & fries.

        2 Replies
        1. re: microwave15
          f
          Falafel Guru

          No, I am not referring to the gyro type of bread.

          I am referring to well made pitas. Zaytinya and Lebanese Taverna make decent ones.

          1. re: Falafel Guru

            My jaw dropped when I saw they were using the same crappy pita brand that Giant sells.

        2. I completely disagree about the falafel balls -- I think they're excellent and fresh, and the most important component as you say. Certainly Amsterdam Falafel is well above average, even if Breadline or Ajax (which I haven't yet been to) is better.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Reece

            i also disagree with some of the complaints on Amsterdam. I think the atmosphere is awesome and really caters to their late-night crowd. The falafel balls are not greasy and are tasty to me. I do agree that they should invest in a better pita company, or make their own, but the toppings to me are important, because honostly, what is a falafel without tahina, hummus, cabbage, babbaganouj (sp?) etc. And the toppings they provide are tasty and various. It's a fun experience over-all and I do recommend it.

          2. Next time try the new Taste of Jerusalem place on Columbia, just up from 18th Street. Same concept, better execution.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hamster

              Absolutely. I've been meaning to write about Old City Cafe (sometimes referred to as "Old City Cafe of Jerusalem") for several months now. It is far superior to Amsterdam -- not only is the falafel and pita bread (freshly baked, it tastes like) and "salad bar" fresher and tastier than Amsterdam's, they also offer other main dishes, the best among them being kifta kabob and chicken kabob. Don't miss the cheese and spinach pies either. Amsterdam is definitely the trendier, hipper place to go, but for those devoted to food over atmosphere, Old City Cafe is not to be missed. They could use the business too -- stuck over on Columbia, not many people know about it. Another bonus over Amsterdam: lots and lots of seating.

            2. I'm sorry, I'm going to have to disagree- I lived in Israel for quite a while and Amsterdam falafel is the closest thing to real falafel that DC has to offer, and I've tried a TON of places. It reminds me of the best street falafel one can find just on the edges of the shuks. It's fine if it's not up your alley, but if you are looking for authentic middle eastern style falafel, this is where you want to be.

              4 Replies
              1. re: jpschust

                If so, then I will not go to Israel for the felafel. I'd prefer to use the felafel vendors on r. des rosiers in the Marais as a prime example of what a felafel sandwich should be. My nod goes to Max's in Silver Spring. The Breadline felafel is an exceptional sandwich, but I'll admit it is very much their own and not traditional. Had one the other day and it was a ten.

                1. re: Steve

                  My benchmark for felafel has always been the late lamented Mi Vami in Coolidge Corner, Brookline MA. Since I left the Boston area years ago I have eaten a lot of crappy felafel -- the balls are usually too big and utterly lacking in crunch.

                  I finally made it to Max's (in Wheaton, actually, on Univ. Blvd) recently and it is the real deal. Superior felafel combined with superlative sandwich making. I have heard the schwarma is really good too.

                  1. re: Steve

                    I agree with Steve I think the best overall falafel is Max's in Silver Spring. They have a great topping bar and if you speak arabic the main guy there will hook you up with some extra pickled cauliflower. I am pretty sure that they also use the same brand of pita as Amsterdam. The difference is the style. I used to work at a place and we carried the thin style of that pita and those were awful for sandwiches, once we switched to the thick ones though it was like night and day.

                    1. re: Steve

                      I also love the felafel on rue des Rosiers in Paris. I lived there as well as Israel, and must say I prefer the Israeli version, but by a small margin. I'm still sticking with my recommendation of Taste of Jerusalem. That place rocks. And they've got the fried eggplant that you find in Paris but not everywhere in Israel.

                      I've only tried Max's once and it was awesome as well. But Taste of Jerusalem is a heck of a lot more convenient for me.

                  2. I'd also recommend Pita Plus in College Park- great falafel and amazing lafa bread. and just fun to order falafel lafa.

                    1. I have a clue as to why they dropped the red baskets. The owners of Amsterdam recently opened M'Dawg Haute Dogs across 18th St. We went there and found it hard to manage a lot of toppings on our dogs with neither paper plates nor plastic cutlery --- just a flimsy paper underwrap is all they provide. When we suggested more substantial packaging so we didn't trail chili and mustard across the floor, the manager told us they were aiming at a ``utensil free environment.'' Sure, the red baskets are recyclable but washing them takes water, so maybe the same ``green'' logic is in force.

                      That said, I think AF is good falafel. My college-age son swears by it, tho he hasn't been there in a bit & some of this downhill spiral sounds recent. I second (third, fourth) the endorsement of Max's in Wheaton. Great falafel, great schwarma, great topping selection. Had to laugh at report of speaking Arabic to the counter guy gets you extra cauliflower. Maybe Condoleezza Rice should hire this guy & the Middle East peace process would be on track in no time. (Max's is Glatt Kosher.)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: dan f.

                        I think the flimsy packaging and "utensil free environment" has more to do with saving money on the packaging and utensils and preventing customers from taking a lot of toppings more than any environmental concerns...

                        1. re: dan f.

                          The service is slow there sometimes but it's worth the wait. He's got a nice selection of Schug and a ton of salads which makes me very happy. It's my favorite falafel in the area.

                        2. I've been meaning to write about Old City Cafe (sometimes referred to as "Old City Cafe of Jerusalem") for several months now. It is far superior to Amsterdam -- not only is the falafel and pita bread (freshly baked, it tastes like) and "salad bar" fresher and tastier than Amsterdam's, they also offer other main dishes, the best among them being kifta kabob and chicken kabob. Don't miss the cheese and spinach pies either. Amsterdam is definitely the trendier, hipper place to go, but for those devoted to food over atmosphere, Old City Cafe is not to be missed. They could use the business too -- stuck over on Columbia, not many people know about it. Another bonus over Amsterdam: lots and lots of seating.

                          1. I agree with falafel guru , I recently took a visit to Taste of Jerusaelm in Silver Spring , MD this Palestinian Owned restaurant was excellent and the Falafel was the best I have had in years the tahini was the real deal and the pita was thick , and served hot. I have had falafel everywhere including the middle east.