Mountain of hope

Food is rocky, but Ararat still rises

Other meat turned in the same disenchanting performance, as if no seasonings were applied before cooking--or rather, overcooking. Diyar e bekir stew, marinated beef in a mushroom, tomato, onion, zucchini, and eggplant mush, was populated sparsely with dry, fibrous meat.

Still, even after the above diatribe, I would still say, without hesitation, that Ararat is worth a visit. Sample the kasha, salads, hallomi, and tabouli with a hot cup of mountain or hibiscus tea (a selection of Mediterranean wines will soon be offered) and enjoy the compellingly serene surroundings. Listen to traditional Middle Eastern music pumped from a mini hi-fi positioned on a piece of antique furniture.

Just watch what you eat after that.

"Is the cheese ravioli housemade?" Our waiter stumbled and hesitated a bit on the question. Then he looked at me, and with a sly smile, the kind that blinds with wool, he said firmly: "We make it here."

Yet, if what was presented was made on-premise, the chef should apply for a patent. For he perfectly re-created the flavor and consistency of boxed ravioli in a deep freeze. These pillows were stiff, chewy, and bland, with squishy cheese nougat. The chunky tomato sauce with wedges of tender zucchini and squash was actually fairly good, but not enough to save the dish from rigor mortis.

Sadly, Lorenzo's Bistro is another in a growing string of romantic dinner houses nesting in pedestrian strip malls that have their hearts in the right place while their wits weave and swerve over an unrelated course. The dining room, with Impressionist paintings, texturized brick, and recessed alcoves along the walls holding lamps, is attractive. And the service is attentive, considerate, and exceptionally pleasant.

Yet there just isn't that much attention to detail. After recommending a fish special, our server didn't seem to know what species it was--indeed, no one in the restaurant did--save that it was similar to tilapia. No matter, the stuff was spongy, with a coagulated coating of some kind sogged in an over-lemoned wine sauce. A pair of shrimp, dueling their tails over the top, had the flavor of mild bar soap.

Chicken Marsala, with a breast that seemed more like an implant, bathed in a sauce that was tired and uninteresting. Mediterranean salad was constructed with iceberg lettuce, tasteless canned black olives instead of kalamatas, and strips of roasted bell pepper stripped of flavor (is this possible? Grab another patent application).

There were some standouts. Escargot in mushroom caps settled in a puddle of rosemary sauce with tarragon and diced tomato was flush with flavor. Roasted rack of lamb drooled with a sweet succulence sparked with Dijon mustard sauce.

But then there was the tiramisu: an arrangement with nicely preserved, counter-opposed wedges of stiff, flavorless sponge. Plugged into the middle of the assembly was a little sign created from white chocolate. The word "tiramisu" was printed in gold over its surface. No doubt this dessert and the cheese ravioli are somehow related.

Ararat Middle East Restaurant. 2934 Main St., (214) 744-1555. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Open for dinner 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday,5 p.m.-12 a.m. Friday & Saturday. $$-$$$

Lorenzo's Bistro. 18484 Preston Road, Suite 119, (972) 596-8610. Open for dinner only, 5:30-10 p.m. $$$-$$$$

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