On My First Meatless Monday, Baby Steps (and No Tofu) at Fadi's

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Along with food critic Scott Reitz, resident booze correspondent Whitney Filloon is giving Meatless Mondays a shot. They'll both be sharing their experiences in the coming weeks.

I couldn't quite stomach the idea of tofu or any new and therefore strange meat substitutes on my very first attempt at a meatless Monday -- and, yes, that may have had something to do with the four sake bombs I pounded the night before.

I headed instead to one of my favorite neighborhood spots, Fadi's. On my omnivorous days I often stop in at lunchtime to inhale a juicy, savory marinated chicken kabob, but I also knew that they offer a multitude of veggie options.  If you've never experienced the pure gastronomical joy that is Fadi's, picture an upscale, Mediterranean Luby's.

One could easily make a meal of the various salads, veggies and grains that fill the chafing dishes, set behind a glass partition that stretches halfway around the restaurant in an L-shape. I grabbed a tray and got in line, and started by picking one of their freshly made dips: I went with the bright orange red pepper hummus over the baba ghanoush, a coarse blend of smoky roasted eggplant with tahini and garlic.

Next in line, salads; there was a solid Greek with black olives, pepperoncinis and feta, and of course the traditional fattoush (chopped tomato and cucumber salad adorned with fresh mint) and tabouli (cracked wheat marinated in herbs, lemon and olive oil), but I couldn't resist the rainbow colors of the couscous salad with spinach, bell peppers, strawberries and melon. Then, hot vegetables and grains -- some of these appeared healthier than others, but all of them looked delicious. The offerings rotate daily; offered up that day was roasted eggplant with tangy pomegranate molasses and an herbaceous cilantro zucchini, roasted red-skinned potatoes with coriander and herbs), but my unfortunate love of carbs forced me to opt for the fragrant basmati rice with toasted almonds and dried fruit.

I picked up a few rounds of piping hot pita just as they were being removed from the large deck ovens, and moved on down toward the cash register, where I ordered up the vegetarian piece de resistance: a plate of falafel, fried to order and delivered to your table. A generous portion of falafel, three veggie selections, and a beverage ran me $14, and unless you have a Khloe Kardashian-sized appetite, you'll probably leave with a weighty to-go box, as I did. I grabbed a table next to a group of suited and tied office workers and and chowed down on my tasty array of meat-free goodness. The red pepper hummus was addictively creamy and slightly spicy, drizzled with olive oil and paprika, and made an excellent foil for the warm pita. (I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that when I first moved into my 'hood and discovered Fadi's, I survived almost solely on their hummus for nearly a month.) The fluffy couscous offered an array of flavors: the bite of raw red onion, sweetness of strawberry and cantaloupe, and earthy spinach. The perfectly steamed basmati, each grain distinctly separate, was both crunchy with toasted almonds and tart with plump cranberries.

A young woman dropped off my entrée of falafel -- four golf-ball sized globes with a super crunchy, deeply brown exterior that gave way to a dense, bright green interior. If you're not familiar with falafel, it's a traditional Middle Eastern mixture of ground chickpeas combined with flavorings like parsley, cumin, coriander, scallions, and garlic, formed into balls or patties and deep fried. A longtime favorite of vegetarians and vegans everywhere, it's packed with protein and fiber. It's typically served with a tahini-based sauce and can also be tucked into a pita along with tomatoes and onions for a tasty meatless sandwich. Fadi's thin, nutty tahini sauce was a nice accompaniment but I highly recommend you ask for a side of their garlic sauce; it's an intensely garlicky mayo concoction that in combination with the falafel, left my breath shall we say, "aromatic" for the remainder of the day.

I left satisfied and not feeling deprived of protein whatsoever; I enjoyed a variety of dishes, with an array of different colors and nutrients, all freshly prepared and at a decent price, and left with enough food for two more meals at home. My veggie-hating boyfriend ordered a lamb kebab sandwich (naturally) and turned up his carnivore nose at my falafel, but I'll keep working on him.

Next week, I'll take things one step further and will be eating not only meatless but one hundred percent vegan. In the meantime, please share how you're observing Meatless Monday and feel free to point me in the direction of more tasty vegetarian options in the Metroplex.

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