102 Bellevue Way NE
Bellevue WA 98004
If You're Looking For Garlic, You May Be Crushed
By: Grant Y
Garlic Crush is the newest of the Mediterranean cuisine establishments dotting the intersection of Bellevue Way and NE 1st Street, which already include The Orexi and Mediterranean Kitchen. Opening in the place of Byblos Deli, Garlic Crush apparently hopes to succeed in the face of heavy competition from across the street.
Rather than fight toe-to-toe however, a look at the low cost menu indicates that Garlic Crush has its sights set on the getting the business of the grab-and-go Bellevue office worker. The majority of the offerings are typical Mediterranean fare: gyros, greek salads, souvlakis, kebab plates, shawarma as well as hummus and baba ghannouj appetizers. There are also some lesser known dishes though, such as a Lebanese rice pudding and grilled kefta plate. Dishes are under $10 and gyros, the cheapest item on the menu, can be made into a combo plate with fries and drink for an extra $2.49.
Though one might think these low prices would mean that Garlic Crush survives on a healthy take-out business, the restaurant doesn't suffer from aesthetic malnourishment. The new owners have taken the time to paint the walls the shade of sunset orange, which helps keep the inside looking lively as the sun is lost toward the back of the restaurant. Booths and tables are comfortable and could reasonably seat a pair of diners for hours. The interior is sparse, decorated with a few pieces of artwork that, like most restaurant art, capture your attention just long enough to break it away from the food.
On our particular visit, we noticed that the heating seemed to be broken, as my legs were becoming a bit chilly. This may not be Garlic Crush's fault however, as we have experienced the same issue at Casa D's Taqueria next door.
Given our own read of the primarily take-out customer base, we decided to go for the most popular items. Steve opted for the ever popular Gyro ($5.99), while I went with the Lamb Souvlaki ($8.49). We of course had to test the Hummus ($4.99) and would have gone for the Baba Ghannouj ($5.29) and Lebanese Rice Pudding ($2.49) had we been hungrier. Steve enjoyed his gyro, noting the well-seasoned beef and lamb meat, while I was less taken with my lamb souvlaki ($8.49), which seemed to lack flavor. Both of us were unimpressed with the hummus and pita bread, both of which were disappointingly bland.
The restaurant isn't full service--you pay upfront and manage your own water, but your meal is delivered to your table. This greatly simplifies the process of getting served, but Garlic Crush did just fine getting our food out on time. Steve was amused by one of the staff, who had a habit of beatboxing a la Blake Lewis on trips to and from the kitchen.
Overall, we thought Garlic Crush was a reasonably good destination for the Bellevue lunch crowd. The prices are all reasonable and the food isn't bad. However, if you're looking for an enjoyable sit-down dining experience, you may have better luck elsewhere.
The souvlaki came with five, bite-sized pieces of browned lamb, bedded on a Greek salad with a half plate of French fries. While the lamb wasn't exactly overcooked, it was a bit chewy for my liking, which led me to reason that it wasn't cooked enough to break down the texture. The taste was peppery, but unfortunately lacked any of the other distinct flavors that are often associated with souvlakis, resulting in a flat dish that doubled as a jaw workout.
I was disheartened even with the quality of the sides, which usually fare well at the various Mediterranean restaurants that I have been to. The pita bread was nothing more than the mass produced kind - dry, flat and tasteless. Trying to soak it with tzatziki sauce didn't help much, as the sauce was runny and lacked any tartness.
The biggest disappointment however, was the distinct lack of GARLIC to any of these dishes. For a restaurant that calls itself "Garlic Crush", I was left wondering where the garlic was in any of these dishes. Mediterranean Kitchen is quite well known for its generous use of those wonderfully pungent golden bulbs, so Garlic Crush could certainly take a few pointers from across the street.
Talk about a transformation! I didn't get a chance to see the interior of this place under its previous ownership, but compared to what I've seen from passing by in the past, it's quite an improvement.
The hummus was a little lackluster, with no real kick of flavor to it. The pita bread served with it was a little more dense and slightly thinner, making it a better tool for scooping up more of the hummus. I felt like all they needed to do was add a little more garlic to give the hummus a little more flavor, and that would have made it perfect.
The gyro sandwich comes stuffed with a nicely seasoned roasted beef and lamb mix, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. Each slice of meat was very tender and tasted of great quality. The tomatoes were robust and fresh, not that usually soggy stuff you get at some of the cheaper Greek joints. The pita bread had a bit of crunch to the outside, which made it taste like it had been toasted a bit. Overall, it was quite a delicious gyro with my only complaint being the tzatziki sauce. It seemed very tame and had no real distinctive flavor at all, but at $5.95 it was a really great deal and definitely worth a try.
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