There’s no drama about what the headliner is at San Mateo’s two-year old Hummus Mediterranean Kitchen
. The drama is which of the six chickpea dips — ranging from the classic hummus just given a spritz of lemon juice and a splash of good olive oil to being mixed with pesto to toppings like mushrooms or artichokes — to select. All are one step thicker than foam, light and silky without being so thin as to be watery. You’d expect a place called Hummus Mediterranean Kitchen to know their hummus and they deliver on that promise. What is more exciting is that the hummus section is only the start of an extensive menu that has deservedly become one of the anchors for mid-Peninsula casual dining.
You see the suits power-lunching, the "ladies who lunch" appreciating a strong version of a gyro, and the parents with their young kids stopping in for tabouli (and probably not the sumac-laced fried liver mezzo). Evenings bring the date-nights and families who may venture to order the Manti (Turkish beef dumplings with a garlic yogurt sauce), hefty wedges of ground beef-studded mousakka and even a nod to North Africa with a pair of tagines. The boundaries stretch far out of the hummus world.
The best introduction to Hummus does indeed include hummus — it also includes a host of other cold mezze in the “Mezze Combo Plate” ($13.50) that would be the perfect prelude prior to a dinner of kebabs, wraps and the much talked about falafel burger (it’s exactly what it sounds like, meat-free, with an avocado-hummus spread slathered on the bun). Counting the baked in-house pita bread, the plate features eight different items, perfect for the indecisive or the smorgasbord loving grazers in the crowd.
In one corner sits the classic hummus opposite a pair of dolmas and a pair of large falafel balls. The latter sport a beautiful crisp exterior and an interior that is a touch too crumbly and appears a non-customary bright green, stained from the addition of fava beans to the mix. For those who always called baba ganoush “eggplant salad,” let this plate be a lesson. The slick, smoky dip is baba ganoush while the chunky, almost tan colored eggplant salad features charbroiled eggplant, bits of tomatoes and green peppers, and a wollop of garlic. Don’t mistake eggplant dip of eggplant salad again. Thatziki functions as the palate cleanser humming with plenty of mint and diced cucumbers. It’s the perfect match for the falafel balls. And the real stud at Hummus isn’t hummus but its muhammara, an under the radar rust colored spread that has much more in common with a pesto than hummus. Walnuts are the base then pulsed with bread crumbs and roasted red peppers and tied together with pomegranate syrup for an alluring journey that provides are more riveting excitement than any other dip. I’m not calling for the restaurant to be re-named Muhammara but I’m just saying…
Watching the scene of the well-organized, order at the counter operation with a busy open kitchen, I dug a sliver of pita into the chipotle hummus that had enough bite to make me think a few habañeros may have been tossed in the blender. Then I wondered why so many cuisines and foods have become part of the customize it yourself, “good fast casual” genre as massive chains trying not to be evil chains (depending on your view point of this subject, of course). Those are exemplified by a certain burrito company named after the spice in that hummus. Hummus and falafels have avoided this. There is nobody in San Francisco serving the same falafel in Los Angeles. But if anyone did take their brand of Mediterranean cuisine outside the immediate area, why not these guys? They’ve got the name and quality of hummus for it.
150 E 4th Ave., San Mateo; (650) 401-6903.