If ever a restaurant were the ideal fit for a neighborhood, the new Amsterdam Falafel (via Washington D.C.) in Davis Square is it, blending right in with the eclectic mix of restaurants and clientele in the area. It feels as if it’s been there for years; loud music blares and a young staff are at the ready in the narrow space, it’s brightly lit and the walls are busy. The food at its core is a one trick pony: golf ball-size falafel is the name of the game, and you have the choice of white or whole wheat pita to build your sandwich around. French Fries (salted or unsalted) round out the menu, but the real fun begins with the toppings bar. An overwhelming array of free add-ons awaits you, with more condiments, sauces, spreads and pickled everything than one could possibly fit into their falafel sandwich. Choose carefully or you run the risk of over-stuffing, which is hard not to do even for the most veteran falafel pros.
Disappointingly, the condiment buffet looks more appealing than it actually is, as the good majority of sauces and spreads are either far too harsh tasting (i.e. garlicky) or far too bland. Garlic cream is one of the house specialties. It comes out of a pump, and eerily evokes childhood cafeteria memories. It’s basically a garlic mayo, and not a thoughtfully homemade one at that.
Some of the sauces look nice and fresh, but others appear and taste too industrial and processed. Even less successful are the condiment choices for the fries, notably the curry ketchup which appears to be nothing more than Heinz with a dash of curry powder, and a slimy Dutch Mayo that tastes watery. While the condiments and sauces make for a fun customizable sandwich and the pita bread is pillowy and fresh, something just doesn’t add up.
The falafel balls themselves are slightly above average, delivering an incredibly crackly and crispy exterior but with few other flavor benefits. The promise of being fried to order is simply a mirage, as the falafel balls pass through a conveyor belt after sitting under a heating lamp before landing onto the pita. They are lukewarm, underspiced, and slick and oily inside. Most of the flavoring opportunities lie in the sneeze-guard protected condiment table, but in the end there just isn’t enough oomph in the falafel itself to make it desirable. The over-fried French fries are also a let-down, with a decent crunch but a hollow and bland interior.
What may be a acceptable foray into the world of falafel for some, Amsterdam Falafel is a quick fix for those not looking to delve too deep into international waters. A spot that was promised with lots of hype to the area still needs to deliver on all the details.
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