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Review: The Goodness Land

As muffled cheers from a TV soccer game echoed in the distance, Salam Bunyan skewered hunks of raw chicken, slabs of lamb and citrus coins onto a large spit. Spinning the block of meat slowly with one hand, he shaved off thin slivers with the other to form a cylinder, packing the excess bits on top of the pile as he went.

Bunyan owns The Goodness Land, an Arabic restaurant that opened in the Boise International Market in mid-December, and prides himself on making everything from scratch.

Since Bunyan said the shawarma wouldn't be ready until the following day, we opted for his other recommendation, the mshakal ($14.99), a combo platter consisting of one Iraqi kebab, one Turkish chicken skewer, three pieces of falafel and an assortment of charred tomatoes, peppers and onions. We also ordered a plate of Egyptian ful in hot oil ($6.99) and dolmas ($3.99), which Bunyan warned would be more than enough food for two people.

Shimmying off our shoes in front of the yellow picket fence that encloses the restaurant's elevated seating area, we crossed the burgundy carpets to a corner "booth," comprised of tasseled floor cushions and arm rests. Soon, a plate of creamy hummus flecked with whole garbanzo beans, a couple of plump falafel and a basket of blistered flatbread appeared at the low table. The hummus had a strong tahini tang and a streak of paprika-laced oil that lent it just the right hint of flavor. But the falafel was the star—the deep brown ovals had a lovely crunch and smooth, pillowy texture with a mild kiss of cumin.

More falafel came with our main meal, which, as Bunyan had warned, was a ton of food. Jostling dishes to the side, we made just enough room for a ceramic pot of strong mint tea alongside dainty gold-rimmed glasses and saucers, a large plate of ful, the over-stuffed combo platter and another basket of flatbread. Once everything had settled, Bunyan checked if we still wanted the dolmas. "Next time," we muttered, mouths full of ful and moist, yellow biryani topped with shards of fried vermicelli noodles.

Though the ful wasn't much to look at—a mush of fava beans, onions and jalapenos—it packed a wallop of rich, lemony flavor. The same was true for the Iraqi ground lamb kebab and the boneless, skinless Turkish chicken, or shish taouk, which were also bathed in a medley of spices. Though the chicken was a tad dry, a plunge in the side of creamy garlic sauce, or toum, remedied the issue. The only miss in the meal was a side of fried potato coins dusted with paprika that resembled chips, but had a limp, soggy texture.

Stuffed beyond measure, we watched Bunyan still artfully whittling away at the shawarma and resolved to return. Though it might take multiple visits due to the insane portion size, I have my eye on the fried whole pompano fish ($16); the fattoush salad ($5.99) with diced veggies, fresh herbs and hunks of pita; and the makhlama ($8.99), an Iraqi breakfast dish with eggs and spicy ground lamb.

To read the review at Boise Weekly, click here.

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