There are as many varieties of hummus as there are sun-lit villages in the Middle East and Mediterranean. At Aesop's Cafe, you get close to what must be the mother and father of all hummus. Prepared fresh every other morning by Mohamod Abadi, Sherry Rouhani or Mohsen Rouhani, this hummus is no appetizer tease, no runny beige spread. Served in porridge bowls, with a tablespoon and a pile of delicate pita triangles, all glazed with olive oil and basil and toasted until hot to the touch, the dish is a meal. It metamorphoses from day to day: sometimes chunky, emphasizing roasted red peppers, green olives, pearls of chopped garlic; sometimes custard-creamy and as orange as a Frisbee in summer, with a sweet fragrance like a split pomegranate; sometimes tangy, not quite pink, with just a trace of lemon juice lapping at the edges. The portions are embarrassingly generous, served as if diners were the prodigal children of the owners. The hummus can be married well with a side salad -- for a better sub-$3 salad, you'd have to grow your own -- or the vibrant tabbouleh or rich baba ghanoush
or the spicy tomato-zucchini soup. Don't forget Aesop's herbal iced tea, a matchless refreshment for a palate sated by the last garlicky lick of that astonishing hummus-coated spoon.