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Sep 21, 2008 04:21 PM

Pasha Cafe and Grill in Hillcrest

A breezy and clear Sunday afternoon. Therefore I wanted to take a break from a bit of leftover work and sit outside somewhere and have some kebabs and strong black Turkish tea. After taking a walk that led me past Pasha on Fifth the other night, I had a memory of a new restaurant that seemed to fill that need- it was busy and seemed to have the right sort of joss. After arriving there today in the revealing glare of daylight, my instincts were quick to point me out the door, but having caught the eye of one of the owners (rather, his eyes corralling mine into submission) we were ushered to an almost 45 degree-sloped sidewalk table without a peep of protest.

I often wonder how these restaurant situations happen in cities all over the world- an "ethnic" restaurant with a grudge against its busier neighbors, undertaking a campaign of excess "Grand Opening" signage, digital scrolling readouts, bizarre lighting, and forced festive atmosphere with the goal to net unsuspecting customers with sincere hopes that they might prefer kofteh kebab to their intended Snickers pancakes (the Hash House almost next door), rather good food, simply prepared? I am reasonably certain that these issues are not a matter of culture, just bad business sense- Shahrzad in Westwood comes to mind as the antipode here. I actually heard the owner of Pasha say to a passing couple who had just finished gorging a-go-go that "the wait is thirty minutes there. You should have maybe eaten here." I feel that there is a serious need for excellent Turkish-Persian-Maghrebi-pan-Mediterrenian-Greek-Bulgarian-etcetera cuisine in San Diego that does not require me to drive all that far and park in a strip mall (easy, Hounds, I just mean not always) when I want a charred tomato with my cutlet. Pasha may have had a chance, but where is Gordon Ramsay when you need him? On the menu they have a tripe soup, but when I asked about it the attentive waiter said that they don't really have it because nobody orders it and they have to just throw it away. Since tripe is a food I enjoy but does indeed straddle the digestive barrier, it must be exceedingly clean to avoid that certain taste. It seems to me that people might not be ordering it because, well, the restaurant itself is not exactly dirty, but just not all that clean. I almost wanted to undertake an intervention of simplification for these guys- it seemed almost as if they are insisting on failure. The food I had was unremarkable- almost limpid and Telma-brand chicken cube flavored lentil soup, store-bought pita toasted to tortilla-chip texture, tomato-onion-cucumber puree that was gazpacho-Lite, and a cold precooked-kebab plate with yesterday's microwaved rice and raw onion salad.

Would it be too much (risqué ambition?) to offer just one take on a beef, chicken, great lakes whitefish and veggie kebab perfectly cooked to order with some homemade pita and a simple cuke salad? Add a bit of raki (I know, a liquor license is pricey), a few nice beers and wine (perhaps a bit of carpentry in place of the Chinese banquet hall tables and chairs) and voilá! the Mediterranean Cafe Chloé! That and a handful of accompaniments would do the trick and would make me a regular.

I'd recommend against going to Pasha, but I think the place will resolve itself before you ever have the chance.

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  1. try soltan banoo on park blvd in university heights for very well executed persian food. nice ambiance, lowish prices and good service. cucumber salad comes with most entrees. We went there on sat. for the first time and it is a good find in my neighborhood. and yes, they have wine and beer. kind of busy though, and they close kinda early, maybe around 9 or 9:30?

    6 Replies
    1. re: smile81

      Thanks smile. I've been to Soltan B and I do enjoy the place- I like the atmosphere and the service, and have found the food to be okay. I appreciate that a recommendation came out of my very negative rant about a place that probably doesn't deserve such venom- just couldn't help imagining what it could be if it tried a bit more! Cheers.

      1. re: smile81

        I will be visiting SD next month, and was wondering if you guys have any recos on good Mediterranean eating places (Greek/Lebanese/Persian/Turkish) in the greater SD area. Even hole-in-the-wall eateries are welcome, but I am just looking for good, authentic food

        1. re: altan

          Don't pass up Mama's Lebanese Deli. Eggplant sandwiche is over the top.

          1. re: P Macias

            I'll have to try that one sometime, Pat. I've never been able to get past the Manakeesh Ultimate.


            1. re: phee

              And I can never get past the fallafal, best I've ever had, And their baba ganoush is amazing as well... x3 for Mama's....

          2. re: altan

            I like Kabul Gunleri Persian restaurant in Mira Mesa (well Black Mountain & Miramar Rd) though it certainly isn't an upscale restaurant. It's more family style Persian with a slightly run down interior but the food is good and authentic plus the prices are very reasonable compared to other Persian restaurants.

        2. There is another new Mediterranean style cafe on Washington St., at the site vacated by Jimmy Carter's Mexican Cafe. The new place is called Zetouna's Cafe. I have not tried it but an Armenian acquaintance says its really good, like home cooking.

          Anyone tried it yet?

          3 Replies
          1. re: sdnativa

            We ordered take-out a couple of nights ago. My friend had the Shawarma sandqich and I had the Gyros plate. She said her sandwich was outstanding and it looked really good. My plate was mildly disappointing but not the end of the world. The gyros meat was good enough, standard, but in the to-go container with french fries only, with the meat, looked a little less than for $12.95 although it comes with a small side greek salad. Maybe if you order in, it comes more dressed? I will go again as the place smells great and there are a lot of choises on the menu.

            1. re: sdnativa

              I finally made it over to Zetouna's Cafe for supper: (The area right before Washington takes the plunge should be called the Olive District- Olivetto's across the street from Zeitouna which means olive...)

              Arrived around 8:30 to find a nice, clean and simple space without a single customer-kinda unnerving for me, but we took our seats and had a great meal with great service. It is very much a family-run business- they clearly take pride in their food and make an effort not to use cheap ingredients. Generous portions means enough to have for lunch the next day (a Gordon Ramsay pet-peeve: why give it away, right?) and before our entree orders arrived they brought out some lentil soup on the house- and not the kind I complained about in my Pasha review.

              Only one flaw- in my opinion a major one for a Middle Eastern place- the menu lists homemade pita and then of course, out came the stuff from the store. I pointed this out, and they apologized for the misrepresentation. They do get their bread in everyday, however, and did seem to care about my recommendation for making bread there- a simple thing like fresh pita really puts an average place over the top, right?

              Simple and delicious tabouleh salad (made with real olive oil and not canola), an underwhelming but nicely flavored falafel plate and delicious Persian-style chicken kebab with rosewater-scented saffron rice, grilled tomato with homemade turnip, cabbage, onion and carrot pickles along with a small but decent wine list made for a fine casual midweek meal. Entrees range from $9-16, and $12.99 for falafel is robbery, but with nice leftovers and a friendly atmosphere, I can't complain.

              1. re: SaltyRaisins

                Thank you for the follow up. This is next on my lunch list. BTW had a very nice lunch at Olivetto across the street.

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