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Apr 19, 2012 09:36 PM

Arabian Nights + Pakistani Rec (SF)

Last time I checked--quite recently--no mention of this highly advertised newcomer. Anyone been?

Also, is there a single Pakistani place in the city that doesn't serve steam table stuff?


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  1. totally missed this; was about to ask if anyone's been; their menu looks amazing and very highly rated on yelp; i just bought the bloomspot deal.

    anyway, the closing of lahore karahi is very sad, but pakwan is very solid pakistani food.

    10 Replies
    1. re: vulber

      A friend went and took pictures of the food, which looked really impressive. Haven't been yet though.

      1. re: vulber

        finally went this past friday. having grown up on middle eastern home cooking, i can definitely say this is the real deal and one of the best middle eastern restaurants i've been to in the bay area, if not the best. my only issue was that the presentation and decor aren't reflective of the homestyle cooking there, but it was still very reasonably priced with a lot of atypical items like kibbeh and kufta nayeh.

        be warned that they go very heavy on the garlic, oil, and butter (just like home cooking). some interesting lebanese wines too, and they're also now one of the few places in SF where one can smoke hookah, as they have an outdoor area.

        1. re: vulber

          Glad to have a first mouth report that provoked me to take a look at the online menu where I discovered kibbeh nayeh! I need to try it soon.

        2. re: vulber

          Why did lahore karahi close? Loved the owner's energy on his Check Please segment.

          1. re: sydthekyd

            he lost his only server, and tried to adapt to a style of peopel placing their order with him, but got lots of complaints about it being slow and such.

            1. re: vulber

              Didn't he open Curry Village on 9th Ave? I believe it's the same husband and wife team that was behind Lahore Karahi, no?

              1. re: Tobias

                Curry Village was started by the husband and wife who used to run Little Delhi in the Tenderloin.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Speaking of Little Delhi, how is it these days compared to its Tenderloin neighbors? Did the quality change when the owners opened Curry Village?

                  1. re: bigwheel042

                    My recollection is that Little Delhi was sold in order to open Curry Village. I haven't been to Little Delhi since then.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      i went there recently; thought it was good, not great.

        3. We came for a birthday celebration with a party of 19 so six of us at one end of the long table decided to form a Family Style Cabal and ordered the Mezza Sampler, Cheese Sampler, Shish Taouk (chicken kabab), Lamb Kababs, Lamb Chops, Kefta Kababs, and the Salmon & Shrimp Seafood Combo.

          The Mezza Sampler had hummus, warek enab (aka dolmas), baba ganoush, tabbouleh, falafel, kebbe (fried balls of beef & pine nuts coated with cracked wheat), and philo wrapped cheese. The baba ganoush was my favorite with a great smokey flavor. Hummus was also nicely garlic-y. Falafel a little dry.

          The Cheese Sampler got mixed reactions with three cheeses stated on the menu (Bulghari, Kashkawan, and Halloumi). The Bulghari is white and crumbly like feta, the Kashkawan is firm and light yellow and tasted similar to gouda. The third cheese provided was also white and a bit salty, but was not Halloumi. Most liked it, but our Lebanese friend felt it was a bit of a "bait & switch"

          The kababs & seafood were all nicely seasoned and cooked. Lamb medium rare. White meat chicken chunks still very moist. Great flavor in the kefta.

          The lamb chops were the other dish that did not get good reviews. It was ordered Medium and one of the two was well done. They were also very fatty and the meat was tough.

          The pita comes hot and fresh from the oven and poofed out as a warm orb of bready goodness. They were great hot, but as they cooled became hard and dry. Consume rapidly for maximum enjoyment!

          Also, ask for the garlic "sauce" which is more of a paste. It's powerfully flavored, so bring some breath mints.

          10 Replies
          1. re: drewskiSF

            I would be very grumpy if someone subbed out halloumi without telling me -- I need the squeak! Did they say what kind of cheese it was, or warn you in any way?

            1. re: grayelf

              I don't remember if there was any warnings.

              Also, despite his grumpiness over the cheese, our Lebanese friend agreed with Vulber and said he thought it was the best Middle Eastern spot in the area.

              1. re: drewskiSF

                i should also say that i have not tried nearly the same amount of foods at old jerusalem (which i also like) as i did at arabian nights. that being said, one should not expect identical flavors at the two, as old jerusalem is palestinian and arabian nights is lebanese

            2. re: drewskiSF

              were you there last night, Thursday, drewski? i was too! we saw the big party, and i thought it was a great place for such a gathering, as you could try so many things.

              They were out of the Lebanese Mezza Delicacies, as they said that they'd run out and like to make those fresh.

              We ordered pretty simply: the Fattoush salad, which was dressed with a very nice, tart, sumac-y dressing, very crisp veggies - very good. only thing I didn't like were the pita chips in there - got soggy.

              next up was the Maktous - lovely little baby eggplants stuffed with garlic, walnuts and spices - tart, slightly bitter, wonderful. maybe my favorite thing of the evening. Alongside were a few slices of pickled turnip - i could have had a bowlful of those. a wonderful dish i'll repeat again and again.

              The BF wanted the phyllo cheese rolls - phlly dough wrapped around feta and parsley and then fried. i don't know if it was the frying, but they didn't seem to actually be made with phyllo - instead they looked and tasted like they were made with egg roll wrappers. they weren't bad, but i wouldn't order them again.

              THEN, the BF got the ribeye. now, maybe you shouldn't order a ribeye at a place like this, but it was OUTSTANDING. Uber-tender (no steak knives were provided nor needed), juicy, flavorful, perfect. Char-grilled to a perfect ruby medium rare, as requested. Huge and thick, too. we could easily have shared it, and indeed half of it went home and became a midnight snack. The BF ordered the fries with it which were decent but not sure they weren't frozen. again, probably not what you should order at a place like this. on the side were char-grilled onions and bell peppers which could have been cooked a little more. but oh my that steak. and get this - it was marked on the menu at $28, but i pulled the receipt out at home i found it had been charged at $22 - but the receipt says ribeye steak, as opposed to the ribeye kabob (my lamb kabob was listed as a kabob on the bill.) so, not only great, but a great deal. would have been a great deal at $30. Not a dry-aged, pedigreed steak, but a great piece of meat.

              i ordered the lamb kebabs and asked if i could get them medium rare, to which the server said "of course!" unfortunately, they were overcooked. quite the faux pas, in my opinion - they should know how to do lamb right. but they were tasty, and my rice pilaf on the side was delicious. my grilled tomato also could have been cooked a little more as it would have been fantastic chopped up into my rice. did it anyway.

              we would definitely go back and order that steak to share and some of the other mezze. i'm particularly interested in the fried cauliflower, and also the Moudaradara since i loved their rice so much.

              Oh, and i LOVED the za'atar in olive oil for dipping the hot pita - nice and sludgy and sumac-y, with a very pronounced sesame seed flavor. As Vulber said, you can tell these people know what they're doing - there is obvious real care and experience in the preparation.

              a few pics:

              1. re: mariacarmen

                hi MC! glad you enjoyed it.

                must have been a different group you saw on Thursday.. we were there on Friday, 5/18. there was another party of 10-12 so it looks like it's a popular spot for bigger groups.

                1. re: drewskiSF

                  certainly is, there were 2 the night we went as well.

                  despite the Disneyland-esque-ness of the decor, it's a great addition to the nabe.

                2. re: mariacarmen

                  Medium rare would be considered uncooked for some styles of Kebabs....but they probably shouldn't have agreed to it if that were a problem.

                  1. re: mariacarmen


                    In reply to a query I sent, I was assured the beef, lamb, and chicken are all halal.

                  2. re: drewskiSF

                    Thanks for the deets. I'm even more interested hearing that it makes toum. I prefer it without any mayonnaise or lemon juice. Just garlic, salt, water, and olive oil, or sometimes some potato.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      good to put a name to it.

                      not the best picture and not sure about all the ingredients, but it was quite "fluffy" and not creamy at all so i'm pretty sure no mayo. not as sure about lemon juice.

                  3. forgot to mention that this is now one of the only places in SF where one can smoke hookah given the recent indoor hookah ban. they have an outdoor area out back for hookah. however, they really should advertise this...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: vulber

                      a young man in my office who partakes says these places exist/operate currently: Pride of the Mediterranean (Japantown) and Nile Cafe (Tenderloin)

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          as i said, "one of", not "the only" :)

                          there definitely are places left, but it really is sad that a lot of the good ones got wiped out, like morac, kan zaman (both of which are usually empty most days after being always backed), and cairo nights (had to shut down entirely)

                          1. re: vulber

                            i wasn't arguing, just adding info i had.

                      1. Another stellar dinner at Arabian Nights Sat. We went on the late side, for us - 8:00 p.m. - without a res. We didn't think we'd need one, but it seems they're busier later in the evenings. So we sat at the bar stools by the windows, which afforded us a "view" of Mission Street but maybe caused a demotion in service. It just took a bit longer than we're used to, although the service was warm and friendly. also, the smaller bar table was pretty crowded when they brought 3-4 plates at once.

                        All that aside, the food was great. The BF ordered the rib-eye (we just can't believe what a deal it is, and how good a piece of meat it is, every time) and i had the prawns. Mine came with a little timbale of white rice with a salady topping of tomatoes, basil, mint, parsley, feta and garlic. The texture of this simple rice dish blew me away. There was a slight stickiness and creaminess to the grains, and it was as good if not better than my prawns - which were just fine (i could have used a little more garlicy/buttery flavor). (The leftover rice is my lunch today which i've already eaten and it's only 11!) Also on my plate were fat, roasted asparagus.

                        We had the mixed salad to start - lemony, refreshing, bright and herby. The BF also ordered hummus and grapeleaves. The grapeleaves were pretty standard, tho mintier than others I've tried, but the hummus is I believe the best i've ever had - i've not traveled to the middle east but i've had this appetizer in many incarnations - store-bought, in restaurants, and homemade. This was wonderful - creamy, fresh tasting, perfect balance between the chickpea and tahini flavors. it came in a bowl with a puddle of good olive oil in the middle, flanked by little pieces of pickled turnip. I'd have that dish again in heartbeat.

                        They had a belly dancer that evening, who got customers to get up and shimmy with her.

                        Really so glad to have this place in the neighborhood.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          Really glad to hear they're doing good business. It's a large space, and can easily look cavernous. The place is exceptional. (Though not for anyone who dislikes mint leaf).

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            so true - i was noticing - and loving - how they used whole mint leaves in the salad, not a julienne or mere sprinkles of it. great, bold flavors.

                        2. A recent visit to Arabian Nights shows them cutting down in quality (and mint, for that matter).

                          They're hooked up with some of the coupon sights, and I think the food has taken a hit as a result. The result is smaller portions, and less flavor. Also beware that some dishes are made using won ton wrappers, which is just wrong.

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: sugartoof

                              actually, now that i remember, and looking up at my post earlier, they were using those won ton wrappers on the "phyllo" cheese rolls, early this summer. we didn't like them.

                              i'm hoping everything hasn't suffered...

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                It's true, the phyllo cheese things which are included in one of the mezzas has always used those won ton wrappers - and it turns out one of the meat appetizers is a stuffed crispy won ton.

                                I might have been there on an off night, but the lack of seasoning was worrisome. Our waiter was telling all his tables to add salt to the complimentary sesame oil dip.