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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.