We don't have a lot of high quality Middle Eastern options in Vancouver, so I was looking forward to trying this out.To sum things up some items were good (but not great), some were really below par.
The ground beef and egg manakish had a dough unlike any manakish I've had before. The only way I can describe it is as if it was made at home in a non-proper oven. The dough reminded me of my first experiments making bread at home in a household oven - just not right. The edges were overly crunchy and the dough didn't have that toothsomeness you would expect. The toppings were good - although I would prefer them to serve it with lamb instead of beef, but I digress.
The baked chicken with mujaddara and salad had very tender chicken. My guess is that they stew the chicken before baking it, which created a very pleasant tenderness. The skin unfortunately was not properly crisped up though. The mujaddara was slightly underdone, but had all the right flavour profiles. The cabbage salad was refreshing and bright on the palate.
The kanafeh was a major disappointment. It had clearly been microwaved and was all the wrong consistency - a victim of the microwave.
Overall with the friendly service it was more of the feeling of eating in a friend's home. A friend that isn't all that great of a cook unfortunately.
Have to agree that this place is interesting; had the mujadarah with roast chicken; the latter was tender falling off the bone and went well with the mujadarah. Also took home a Baked Sambusec, something like a samosa, which was really tasty. Find the spices a little muted; not sure if that is true to the cuisine or an adjustment to Vancouver palates.
My kids and I were sort of in the area today around lunchtime, so we checked it out. Very impressed with the friendly service, welcoming atmosphere and the delicious food.
I was offered sage tea by the server & had never tried it before so I said yes. It was a lovely surprise, delicious and warming on a cold rainy day.
We started with hummus, which comes with pita wedges on the side. My daughter is on a gluten-free diet so we asked if they would be able to give us some veggies to dip, and they came up trumps with a plate of fresh, juicy carrot and cucumber sticks. The hummus was marvelous - warm, unctuous, attractively presented with a generous drizzle of olive oil, some sumac and chopped cilantro. YUM. I would have been happy to just eat that. We think it's the best hummus we've ever had.
We also ordered the mujadarah, with a side of pickled red cabbage - this is a dish of lentils and rice with caramelized onions. Very warm, filling, and delicious. The sharp tang of the cabbage went nicely with the earthiness of the lentils and rice. We were offered a small jar of a spicy cilantro sauce which was also very tasty.
I noticed they had kunafeh on the menu for dessert, and was intrigued to try this famous Palestinian pastry - it's shredded phyllo with goat or sheep cheese, a sweet syrup that is often orange or rose flavoured, and a topping of ground pistachios. If you like your desserts rich and not sweet, this is something worth trying. It has a very unusual flavour - the closest thing that westerners would frequently eat would be a cheese danish, except the flavour profile is definitely middle eastern. It went nicely with my afternoon cup of tea.
I agree with fmed who said this restaurant deserves our support -- a lovely place with a cosy atmosphere, serving up delicious family-style food. I'm not often in that part of town but I will go out of my way to eat there again.
Okay my friend came up trumps and provided detailed and incisive commentary on the menu items as follows for those of us who are not up on Palestinian cuisine -- thought I would share his work with you all!
Soup and pita bread $4.0
Of Palestinian soups, I love the lentil. Some add a dash of lemon juice or a teaspoonful of white vinegar.
Mutabal eggplant dip and pita $4.50
Mutabal, aka babaghanouj in Lebanon, is made of roasted eggplant flesh, lemon juice, tahini, and garlic. Served with a sprinkle of olive oil. We traditionally also sprinkle grenadine kernels on top.
Humus with beef and pita
Usually, the beef here is fried ground beef
Sambusec is baked dough stuffed with chicken or beef, spinach or cheese. A Palestinian adaptation of the Indian samosa, traditionally with spinach, the other variants are Westernizations. The sumac in this pastry gives it a tangy taste.
Mujadarah rice, lentils and roasted onions and Salad (vegetarian, gluten free) $6.5
A vegetarian source of protein. The caramelized onions are a must to complete the taste. Some people eat it along with a green salad, but I prefer a couple large spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt.
Mujadarah and warak baked beef wrapped in grape leaves and salad $8.5
Warak traditionally is an adaptation of turkish dolma which is vegetarian and slow cooked. Warak on the other hand is stuffed with rice and ground beef mix and cooked in tomato sauce.
Warak is traditionally cooked alongside stuffed squash (small pistachio-colored zucchini) or stuffed eggplant (usually, our stuffing is rice with ground beef or lamb and a healthy pinch of allspice)
Stuffed fresh cabbage rolls with salad
If "fresh" means uncooked then it is not traditional. Cabbage rolls are stuffed (see above) and cooked with a generous dose of garlic.
Kunafah special dough with two kinds of cheese and rose-water syrup $4.0
Cheese kunafah is a Palestinian hallmark. If done well, is extremely excellent, not for calorie counters ;-)
Mansaf is traditionally a bedouin feast, more common in Jordan than Palestine. It is basically a shallow bed of thin bread shreds soaked on a lemon-garlic marinade, then a huge pile of rice, then lamb chunks cooked or roasted (depends on the region). Topped with a sprinkle of roasted (in a dash of oil) pine nuts and peeled almond.
Mansaf is traditionally served with Jameed which is cooked reconstituted goat yoghurt. Reconstituted because goat yoghurt is dried into rock-like pellets for storage, then to cook, water is added.
Mansaf is traditionally a communal dish. It is prepared in one size: gigantic. Everybody gathers around the huge dish and eats with their right hand only. I doubt it will be presented this way here :-).
Musakhan مسخن بلدي
Exclusively Palestinian, northern Palestine villages to be precise. Traditional serving style means you have to roll up your sleeves. This dish is made of layered stacks alternating between tajen bread and cooked chicken. All doused with an extremely generous dose of sautéed onions. The onions are diced and sautéed in oil and sumac.
People take a piece of chicken and a loaf of bread from this stack and place it on their plates and eat by hand. Olive oil will drip from your fingertips as you eat.
Modern presentation variations evolved where you may get the chicken individually wrapped in the bread and served to your plate, where you eat it with knife and fork. This is how we do it at home.
Tajen bread is like a pita but the dough is slightly different. You cannot make a pocket out of it (the two surfaces do not separate like pita often does)
Another Palestinian exclusive. Maftool is similar to couscous (semolina flour, used as rice substitute), but hand rolled so the beads are larger in size. Traditionally cooked as a stew with chicken, curcuma seasoning, and diced onions.
Freekeh is dry roasted crushed wheat kernels, that add a smoked taste. It is used like maftool and couscous to provide the carbohydrate component of the dish. Traditionally cooked with chicken in a stew with diced onions.
See description of stuffing above.
Palestinian/Jordanian. The name makloobeh means "turned upside down" and refers to the serving style. It starts in a pot by layering a bed of half cooked (stewed) meat cubes, then roasted vegetable cubes (mostly cauliflower or eggplants) then topped with rice. The stew water of the meat is added and water level adjusted, seasonings added, and all are cooked until the rice is done.
When done, the whole pot is covered by the final serving plate and turned upside down so the contents slide out of the pot onto the serving plate to reveal the layered dish. Hence the name.
As with mujaddarah, I like to add some Greek yoghurt to my plate .
Kusa كوسا محشي
Middle eastern squash (small zuchini) that are hollowed out and stuffed (traditional stuffing) and cooked with warak in a thick tomato sauce.
My preferred style of eating them is to slice open the squash length wise, then spoon the tomato soup on it so the rice in the stuffing soaks it up. Others cut the squash into bite sized rings as they go.
Warak Dawali ورق دوالي
Warak means paper/leaf, Dawali means vines, so warak dawali is vine leaves. Can be prepared Turkish style (rolls with just rice inside and slowly cooked with lots of oil), or the rolls can have traditional stuffing and be cooked in tomato sauce..
Traditional staple of Ramadan nights. Pancake like patty pockets stuffed with either semi soft cheese or crushed walnuts with cinnamon and sugar.
Stuffed means the inside is placed in the center of the round patty then the patty is folded over it to make and the edges pressed together.
Qatayef is then either fried or (our adaptation) baked in an oven. Served hot and doused with heavy rose-water flavored syrup. I personally prefer the walnut qatayef.
Ka'hk كعك بعجوة
Traditional "Eid" dessert. Semolina flour, butter, ghee, or shortening is blended into a dough. Minced dates (seeded of course) make the core.
Baked and served with a dusting of icing sugar.
I love these.