I walked into what looked like a small sandwich or coffee shop. The counter, small number of tables and glass-fronted case filled with desserts had me wondering if I was in the right place. A quick right turn and a couple of steps up and I was in a high-ceilinged, multilevel dining room. The chandeliers, wood accents and white tablecloths said steakhouse. A huge and handsome, vintage-style, mirrored back bar was classy, but the neon light trim and flat-screen TV tuned to sports were not.
Pictures of Venice on the wall, a vestige of the Italian restaurants that have called this spot home, didn’t match the Middle Eastern background music or the mostly Middle Eastern fare. The cumulative
effect was odd but by no means unpleasant. And once I got past those confusing first impressions, I discovered Pasha is defined by the many ways you can indulge in food and drink that is good and good for you.
Meals begin with baskets of warm, fluffy pita, a plate of olive oil and a little scoop of labneh, a luscious, garlic-infused yogurt spread, instead of bread and butter. The array of hot and cold starters offers mostly meat-free options and includes delectable dips such as hummus ($6), spicy hummus ($6.50) and baba ghanouj ($7). My favorite was a tangy braised-eggplant-and-tomato tappa —the texture was smooth and the flavor big and zesty ($7).
The only one that failed to please was the fool mudammas ($6). I’ve had this preparation before, and the fava beans were always left intact and dressed in garlic, olive oil and lemon. Here, they are mashed into a bland, unappealing mud-brown paste.
A few other options for kicking off dinner deserve praise. Plump, marinated garlic shrimp, served on a bed of greens, had a nicely salty, seasoned bite, and grilling gave them a pleasing toothsomeness ($10.50). Lentil soup was thick, hearty and accented with cumin ($3.50). In the eggplant Napolean, a salad with architectural flair, slices are stacked high along with smoked mozzarella and roasted red peppers, surrounded by mushrooms and olives, and soaked in a balsamic vinaigrette ($10).
Try pairing it with a glass of liquid nutrition. Pasha specializes in freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Although not strictly wholesome, my companion created his own healthyish cocktail by adding a shot of Absolut ($5) to his Very Veggie blend of tomatoes, celery, parsley, carrot and lime ($4.50). For those inclined to get their grapes in fermented form, there’s a small, American-focused wine list with most labels available by the glass, as well as Prosecco splits and plenty of bottles under $30. Happy hour, Monday through Thursday, features $2 drafts, $4 martinis and $1 off wine pours, plus appetizers at half price.
Entrees emphasize classic dishes found at most local Middle Eastern restaurants. We enjoyed the two we tried: skewered, chargrilled chicken called shish tawook ($14), and hummus shawarma built around rotisserie-cooked sliced beef ($14). These traditional Arabic entrees are a real bargain. Moderately priced, they come with a choice of soup or salad.
Pasha provides vegetarians, and those who just want to cut back on the consumption of critters, with more than the usual number of choices. For a main course there’s mujadara, a traditional rice and lentil dish ($12), veggie kabobs ($11) and a side of feta kalamata risotto ($6).
Tabbouleh and shish kabob don’t leave much room for creativity. But the kitchen shows what it can do in seafood entrees such as sesame-coated ahi tuna ($22), pan-seared halibut ($17) and angel hair pasta with shrimp and scallops in a white-wine-and-tomato butter sauce ($15). The pistachio-crusted salmon was as pretty as it was tasty, arriving topped with a mound of crispy, orange sweet-potato threads ($16).
For those not counting calories or cholesterol, there are fried chicken wings ($7), a Black Angus burger ($7.50) and rack of lamb ($22), and plenty of desserts to choose from. But I suggest taking a pass on the cakes, tarts and pastries, which, according to our waiter, are not made in-house.
Baklava and date-filled mamoul, shipped in from Detroit, were slightly stale and had absorbed other flavors in the cooler. The Paris tart, a chocolate confection, was overly sweet.
A delicious and relatively guilt-free alternative is a mug of Very Berry, a thick, cold drink made with grapes, apples and blueberries topped with a dollop of whipped cream ($5). Other sippable endings include smoothies ($4.50) and a Pasha Cocktail of bananas, pineapple, ap-ples, grapes and kiwi ($5.50).
Turkish coffee is another nice finish, but it’s pricey at $4.99, and the quality was unreliable, perfect once and the consistency of sludge the next.
Servers seemed to be trying hard and were well intentioned, but their execution was not polished. Mistakes were routine, from forgetting to bring the wine we ordered or sugar for our coffee to errors on the bill for each of our two visits.
Despite its quirks and flaws, I recommend Pasha. It’s the kind of casual, comfortable place you can dine at often, weeknights and weekends, with the kids or with a date, for a light bite or a multicourse dinner. A meal here will leave you and your wallet feeling happily full. And if eating healthfully is among your goals, this is one restaurant that makes it easy to stick with the plan.