My friends and I were seated within 10 minutes on a very busy night, the
evening of 3/2/2002. The outside of the restaurant gives no hint of what
lies within; I've wanted to try El Basha many times in the past, but have
always ended up driving by with only a passing glance at its neon sign.
Of course, it's Rt. 9 location means parking is at a premium. Indoors
the decor is especially pleasing; a bar is cleverly tucked away in a
corner of the restaurant, and looks like it would be a nice spot to hang
out in some evening. The music set the tone for the evening - jazz
instead of the Middle Eastern music I was expecting.
I was a bit surprised at the menu, which seemed Spartan, to say the least.
Sahara on Highland Street has a bit more of a selection, and offers its
sandwiches during dinner hours - unlike El Basha which limits you to its
entrees. This could very well be because of the small kitchen, but it
really limited the menu a great deal.
For starters, we had the hummus and a Greek salad. The size of both
appetizers was quite large, and more than enough to share between three
people. The Greek salad was very tasty, the dressing smooth and not too
oily, while the feta cheese on top was very fresh and scrumptious. The
hummus itself is also not to be missed.
One distressing thing was that the service really needed work - perhaps
even one more server was necessary? Which was surprising considering that
three people were moving back and forth between the many tables that were
crowded into the small space. However, the food was prepared quickly and
brought hot to the tables. We just didn't see our server very much, only
the bare minimum few visits to check up.
One friend I was dining with continually remarked that El Basha's signature
food is its stuffed grape leaves. She was so insistent, I had to order them
for myself; while she ordered the grape leaf dinner, I ordered the "combo"
grape leaf and kibbi dinner. I was not disappointed in the slightest.
The grape leaves were inordinately tasty, and I will certainly order them
again next time I go.
All of the food was very light, almost airy. I expected Middle Eastern
spice to enter into the equation, but the food turned out to be not very
spicy at all - yet everything was still quite flavorful. It seemed that
the food and attitude was somewhat Americanized. While this is not a bad
thing, it wasn't what I was expecting from an ethnic restaurant.
Dessert was a nice treat, in keeping with the rest of the meal. Not too
overwhelming or sugar-laden - subtle in its simplicity, with the merest
hints of flavor to accent the food. As if nearly every dish was being
held back a little. The backlava was very moist but not drenched in honey,
and the rice pudding was also sweet - but not too sweet.
In short, a very good dining experience, one I won't hesitate to have again
when I'm in the mood for El Basha's unique styles.