Mediterranean Maza: Falafel, Dolmas, Tabouli, Babaghanouge; Dolmas from Mediterranean Maza (close-up); Shish Taouk (Barhoumi’s Favorite)
Location: Los Altos
Favorite Restaurant: Dishdash
Reviewed Dishdash: Tuesday, January 3, 2006
For many years friends encouraged Emad (E-MAAD) Ibrahim (I-BRA-HEEM) to open a restaurant in Silicon Valley that serves authentic Middle Eastern food — that is, food from Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. And in March 2001, Emad did just that. The menu was created by Emad’s mother, I’Nam (IN-AM), and sisters, who are Palestinian. Over time, the menu evolved to include culinary influences from chefs and friends, thus the dishes from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Still, 70% of the menu today is inspired by Emad’s mother and sisters.
The centerpiece of this restaurant is its namesake, Dishdash, a traditional colorful dress worn by women in the Middle East. The dishdash embodies the atmosphere that Emad envisioned for his restaurant: warmth, comfort, and untiring service to others. This particular dishdash was worn by Emad’s wife at their marriage ceremony and contains a profusion of royal blue, yellow, and terracotta patterns. These colors are repeated throughout the restaurant: the walls are painted terracotta; the ceiling royal blue; the tables and chairs have geometric patterns of all the colors found in the dishdash. Family heirlooms are carefully placed throughout the restaurant for customer viewing: an antique portable cooking stove; round pillows used to sit on the floor; antique water cantine and artwork serve as decorative pieces, but also reminders of the patron’s Middle Eastern roots.
The atmosphere of Dishdash is warm, intimate, and unpretentious. Tables have blocks of colorful paint, topped with glass covers. Four types of seating to accommodate patrons: comfortable booths lined with contemporary geometric fabric; banquettes (half booth, half chair); traditional table and chairs, accommodating mostly party of two or four; and raised barstools. The barstool patrons can view the open kitchen and watch meals being prepared. It always seems noisy here, even when it’s not very crowded.
Food is the number one focus here; it’s very high quality and artfully presented. Everything else is secondary. Good selection of appetizers, main courses, vegetarian options, desserts, wine list, coffees, and teas. Food is tastefully presented; very appealing to the eye, as well as the palate. Emad’s subtle use of warm spices, such as saffron, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, and sumac characterize each dish. Dishes are not overdone with heavy or hot spices. Every dish is topped with nuts that are hand-roasted in the kitchen. The base of most sauces is aged yogurt that has been handmade and strained on the premises by elderly Palestianian women.
There is an abundance of cold and hot appetizers, meat and vegetarian entrees, and wines to chose from Dishdash’s menu.
For starters, try the Mediterranean Maza, which is a terrific sampling of the popular cold appetizers. Customers will be able to try familiar Middle Eastern dips, such as hummus (HUM-US), tabouli (TA-BOO-LI), and babaghanouge (BA-BA-GA-NOOSH). The bonus is other dips, which most folks have never heard of — Rihan (REE-HAN), which is fresh tomato and grilled eggplant in a basil sauce, topped with feta cheese and roasted almonds. Also included is M’nazaleh (MMM-NA-ZA-LA), a mild ratatouille of grilled eggplant, red bell peppers, tomato, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. All dips come with warm pita bread. There have been times when I’ve eaten the maza as my entire meal, since it’s very substantial.
My favorite hot appetizer, which I have also eaten as a main dish, is falafel (FULL-AH-FULL). What’s great about this falafel is that it’s crispy on the inside and out, not soggy on the inside like most falafel balls. The key is that the chickpeas aren’t overly ground and remain coarse so the frying oil is able to penetrate the inside and get it nice and crunchy.
For the main courses, I recommend Mo, the King of Kebabs, Mansaf, Mashwi, and M’Sakhan. Mo, (MOW) the King of Kebabs is a combination of chicken kebab, kufta (minced lamb and beef) kebab, and a choice of cubed beef or lamb kebab. All kebabs are marinated in aged yogurt and delicate spices for at least forty-eight hours and then grilled. I notice that each cut of meat is well cooked, moist, and tender, and the flavor of the marinade really comes out.
Mansaf (MAN-SUF) is a very unique nomadic Middle Eastern dish made up of braised lamb and saffron rice, served with an aged yogurt sauce. This dish is traditionally served in a communal fashion on a large tray with several people sitting around the tray. Diners tuck one hand behind their back, use the other hand to form a small ball of the lamb, rice, and yogurt, (talking and laughing the entire time) and then “pop” it goes into the mouth. It’s delicious and mild and flavorful all at the same time. The lamb melts in your mouth like butter. Each grain of the saffron rice stands alone and isn’t mushy — like sometimes rice can become — and the yogurt sauce is tangy and mild.
Mashwi (MASH-WEE) will satisfy fish lovers. Sea bass and large prawns are marinated in lemon juice, sumac (SUE-MAC), and cumin, and then pan-fried and topped with roasted almonds, accompanied by fresh grilled vegetables and saffron rice. Fish comes out moist and flavorful.
M’Sakhan (MMM-SA-KHAN) is a lovely pastry stuffed with seasoned chicken and caramelized onions. The pastry is home-baked tanour (TAN-EW-ER) bread and resembles lavash. The stuffed pastry is placed on top of a tangy saffron-yogurt sauce. The presentation is fabulous — looks like something you would see on the cover of Food and Wine magazine.
Now, after eating all those fabulous appetizers and entrees (maybe not all of them!), there’s a good chance you’ll have absolutely no room for dessert. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have anything sweet to end your dining experience. Try the coffee, which comes sweetened with sugar and cardamom, or the mint tea. Both drinks are a refreshing, soothing, and slightly sweet end to a lovely night out.
The high quality of food makes this restaurant a destination on the Peninsula. Unfortunately, the service and decor are not on par with the quality of food. In the future, I’d love to see the interior with a fresh coat of paint and/or better lighting. Also, I get the feeling the service is a made up of a few college kids with limited restaurant experience. They are extremely friendly with good intentions, but better training would be a bonus.
In closing, I can’t recommend the food strongly enough. The rich, warm flavors, the subtle use of spices, the contrast of soft saffron rice and crunchy roasted nuts, tangy sauces, and delicate meats all make me want to visit this place again and again.
Occupation: Event Planner
Favorite Restaurant: Eric’s
Reviewed Dishdash: Thursday, December 23, 2005
I had never heard of Dishdash prior to going there. I would never, on my own, think to get Middle Eastern food. This was the first time I had ever eaten at a Middle Eastern restaurant. I am not a complete novice; I have had hummus, tabouli, and shish kebab before but I did have reservations — I thought there would be a lot of curry. I came to Dishdash with an open mind and a big appetite! I was not disappointed. As soon as we walked in I felt very comfortable. We were seated quickly (highly recommend making reservations) and asked if we wanted water. The restaurant was very clean and well lit. The seats were comfortable and menu was easy to read. When the waitress approached our table she was full of smiles and suggestions. I asked her for recommendations. I let her know that this was my first time eating Middle Eastern food and I was kind of a wimp. She asked what liked and didn’t like, and I let her know that I liked chicken and beef and I did not like lamb. She was quick to make several suggestions where both chicken and beef would be abundant. I let her know that I did not like spicy foods; she let me know that they could make any entrees not spicy –- I appreciated that. She let us know about the Mediterranean Maza, a sample of all their cold appetizers. My only complaint is that everything ran into each other; they need to serve it on a different type of platter.
When our drinks arrived, my boss and I were very excited to try them. I had the mango laban — this was very good, it was a mango smoothie. My boss had the mint laban, and it tasted like salty yogurt. There were a few mint sprigs on top but there was no mint taste. That was a little disappointing but not a deal breaker!
For the main course I had the Shish Taouk, marinated chicken with vegetables and saffron rice. The chicken was juicy and hot. It was off the skewer, which was nice. The marinade was really good, not to overpowering. There were almond slivers on the plate, which was not mentioned in the menu (not a great idea not to mention that when someone like me is allergic to it). The vegetables were very fresh, and the colors and the taste were very appealing. My boss had the Shawarma (chicken wrap). The wrap was filled with chicken; they did not skimp when it came to the meat! All the flavors of the chicken, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, and garlic-yogurt sauce really came together. I enjoyed the wrap more than I enjoyed the Shish Taouk. The wraps are served with French fries or salad — I thought that that was an interesting choice. We went with the salad. The dressing was very fresh and unusual. Sumac was on everything on the plate. Sumac was in our drinks, appetizer, entrees; it was a little much. Besides that, the food was excellent. I would recommend the wrap; I would go back for it! I really enjoyed myself — the restaurant was loud, but I am loud and I like loud. The staff was very helpful and friendly. Dishdash really opened my mind to Middle Eastern food. There was one disappointment, the laban drinks. But there were plenty of hits — Mediterranean Maza, Shish Taouk, and the Shawarma. Dishdash is a great place to try Middle Eastern food for the first time. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 7.
Occupation: Territory Manager for New York State
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Blue Plate
Reviewed Dishdash: Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I went to Dishdash with a Middle Eastern friend of mine, who had dined there in the past. It is located in a charming little downtown shopping center that is hopping with people. We arrived at a restaurant with people waiting to eat outside. Having a limited lunch hour, I feared a thirty-minute wait and I was surprised to find that the wait would be five to ten minutes. Upon sitting down at an outside table, I was asked if I wanted something to drink. I asked for a recommendation and to my surprise I was served a Blue Moon, a Belgian-style beer. The beer was made in the Belgian Style similar to that of a Hoegaarden and was heavy on the coriander; this created a very refreshing flavor that primed me for the spices that were to come with the meal.
After a ten-minute wait, we were ushered to our table in the back of the restaurant. It was rather dark and had a club-like atmosphere. However, I was so hungry, I was only interested in digging into the Maza and entrees. We ordered rather promptly, having had the time to review the menu outside. Within minutes, our Maza had arrived and I was pleased to find that the plate was of moderate size for two people. The flavors were complementary and yet not competing. I thought the grilled eggplant was amazing.
Almost as soon as we finished our app, the Shawarmas arrived. In the interest of diversity, Jaber and I elected to split the two wraps. I will say that I thought the Chicken Shawarma to be the best I have ever had, however the Kufta Kebab was rather dry. The flavors of the sauce that the chicken was covered in was moldy spicy and slightly salty but a perfect balance.
I will say that the atmosphere was a bit kitschy and I felt like I was dining in a club rather than a restaurant, however the food more than made up for it. I would recommend Dishdash to anyone who wishes to try a different lunch cuisine than they are probably used to, yet one who has a bit more than hour to dine for lunch. Although the atmosphere was loud, it did not detract from the food, which was the reason for dining.
Overall, I rate the restaurant a 7 out of 10. Good food. Good service. Interesting atmosphere.