Occupation: Market Researcher
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Saha
Reviewed Saha: Saturday, May 21, 2011
While I’ve been to Saha many times before, this was one of the few times that we went on a busy weekend night. Excited to introduce two of our good friends to Saha, we met for dinner on a Saturday at 7:30 PM and were immediately shown to our table in the warmly lit, inviting dining room. Since my last visit, I was disappointed to notice that they had taken down many of the beautiful tapestries that covered most of the ceiling, leaving only a few in the corners. They used to lend such an intimate feel to the space, but now it feels a bit more basic and not quite as well thought out. My friend guessed it was likely a fire-code issue with all of the candles. Either way, it’s too bad they’ve been taken down.
For dinner we decided to split a bottle of California Syrah and split a few dishes for the table. We started with the soup du jour, which was a shrimp bisque ($6), and the large fattoush salad ($12). The bisque was delicious and was inhaled by one of our friends in a flash. The salad was great for sharing due to its size, as our server had indicated, and it was actually pretty similar in style and flavor to a Greek salad, which was a bit unexpected for an Arabic fusion restaurant.
We then shared two small plates: one of our favorites, lahem sougar ($13), and one that we hadn’t tried before, fasolia tagine ($12). As always, the lahem sougar was a hit with tender chunks of lamb on top of deliciously seasoned hummus and babaganoush and garnished with toasted pine nuts. The spicy hot harissa served on the side was also quite popular with our table. The fasolia tagine was a great vegetarian dish: tender giant white beans with truffle oil and fried goat cheese, yum!
For our entrees, we shared the classic North African Couscous Royale ($25) and the siyadiyeh ($21). The couscous royale had chicken, braised lamb, and fresh merguez sausage, and the whole dish was delicious, but the merguez sausage was really amazing. The siyadiyeh was braised local short ribs served over Yemeni noodles. The short ribs were so deliciously tender and the ragu had tones of cinnamon, which we all just loved.
Lastly, we satisfied our sweet tooths with the Slap Ya Mama ($9), bisbusa ($7) and Dulce Picchu ($9) desserts. Our friends had read a lot about the Slap Ya Mama from previous diners and it did not disappoint! It was a baked phyllo pouch of goodness with roasted fruit, almond marzipan, and chocolate oozing from inside. The bisbusa was a traditional Yemeni cake served with passion fruit gelato. The cake had a very mild taste and an interesting texture. It reminded me a bit of what a couscous or oatmeal cake might be like. The passion fruit gelato was a bit random alongside it, but it was from Ciao Bella up the street, so it was definitely yummy. Lastly was the Dulce Picchu, which was the favorite for half the table (with the other half favoring the Slap Ya Mama). It was a gorgeous, crisp chocolate pyramid with dulce de leche and cream in an almost cheesecake consistency inside. Decadent and delicious.
Overall, Saha remains one of our favorites after this visit. Our friends thought the food was delicious and they’re a bit of a tough crowd, so that made us happy! The high-quality authentic Arabic fusion cuisine with fantastic vegetarian and vegan options will keep us coming back and introducing our friends to Saha or years to come.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Lovejoy’s Tea Room
Reviewed Saha: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Saha, for me and my group of friends, was a fantastic evening filled with amazing flavors, most blended to perfection. We were a party of eight, and they had no problem accommodating a seven o’clock reservation on a weekday. It was a little tricky finding the restaurant as it’s in a hotel, but as soon as you enter into Saha’s space you know you’re in the right place. The paper lanterns, scarves hanging down from the ceiling, artwork with knitted crafted frames, and the furnishings all hinted at a Middle Eastern sensibility, but the mini castle by the kitchen and the nearby wall of circles of every size made it playful.
Because I was with a good-sized group, I was able to enjoy a large variety of Saha’s small dishes and, except for a couple of slight misses, they were delicious. Our server, Jennifer, was fantastic! She expertly managed my friends and me thoughtfully and with grace. We started with an assortment of Saha’s small plates, a couple of salads, and a lovely and aromatic lavender and cauliflower soup. For salads, we ordered the green salad (so fresh) and without even tasting the stuffed avocado salad Jennifer brought to us, I immediately ordered another one because it just looked so good. However, a friend at the table was underwhelmed by it. Someone at our table voiced some skepticism about the wild salmon baklava (my absolute favorite of the night) because it seemed too unusual, but they were “blown away” by Saha’s ability to turn a well-known Middle Eastern dessert into a beautifully layered and wonderfully textured savory dish. And the dishes just kept coming: Ten Crust Pizza with Beef (crispy and tasty), vegan knaffe (a cool way to use phyllo dough), and lahem sougar (melt in your mouth lamb with a smoky baba ghanoush) which was a winner for everyone.
Our group also chose to share our entrées, and so I tasted the lamb tagine (a sweet harmony of spices), sage duck (least favorite, just not a duck fan) and Yemen’s national dish: helba and pita (a lamb, beef, and veggies combo with broth that was hearty, but was just a bit too salty for me). And despite being so full it hurt, we went on to share some desserts as well. We ordered Slap Yo Mamma just for the name of it (roasted fruit, dates, almond marzipan, and chocolate wrapped in phyllo and baked), kanafeh (another classic Middle Eastern dessert and worth the fifteens minutes it takes to prepare), and bisbusa (a Yemen cake with yummy syrup).
During the course of the meal, I ordered first a white wine, Shannon Ridge’s Sauvignon Blanc, and then Jennifer recommended a Petit Sirah for the main dishes that I liked. My friends and I had a great evening sharing amazing food at Saha’s. We cleared every plate.
Occupation: Real Estate Manager
Favorite Restaurant: Don Pico’s Mexican Bistro & Cevicheria
Reviewed Saha: Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Located in the Hotel Carlton, the restaurant was a little challenging to find. Once you make your way through the lobby and you enter the restaurant, the first thing you sense is the wonderful smell wafting from the room of the many spices that are a staple of Arabic cuisine. We caught the restaurant on a somewhat busy night, so we waited for five minutes while the two waitresses figured out where to put us. Alas, we were seated at the table right next to the entry door, not a favored location. The décor tries to recreate a Middle Eastern feel, and comes close to doing so. There are tapestry-like fabrics flowing from the ceiling, and the tables and chairs are a bold contrast of dark wood and deep red. The restaurant has twenty tables of varying sizes to hold parties of two to ten. The noise level within the room is quite loud, and between the background eclectic music that did not fit the restaurant and the overall loudness of the fellow patrons, this is NOT a place for intimate conversation when the restaurant is full.
Our waitress did not pick up on the fact that this was not only our first time to this restaurant but also our first time with this cuisine style. We ordered five appetizers and two main courses, and she neither made recommendations (even though I played dumb) nor stated whether this was too much food. After she took our food and drink orders, we were basically left alone for fifteen minutes, no bread, no drinks. Ah, but when the food arrived, it was worth the wait! The crab-stuffed artichoke was wonderfully simplistic, even though it looked complicated. The spices in the sauce were a wonderful complement to the succulent crab, and the phyllo dough was light and airy. The kofta, which was ground lamb and beef sausage, was superb. It was served with Armenian salsa that had a great kick to it. The salmon baklava was prepared perfectly and was enjoyed by the table. The malfoof was an interesting dish choice. It is potato-based and wrapped in phyllo with herbs and spices, but in the end, it is just average. The beef kibbeh was truly uninspired, it was basically a deep-fried ground beef roll. When the sauce is better than the dish, you know you are in trouble. I would not order again. Our main dishes arrived shortly thereafter. The helba and pita with lamb and ground beef was very, very tasty! The dish reminded us of goulash or heavy stew. The succulent pieces of lamb, beef, and potatoes just made this dish scream, “Eat me!” The pita bread was, quite simply, superb! Definitely a home run. The orange chicken was so moist you could cut it with your fork, the sauce was an attack on your senses of orange, cinnamon, cumin, oh my! Great dish.
Dessert was the passion fruit gelato, which was more like a sorbet and a huge portion at that; warm chocolate cake made with such bittersweet chocolate that it was almost inedible; and the Dulce Picchu, which was a pyramid-shaped milk chocolate and cake dessert that was very scrumptious. The restaurant is on the expensive side, and service was hit or miss. There are lots of wonderful taste levels, but it is not for young kids or those that have an unrefined palate.