Pasha stands in a converted house along University Boulevard on the outskirts of Rice Village. Though the quaint Turkish eatery may look uninteresting from the outside, inside, red walls decorated with paintings and china set the backdrop for a much more charming meal than the restaurant’s dirty awning and neon signs would have you think.
As our party sat down, the wait staff was courteous and attentive, quickly filling and refilling our drinks and offering descriptions of the more exotic items on the menu. While some of their suggestions fell flat (the Turkish ice tea and Gazoz soda turned out to be nearly identical to American ice tea and Sprite), we were pleased with the speed and friendliness of all the waiters.
The appetizers arrived accompanied by a basket of house-made bread resembling a cross between pita and focaccia. Dotted with sesame seeds, the bread paired excellently with the various dips we ordered. The lebni, tabouli, zatar and baba ghanoush are all particularly noteworthy: The baba ghanoush is creamy and full of smoky paprika flavor, the lebni, a type of cheese made from drained yogurt, and tabouli both have a satisfying tang, and the zatar, a seasoning made from sumac and sesame served with oil, strikes a fine balance between its components, lending it a zesty flavor that pairs well with nearly everything on the table.
Beyond the dips, the appetizers are more hit-or-miss. The eggplant salad has an unappealing mushy texture, and the lentil soup is well-textured but too salty. The ezme salad, though, is much better. Traditionally a mixture of hot peppers, tomato and walnuts, Pasha’s take has an extra dose of vinegar that adds a pleasant kick to the dish. The dolmas, as well, are a cut above the norm, stuffed with a sweet blend of pine nuts, raisins and perfectly cooked rice.
The entree menu offers a number of sandwiches and platters, most of which involve traditional Turkish preparations of beef, chicken or lamb. Shrimp, salmon and tilapia are also available, and while the selections are few, the menu does contain a small vegetarian section.
Of the various meat offerings, the doner kebab was by far the best. Whether served on a sandwich or over rice, the shaved lamb and beef is well-cooked and exemplary of the bold flavors that can be made using the traditional Middle Eastern rotisserie technique. The lamb and chicken kebab are also seasoned with skill, while the adanas, which are shredded meat kebabs mixed with yogurt and formed into sausages, range from interesting to off-putting due to what tastes like an overdose of cinnamon.
By the time we finished the entrees, the dining room was full of chatting customers. The service remained prompt despite the wave of new diners. Our waitress brought our dessert – a plate of baklava that was, unfortunately, too small and too dry – along with complimentary tea for the table, which was good but came served in hot glass vials that one member of my party described as “authentic but impractical.”
We agreed, however, that the food was quite good, and the charming decor of the revamped house and reasonable bill (which came to just under $20 per person) make Pasha an excellent place to bring a date or a couple of friends looking for a tasty take on Middle Eastern cooking.