Unable to fulfill our hopes of a borek, we asked the owner whether the gyro meat in the Iskender (doner) kebab plate was house-made or bought. Bought, alas. Instead, the owner persuaded us to try a shawarma. Because this is a newbie restaurant with not much volume yet, the traditional shawarma of a huge hunk of flesh rotating on a vertical spit has proven impractical. “Instead, I cut it in slices, so the delicious marinade goes all through the meat, then I charbroil the slices,” he said. We chose beef shawarma over the alternative chicken breast, which dries out too easily. But the beef proved just as dry. “It’s almost like jerky!” Lynne said. “You can’t even taste the marinade, just the charring,” said Dave. Dipping the slices in çaçik or garlic sauce left over from the appetizer platter helped, but only a little.
There are two desserts. The house-made baklava is flaky and nutty (with both pistachios and walnuts) but sparing on the honey syrup — much less sweet than standard versions. “I like this a lot,” said Lynne. “It’s not overwhelming.” Kunafa is genuinely exotic, a large wedge-shaped pastry with delicate top and bottom crusts of crunchy farina flakes, sandwiching a filling of melted mild cheeses (mozzarella and Jack or Havarti, or another cheese of that ilk). It’s topped with crumbled pistachios, lightly dressed with fragrant rosewater-scented sugar syrup, and is barely sweet at all. It’s like a cheese course and a dessert all in one.
The Turkish coffee was strong and a little bitter, with all the “mud” hiding at the bottom of the cup. It comes unsweetened. We stirred in sugar with our fork handles (no spoons provided — yeah, it’s still a start-up).
Bottom line: Pasha is indeed a bargain. With the coupon for a free appetizer platter, the bill came to $28 per person total, all inclusive. But I feel the restaurant isn’t making the most of its greatest potential strength. Generic Middle Eastern restaurants are a dime a dozen, some cheaper than this and some offering easier parking. In order to compete, the Turkish dishes that distinguish Pasha from the crowd should be available all the time, and I’d also like to see more of them, if the Ali Nazik — outstanding hit of our dinner — is any example. Then there’d be a reason to come back over and over and explore what could be a unique menu. Hey, flaunt it if you’ve got it, baby!
Pasha Mediterranean Cafe & Grill
3614 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-294-4444, themediterraneancuisine.com.
HOURS: Tuesday–Sunday 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Soups and appetizers, $5–$22; salads, $7–$13; sandwiches, $8–9; entrées, $9–$25 (most $13); lunch specials, $6.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Middle Eastern (Lebanese) menu with several Turkish specialties.
PICK HITS: Vegetarian meze platter, ali nazik (Turkish beef cubes over eggplant salad), patliçan salad (eggplant salad, if not ordering ali nazik), shrimp kebabs, baklava.
NEED TO KNOW: Loads for vegans, including three entrées (two always available). Unisex bathroom, marginally handicapped accessible. No alcohol. Halal (Islamic version of kosher) ingredients.