In fact, after a sizeable and tasty pomegranate martini ($11), I found myself flagging down a waiter and ordering one of the exotic smoking apparatuses, said to have originated in India or Persia in the 1500s. After all, was it not my journalistic duty to experience all Pasha has to offer before writing about it? If getting the whole story meant thumbing my nose at the Surgeon General for one evening, then by God, I was going in. Never mind the slightly disapproving looks of my dinner companions.
Bemused diners at neighboring tables sensed I hadn't been near a hookah since college and instructed me on the finer points of rotating the charcoal and otherwise navigating the medusa-like contraption. My "Habibi" tobacco ($25) was flavored with tropical punch, mango and tangelo, a smooth, delightfully sinful accompaniment to the thumping Arabic music and that pomegranate martini.
Generous cocktails and Middle Eastern dance tunes pretty much define my happy place, but I did not forget that this is the "Eating Out" section and yes, Pasha does also serve food. Turkey native Serkan Bikim, who also owns Hummus Mediterranean in San Mateo, offers a greatest hits of standard Mediterranean cuisine, with a tilt toward Turkish and Greek fare: gyros, kabobs, flat breads, baklava and the like. We will get to the specifics but first I must offer one more reason to sit outside at Pasha: The interior decor is a little strange.
It is not as if I walked in for lunch expecting to dine in a pasha's palace. But atmosphere does inform the dining experience and nothing about Pasha's decor suggests Mediterranean food. Brash, red-and-white striped banquettes called to mind images of circus clowns who met an unfortunate end as upholstery. A line of oversized wall clocks showing the (wrong) time in London, Dubai and other world cities seemed completely random, as did the beachy wood accent wall that suggested a Cape Cod fish shack. New Orleans-style jazz playing on the sound system added to the feeling of incongruity.
But once my appetizer combo plate ($14.94) arrived, I managed to dispel the clown images and focus on the creamy hummus, smoky baba ganoush, dolma, falafel and shakshuka. The latter was a departure from the warm tomato-and-onion stew I expected, normally served with poached eggs. This version was served cold and made chunky with sauteed eggplant. It was a touch sweet where it should have been spicy. The pita was cardboardy and seemed mass-produced.
For kebabs, I rarely indulge anywhere but Kabul Afghan Cuisine, the Sunnyvale and San Carlos institution that wrote the book on grilled meat. But Pasha's held their own, especially given the relatively reasonable prices. My lamb plate ($14.95) featured six cubes of marinated, grilled lamb, cooked medium well rather than the medium rare I requested, so a bit on the chewy side but still acceptable. Kebab plates include a scoop of lemony rice, hummus, a lightly dressed green salad and a side of tahini. The chicken kababs ($13.95) were succulent and smoky from the grill, better than the lamb.
We also enjoyed a good-sized, finely chopped Greek salad ($9.95) made tangy with a lemon and olive oil dressing. A bowl of avgolemono — Greece's famous chicken and lemon soup — was savory, citrusy and comforting ($5.95). The grilled salmon plate ($15.95) is one of the house specialties. The salmon, seasoned lightly with lemon and a sprinkle of herbs, was serviceable, but did not rise to the level of a specialty. The mint lemonade was touted by our waiter as another house-made specialty. At $7 for a small glass, I had high expectations, but it was watery and unremarkable.
Where dinners on the patio are energetic and even raucous as the evening advances, lunchtime at Pasha is a more subdued, order-at-the-counter affair. I tried a lahmacun ($6.95), billed as a Turkish-style pizza. The ultra-thin flatbread could not stand up to the ground, mildly spiced lamb atop, making for a limp — but still tasty — version of the classic Turkish street food. A chicken wings appetizer ($8.95) was a somewhat random impulse order, but the thickly coated, deep-fried wings, served with a side of Buffalo hot sauce, made for a piping hot and tasty, shareable snack.
I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to have lunch at Pasha again, but I will definitely be back on a weekend night, or perhaps a Thursday when they occasionally have live music. You can find me on the patio with a pomegranate martini. And maybe a hookah.
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