Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, November 7, 2016-5:57 pm
Let the mountains proclaim the news: Hookah bars can offer tasty food, too.
All right, so this isn’t really news. But it’s a maxim that is further proven by the offerings at Dinah Restaurant, an informal, high-ceilinged Downtown eatery on a hopping stretch of East-Village-y Second Avenue that teams its Mediterranean munchies (which include a variety of Egyptian specialties) with smoky water pipes, plus a selection of flavor options that would make many imbibers’ heads wobble. Though the place is not exactly an architectural treasure—a lone, glittery chandelier overhead provides light to the stark, bare-tabled surroundings, while an extensive bar supplies needed visual interest value—it does feature much to like, including outdoor seating in times of good weather and a number of intriguing plates … with Middle Eastern eats placed front and center. The cuisine is quite welcome. And you do get a lot for your money.
Take the sangria, for instance. Choose a pitcher, and the dark-red liquid comes to you in a sizable receptacle; your glass is fitted with a slice of orange, and the drink is not too sweet, goes down well. The house-made hummus is attractively presented in a shallow dish—it’s topped with rivulets of olive oil and pieces of parsley, and it’s smoothed through with tahini. A basket of pita bread slices comes with it, and they are useful in picking up the mash. You may also decide to use that bread with the Zabadi, a thin, yogurt mixture of cucumbers, mint and garlic that is heavy on the latter ingredient … to counter its fierce moxie, you sip from a glass of Sahlab, a rich, hot, milky drink that features notes of coconut and flecks of peanut on top. It’s as satisfying as a dish of oatmeal on a winter’s morning.
Nearly as successful is the “Traditional Egyptian Molokhia,” which is given a space of its own on the menu and catches your eye right away. The mixed-grill iteration comes to you on a bed of, unfortunately, underseasoned rice, though the meats—chicken and ground lamb cylinders among them—are savory and adeptly charred. A simple pile of salad (romaine-lettuce, tomatoes and onions), dressed in a rather plain vinaigrette, beside your entrée adds color, but the real star of this platter is the soupy bowl of stewed greens that arrives with your meal: It’s unctuous and aromatic, and when you dip your proteins in it, a luster is added that dispenses necessary flavor, as well as wetness. All that glisters may not be gold, yet much of it is toothsome. This is a bit of evidence.
The chicken kebab is similar provender, minus the bowl of greens and variety of meats. Service is agreeable, as are the prices; mains, in general, run from the low-teens to the 20s, while most of the appetizers are less than $10 each. Happily, you’re not pressured to opt for a hookah, which is just as it should be for a local establishment. Remember: Laid-back is the name of the game here, and sometimes you gotta go with the flow.
At Dinah Restaurant, it’s easy to do just that, without constraint. What’s harder: deciding when to stop relaxing and head for home.
A trifle more Sahlab, and a decision may present itself to you soon enough.