Whether it is genetic predisposition or by virtue of many travels around the globe, I find I’m perpetually drawn to the exotic flavors of ethnic cuisine. A shift in professional pursuits has curtailed my travels, however, and dining out has become a culinary substitute for my insatiable wanderlust.
As a recent transplant to the region, I enjoy discovering the many hidden treasures tucked away in unexpected places around Hampton Roads: beautiful vistas, eclectic neighborhoods, quaint shops, and delectable cuisine.
Finding good food is the easy part. Finding good food served at reasonable prices can be a bit more challenging. Finding a dining experience that helps assuage the longing to “be there” is nothing short of ecstasy.
A recent discovery that’s destined to become a regular stop on my gastronomical wanderings is Pasha Mezze in the Palace Station Shopping Center in Ghent, Norfolk. Its website describes the menu as “Mediterranean and Anatolian Cuisine with American and European influences.” I would describe it as delightful.
The name is an unusual combination of two Turkish terms: “pasha” is someone of high rank or office and “mezze” refers to small dishes or plates of food, much like Spanish tapas. I am not entirely clear what one has to do with the other, but I was not about to allow a lexical conundrum to get in the way of my palate.
Even before stepping inside, I could tell that these are people with an eye for detail and a desire for authenticity. The restaurant is tucked away at the back of a shopping plaza, but the architectural design and landscaping of the exterior, which includes an outdoor patio for dining al fresco, easily lets you forget that you are steps away from the asphalt and concrete jungle of an urban landscape.
The mood continues inside with an airy dining room decorated in warm Mediterranean colors, dark wood furniture, and framed photographs of Turkish culture and scenery. An open kitchen lines one side of the dining area and a small but inviting bar beckons from the far end. For those seeking a more intimate or casual setting, as we were, a few steps past the bar takes you into a lounge area that is at once cozy and chic, with comfortable chairs and subdued lighting.
Our waiter was friendly, helpful and always attentive without being intrusive. The menu was just the right length, offering enough variety to satisfy a finicky eater (including vegetarian and vegan selections) without overwhelming an indecisive diner. Organic ingredients are prominent throughout much of the menu and I was intrigued to learn that they are committed to using natural, healthy and—when possible—locally obtained ingredients.
In the spirit of the mezze menu, I decided to sample my way through several items, a strategy that works particularly well when dining with friends not opposed to sharing.
We started with the Pasha’s Signature Turkish Sampler, which included three types of hummus-like spreads: a portion of their muhammarah, a red pepper and walnut paste; a red lentil pate; and a traditional, organic chickpea and tahini hummus. Accompanying the spreads were two zucchini dishes, fried zucchini cheese puffs and a stuffed zucchini, both delicious.
Having whetted our appetites, we delved into a shrimp casserole and marinated grilled chicken skewers. Served in traditional Turkish dishes, the food was as appealing to the eye as the taste buds.
The shrimp and mushrooms were firm and the mozzarella was stringy like a melted cheese should be. The inclusion of capers gave the dish a briny flavor that might not appeal to everyone, but it adds a Mediterranean touch. The chicken skewers, served with a minty yogurt dip, were juicy and succulent. My only complaint is that trying to share the three portions between two people was a true test of diplomacy.
The saving grace of eating mezze portions, however, is that for once I had room enough (or at least a clear conscious) for ordering dessert—a portion of the meal not to be skipped at Pasha Mezze. Desperately wishing for a sampler option, we finally narrowed down our choice to the baked rice pudding or the homemade bread pudding. We ordered both.
The bread pudding was served hot with a crunchy, cinnamon crust topping and an underbelly of smooth, custard-like goodness. I alternated each bite with a taste of the cold, sweet, creamy rice pudding, and washed them both down with a hot organic chamomile lemon myrtle tea.
So delightful was dinner that I elected to return the next day to try out the Sunday brunch menu. There are fewer vegan and vegetarian choices on the brunch menu, but if you like eggs, you cannot go wrong. The organic eggs they use are so flavorful that you may seriously consider never eating regular eggs again.
As before, I opted for a more traditionally Turkish sampler selection in lieu of the other appetizing options and ordered the Turkish Style Breakfast. When the plate arrived, my first thought was that I would still be hungry when I finished, but the selections are deceptively filling and more nutritious than my usual brunch standards of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and hash browns.
In the center of the platter was a bowl of a Turkish goat cheese called Erzincan tulumu, sprinkled with grated walnuts. Surrounding it were small servings of Mediterranean olives, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers sprinkled with herbs, a hard-boiled egg and a delectable thick, crispy potato cake made from red potatoes. Served with this was a basket of freshly baked artisan breads accompanied with a hazelnut butter and two Turkish jams.
To finish the meal, I ordered a Turkish tea and an order of baklava.
I have heard some people complain that baklava is too sweet, but this
version was the perfect balance of flaky phyllo dough and nut filling
with just a hint of sweetness.