Pasha in the Press

Posted On: 1/26/2009

Byzantine Brasserie


Pasha Mezze in Ghent serves Turkish delights fit for a sultan

THAT WARM GLOW: Pasha's savory soup kills the winter chill


by Marisa Marsey
 

Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter. Since the time of ancient Greek philosophers, these have held as the four categorical tastes, joined of late by the disputable umami (the savoriness in, say, veal stock or a brothy soy sauce). Since scientists have cracked open the door to additional options (just the other day a geneticist floated the idea of calcium), I’d like to propose another: the sensation that coats your mouth, followed by the warm glow of well-being pervading your body, when you eat something that is good tasting and good for you as well as the earth. I call this taste pasha because the epiphany hit me while biting into a slice of fresh-baked artisan bread spread with hummus, a thick chickpea puree, at Pasha Mezze in Ghent.

The larger, more cosmopolitan, younger sibling of Pasha in the Parkview shopping center (in Chesapeake’s Greenbrier area), it offers many of the same Turkish and Mediterranean-grounded dishes such as red lentil soup, mezze (small plates) of slow cooked lamb chunks, and main dishes of marinated grilled chicken skewers with an emphasis –– you really need to call it a core belief –– on better living through better eating. Menu items are keyed when they’re vegan, vegetarian and/or organic.

BEST IN TURKISH CUISINE: Ferit Kaynak, Sibel Evrenosoglu and Khadija Kaynak

Khadija Kaynak, an owner along with her husband Ferit Kaynak and his sister Sibel Evrenosoglu, shares that some customers have come on doctor’s orders. "One said her doctor told her to stop eating fast food and to eat here because we use all olive oil," she relates. "She followed his advice and says she’s lost 30 pounds." Hmm, the Med over meds.

And indeed, Pasha packages dietary didacticism beautifully. Evrenosoglu’s artistry, along with the help of architect Robyn Thomas and designer Kristin Graff, converted a former track-side warehouse into a chic space, the look of which you’d attribute to a pricey-ticket Tihany type. Art museum aesthetics tinge the allure of big city restaurant with pottery-filled alcoves, banquettes plush with strewn pillows and richly-colored, hanging oil lamps. Interior bricks frame the open, airy kitchen where cold items such as tabouli and muhammarah (red pepper paste spiked with walnuts and spices) are displayed at lunch to acquaint those new to this cuisine. A tight-knit community of family and friends did much of the hands-on construction work themselves, just as they did when they made a non-descript storefront in Chesapeake feel like a home where you’re an honored guest.

DELECTABLE: Organic, homemade hummus

You’ll feel welcome in Ghent, too, and it’s also casual, but decidedly more worldly. Music playing might be Turkish folk or pop, French top hits or will.i.am. And alcohol is served. A U-shaped bar in the restaurant’s center dispenses an international array of eco-friendly wines (even a couple from Turkey), a handful of domestic and imported beers (with a non-alcoholic St. Pauli, too) and cocktails like the Marrakesh Martini, pomegranate liqueur, mango vodka and pineapple juice. Beyond the bar is a lounge with swooping white banners evoking a sultan’s tent. Its low slung seating is cool, but better suited to late night bites than meals.

And unlike at the original, your waiter is more likely to be named José or Bill than Yusuf, and probably won’t be wearing Turkish garb. Front of the house staff is an eclectic mix and male servers refused to wear traditional handmade vests, claiming they’re too tight and feminine. But hospitality still rules. Servers replenish silverware between courses without prompting, describe preparations fluently and include prices when reciting daily specials.

Signature Turkish Sampler ($14) provides an instant immersion into Pasha’s mellow, feel-good food. The vegetarian dish is a mosaic of aforementioned muhammarah and hummus, crumbly red lentil pate, latke-like fried zucchini cheese puffs topped with yogurt and sirkonto zucchini, a raft of the grilled vegetable crowned with breadcrumbs and almonds. The Sampler comes with three crispy pita triangles while wondrous bread akin to ciabatta (baked on premises, like all breads and sweets here) arrived with an order of Mediterranean seasoned olives ($6), two dozen ripe green and black fruits dotted with red pepper and herbs.

A good chunk of menu is devoted to mezze. Stuffed grilled calamari skewers ($9), three delicate squid rings encasing tiny shrimp and mozzarella, like bejeweled belly buttons, lacked the anticipated zing of menu-mentioned capers. Choice of warm hummus or a captivating jasmine-orzo rice comes with the lamb chunks ($9.90). Copperish domes cover many a dish, whisked off by servers upon arrival to charming effect, but just as with tapas, there can be the nagging sense that you’ve spent more for less.

An entrée of char-grilled beef kebab ($17.50), on the other hand, satisfied with its two large, remarkably phallic looking pieces of rolled beef, sans skewer, on a generous bed of rice. Its luscious peppers, onions and tomatoes rested on top, rather like a formal gyro. Wild salmon ($21) was also char-gilled and came with sautéed carrots and squash, julienned as if they were colorful tapestry threads.

Lunch features wraps and other sandwiches served with soup or potato wedges. Should you be enjoying one on a Saturday, you might witness local farmers delivering organic eggs for Sunday’s brunch when buckwheat pancakes and an omelet torte capped with feta make for a unique meal.

For dessert, try the chocolate mousse torte ($5), six silky smooth layers, or chocolate bon bons ($5), three not-too-sweet orbs, subtly crunchy with cracked tea biscuits and walnuts, rolled in coconut. Mom’s Nuty Cake ($6), admirable in its 100% organic, sugar-free nature, was desert dry.

Dessert wines are available, as are Columbian organic ($2) and Turkish coffee ($4), so slushy you’ll need to floss after one sip, and an out-of-this-world, hot tea ($2), a miraculous blend of Earl Grey, chamomile and Turkish leaves, served in a glass cup with organic sugar and honey-ish agave nectar. (The building next door is set to open any day as a coffeehouse including loose leaf teas and light foods to eat in or take out.)

Tasteful Pasha, with its growing empire (economy permitting, there could be another some day in Virginia Beach or Williamsburg), embodies much of today’s sweeping sensibilities - ethnic diversity, freshness, health consciousness, greater personal and collective responsibility. And yet another sign of the times: You can friend it on Facebook.

Palace Station Shopping Center, 350 W. 22nd St., Suite 114. 627-1318. Open Mon.-Sat. starting at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and Sunday dinner. Late night menu, patio dining and catering available. www.usapasha.com

Change the date: The inaugural International Food & Wine Experience of Charlottesville (www.ifweoc.com) has been rescheduled to July 31 - August 2. Of course, you have headlining chef Todd Jurich daily in downtown Norfolk. On February 5, his Todd Jurich’s Bistro welcomes Dr. Dirk Richter of Mosel, Germany, for a five-course wine dinner pairing esteemed Rieslings with spring rolls, roast Lynnhaven rockfish and more for $59.95. Call 622-3210 to reserve. Also of note, Nigel Jenkins, formerly executive chef at The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center, has joined Jurich’s team.