It’s not often that I go to a restaurant and get dinner and a show — let alone one that includes belly dancers.
It’s sort of ironic, actually, watching a woman shake her hips and roll her abdomen when you’ve just padded yours with calories.
Until now, you could do both at Pasha Middle Eastern Cuisine. Owner Morad Guesmi, however, said he decided to put the belly dancing nights on hold to appease more conservative customers.
But, hey, at least you can still grab Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Moroccan-inspired fare, including dips, tzatziki-filled wraps, kebabs and tajines.
Guesmi, a native of Morocco who moved to the United States more than 20 years ago, opened Pasha in late April. He also owns Bountiful Greek Cafe in Bountiful.
He developed the idea for Pasha after mixing the lemon rice from the cafe with his native Moroccan dishes. “It just tasted good,” he said.
My table enjoyed the vegetarian dolmas ($6) and olives and feta ($6) appetizers. Served cold, the stuffed grape leaves surprised this first-timer with their sour punch yet delicate texture. Others loved the briny, marinated olives, even though they felt the feta absorbed a little too much oil on the outside.
I’d definitely return to Pasha for the wraps and kebab entrees. The other dishes we sampled weren’t quite as advertised, underwhelming, poorly executed or a mixture of the three.
The wraps stand out for a few reasons.
For starters, you can’t beat a warm, pillowy pita. Filled with a protein and topped with some vegetables and yogurt-based tzatziki, Pasha’s sandwiches offer a well-composed bite.
The beef shawarma ($12.50) edged out the falafel sandwich ($11) only because the outside of the chickpea-bean patty was a bit dry and gritty even though the inside had been cooked perfectly. The tzatziki also melted under the beef loin, creating a nearly irresistible mixture of savory and tangy flavors.
The secret must be Pasha’s house seasonings, which marinate the meat for the shawarma and the kebabs. The chicken kebab ($15 or $6 per skewer) and ground lamb kebab ($16) were tender with lots of flavor, the latter leaning more heavily on herbs.
The kebabs come with a tomato-bell pepper “sauce.” It was less sauce and more stewed vegetables, and it paired best with the lamb.
Sides include Greek salad or lemon rice for sandwiches and lemon rice only for the kebabs, although soup or salad can be added for $3. The sticky lemon rice was a touch oily and overcooked, and the lemon flavor was far too subtle. Additionally, one batch had been crunchy in parts.
Fries, which had temporarily removed from the menu, have returned. And lunch service started recently.
Like the tomato-bell pepper sauce, the description of the shakshuka ($14.50) set a certain expectation that the dish didn’t really meet. Instead of a tomato garlic sauce, our plate was filled with diced tomatoes and peas. The poached eggs had been soft boiled, and the meatballs lacked any moisture.
My issue with the chicken tajine with olives ($14) has nothing to do with the flavor or execution, which I’d liken to a briny chicken stew with slightly overcooked carrots. But what I ordered isn’t what I received.
The menu advertised a half Cornish hen in a preserved lemon sauce with olives. I received a boneless chicken thigh with carrots and olives in a herbed broth. I learned later that Guesmi was updating some dishes. But our waiter didn’t tell us that.
That wasn’t the only stumble in service. Our server that night was a bit erratic. And on both visits, my guests and I waited several minutes to be greeted when we walked in, despite the restaurant being nearly or completely empty.
Guesmi fixed the issues. When he told us that fries were unavailable, he offered a side of rice in addition to the salad for no additional charge.
Luckily, both of my visits ended on high notes, with a cinnamon-spiced baklava ($6) and decadent maamoul ($6). The Medjool dates, stuffed with marzipan and pistachio paste and topped with orange blossom and powdered sugar, can be a mouthful. But it’s totally worth it.
Pasha Middle Eastern Cuisine • ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★) Pasha serves Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Moroccan-inspired fare, including dips, tzatziki-filled wraps, kebabs and tajines. The house-seasoned meats in the wraps and kebabs and the maamoul are standout items.
Food • ★★1/2
Mood • ★★
Service • ★★
Location • 60 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City; 801-355-1515
Online • pashaslc.com
Hours • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $-$$$
Liquor • Yes
Reservations • Yes
Wheelchair access • No
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Street parking
Credit cards • Yes