3223 NE Broadway
Arabian Breeze: Sure it sounds like the flavor of a wine cooler, but is it a good one? The answer: Yes, if Arabian Breeze were a wine cooler, I'd probably drink it. It was pretty satisfying, and just a little bit daring. On a less hypothetical note, the Breeze's dining room is quite dashing, decorated in dark reds, oranges, and blues, with a long tiled table in the center, a low ceiling, ornate lamps, and intimate booths and tables circling the outside of the room. It's the setting where you might find Indiana Jones, while mysterious men in robes suck on hookahs around him.
The things that Arabian Breeze does right, it does delightfully right. Rather than serve thick pita bread like other Middle Eastern restaurants, theirs is paper thin. A man in a glass room in the restaurant's front makes the pita fresh while you watch, then delivers it to your table and drapes it over an iron serving tower. You clumsily rip pieces from the tortilla-like bread and dip it in a complimentary tangy, sesame seed and olive oil dip, or order the restaurant's smoky baba or smooth, lemony, garlicky humus. The baba and humus are both wonderful representations, drizzled with rich olive oil. The vegan cabbage rolls are also great starters—tender and stuffed with rice and herbs, something like a dolma (stuffed grape leaves) but made with steamed cabbage.
Sandwiches and main dishes were less exciting. The falafel was too dense and heavy, and not at all crispy on the outside—it's just more of a grainy glob. The labna sandwich was new to me, made with Lebanese yogurt cheese, olive oil, mint, kalamata olives, and tomatoes. While rich and creamy, after one bite I felt like I was choking down a log of cream cheese. A vegan friend ordered the kibbah be batata, a pie made with bulgur wheat, sautéed onions, potatoes, pine nuts, and herbs. It had that slightly sweet cinnimonny Moroccan taste that I'm not particularly fond of, but the vegan enjoyed it, and the texture was admirably moist and crumbly—something like cornbread. Last, we tried the kafta kabab, or ground lamb on a stick. The herbs and seasonings were complex and aromatic, but the lamb was dry and the meat's texture was too crumbly. If you ask me, what's the point in eating dry lamb?
Further complaints include Arabian Breeze's lack of a sensible mezze platter—everyone's favorite hodgepodge of Middle Eastern delights—and that they don't take credit cards. Instead, they have an ATM machine in the restaurant that charges a fee, so you're essentially paying a tax to eat there if you didn't bring cash. Call me cheap and petty, but I can't stand ATM fees.
Despite its shortcomings, Arabian Breeze is doing some things right. Their dining room is designed with more ingenuity than I've seen in ages, their basic dishes are done beautifully, and their service is quick and friendly. They just need to tighten up the back of the house a bit, add the easy-to-make mezze platters to their menu, and throw that damn ATM machine in front of a bus.