I love Pasha.
Specifically, I love Pasha’s lunch buffet.
This is why…
It’s the middle of a hurried weekday. Usually, I graze intermittently to sustain my strength, but today I’ve been working and running around all morning and into the afternoon, and breakfast seems days ago. The noon hour has long passed, and I really need to sit down and take a load off.
So, after racing around and about, I walk in the front door of the restaurant and am instantly transported to a hybrid of a Persian tea parlor and my (not-so-Persian) grandparents’ dining room. The combination of ornate coffee urns, rich carpeting, tapestries, exposed brick and fancy lampshades together with potted palms and skylights in the high ceiling makes the room feel simultaneously den-like and open-aired. My job requires me to spend far too much time talking on the phone, and the prospect of 45 minutes of relative muteness is very appealing. I turn the ringer off my phone so as not to disrupt the Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes (instrumental only) being piped in through the sound system. If only my grandpa Ben could be resurrected and propped up at his organ, pounding out “Unforgettable” or “The Candy Man” with an unlit cigar hanging from his mouth, the mood would be complete. Even though The Pearl is 3 blocks down the street, I couldn’t feel further away from it. I love that.
I also, of course, love the food at Pasha’s buffet. But I feel I must qualify this by explaining that I do not love all of it. In fact, some items are downright bad.
Here is what I don’t love: I don’t love the salmon, which is cooked, criminally, within an inch of jerky-status. The store-bought, cold and ordinary pita: not so loveable. I am not a fan of Pasha’s over-emphasis on meat in the buffet items, particularly when featured in a vegetable dish. For example, why does eggplant stew need to be
laden with chunks of beef, when chicken kabobs, lamb skewers, meatballs and roast beef are all abundantly represented under neighboring covered steam trays? Oh yeah, and there’s the mayonnaise-dressed potato salad. Or is it the mayonnaise with potatoes mixed in? I’m not really sure. Either way, it’s pretty gross.
But this is what I do love about Pasha: The vegetables. Bowl after bowl of mostly vinegar-based marinated salads: cucumbers and red onions, romaine lettuce with tomatoes and olives, fresh, blanched broccoli salad, “Mediterranean” cole slaw (non-mayo), pickled beets, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, tomatoes and onions, etc. In addition, Tabouleh, basmati rice (plain and saffron-seasoned) as well as large platters of creamy house-made hummus and fresh tzatziki are consistently present.
I am, of course, quite peckish by the time I’ve arrived at Pasha. More than peckish – I could really put down some vittles. However, I don’t want to break the piggy bank or the calorie bank. That is to say, I want to feel full, but not full of an over-stuffed sandwich, over-sauced pasta, or over-noodled bowl of pho, all of which will make me over-fed and sleepy. I want volume for less: less muck AND less buck. You see, I do not eat vegetables in order to virtuously get in my “nine servings”. I actually take honest pleasure in them, and there are few vegetables I’ve met that, when properly prepared, I don’t enjoy. This may be surprising coming from the mouth of a, but even as a small child, I freakishly ate up my broccoli, and asked for seconds. I was the weird kid in the school cafeteria who polished off my spinach and then asked my friends if I could have theirs, too.
There is more than enough good stuff on Pasha’s buffet that it allows me to overlook the crimes I listed earlier. I am not claiming that this is the most authentic or high-quality Middle Eastern food in town. I have had much better hummus, baba ghanoush and lentil soup, for example, at Ya Hala and Aladdin’s. I will say, though, that being at Pasha feels really nice. Perhaps the Reeser’s-esque potato salad betrays Persian authenticity. But if I alter my expectations and instead pretend that I actually am in my grandma’s dining room, said potato salad, even though I choose to skip it, could not be more spot-on.
Here’s another reason Pasha makes me feel good: The moment I walk in, I am met with a greeting of a sincerity rivaled only by the staff of The Friendliest Store in Town. Seriously. These people are really nice. Even when it has been 3 weeks since my last visit, the waitress remembers that I do not like ice in my water, and so a glass of lukewarm water and a mug of hot water appear on my table before I’ve even had a chance to sit down. This is not because they serve lukewarm water to all their customers (they don’t), but because they remember, without fail, that I’m the lady who doesn’t like ice in her water. They never forget. I LOVE that.
Hot dishes almost always include the aforementioned meat items, which I generally avoid – the exception being the tender and juicy chicken kabobs mixed with stewed onions and tomatoes. The kabobs are the standout amongst the meat dishes and are my invariable protein choice. Additionally, there is ghormeh sabzi (a stew of mixed herbs, lemon and red beans), some variety of sautéed vegetable (green beans and zucchini, for example), a hot soup (lentil or vegetable), and a crusty, congealed and out-of-place (but seemingly crowd-pleasing) fettuccine with cream sauce. The rich, hearty eggplant and meat stew is sometimes replaced by a vegetarian version, which I prefer; the addition of the meat is redundant and only means less room in the pot for eggplant, perhaps my favorite of all vegetables.
If the pita were anything close to the steaming, doughy rounds served up at Ya Hala, Aladdin’s or Nicholas’, they might be worth the empty carbs. But as I’ve indicated, the bread here is merely compulsory, and, hence, easy to pass up. Instead, I use the naked, whole romaine leaves on the buffet as a vessel for the various salads and spreads, creating a sort of Persian-style lettuce wrap. Crispy and refreshing… it helps me stay inspired, not dog-tired! No, I do not adhere to a no-carbohydrate diet. It’s simply that I like to make my carbs (particularly the empty ones) really count. Eating cold, old pita bread is a squandering of the empty carb allowance. Scoff if you will, but that’s just how I roll.
Dessert usually consists of melon cubes and homemade coconut macaroons, with an occasional guest appearance by an under-baked (in a good way) chocolate brownie.
And if I weren’t already tripping enough down grandparental memory lane, there is a cut glass bowlful of Brach’s candies (and not just those lame starlight mints, either) at the exit. On my last visit, I reached into the bowl as I was leaving and hit the jackpot with a couple of Werther’s Original butter candies, as the Muzak version of the Theme from ‘A Summer Place’ filled the room.
What’s not to love?
The buffet ($7.99, all-you-care-to-eat) is available Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm. I am proud to say that my grandma and grandpa would also have fit right in at Pasha during evening hours, when the room is transformed into a vibrant, throbbing nightclub. Belly dancing, live Arabic music, a DJ, and dancing. My grandparents ate a lot of potato salad and pickled beets, but they also partied.
Pasha Mediterranean Grill
- Phone: (503) 222-1667
- Hours: Mon – Fri, 11:00 – 3:00 ($7.99 buffet), Dinner & Dancing: Thursday 5:30pm – 12, Friday & Saturday: 5:30pm – 2am
- Address: 19 NW 5th Avenue, Portland OR. 97209 GoogleMap
- Website: www.pashapdx.com (for full (non buffet) menu and photos)