An Oasis of Warm Spices
The sign says "Mediterranean Cuisine" in the window
of this inviting restaurant on Sunnyvale's Murphy street. Thankfully,
that sign is deceptive.
I prefer to think that Mediterranean food doesn't exist. Each
culture that circles the Mediterranean has its own varied cuisine.
As these disparate food cultures find their way to North America,
they risk a loss of context, and at worst they merge into a generic
In pleasant contrast, Dishdash preserves its Arabic roots,
proudly serving an artful mix of recipes from Lebanon, Jordan,
Palestine and surrounding regions.
The flavors from each dish compliment each other, and you
can taste the soul of the food. Subtle creamy sauces warmly spiced
with cinnamon, cardomon, allspice and nutmeg provide a soft foundation
for fresh herbal accents like basil and mint, or the tartness
of sumac, lemon or yogurt.
Tender meats come marinated and charbroiled, or slow-cooked
in savory sauces. A good selection of meatless dishes offers
enticing options for vegetarians.
Palistinian owner Emad Ibrahim comes from a restaurant family.
He helped start the successful Fattoush in San Fransico, currently
run by his brother. Ibrahim has assembled a talented kitchen,
with Iraqi chef Mohamad el Sraefi expertly balancing complex
flavors with colorful presentation.
When I first visited Dishdash, I was surprised to see it bustling
with almost a full house on an otherwise sleepy Tuesday night.
Clearly people have discovered this unique restaurant, and I
soon learned why they would want to return.
When we arrived, our waiter sat us at a prime table by the
window. Couples also dined outdoors under umbrellas on Murphy
Street's wide sidewalk. We enjoyed the amber glow of the restaurant,
with its slate tile accents and colorful patchwork wooden tables.
Starters and Lunch
As guests explore the extensive menu, a basket of warm pita
bread appears with a delightful dip of olive oil, roasted sesame
and sumac. The tangy dip piques the appetite.
The Mediterranean maza platter ($9.95 for two) offers a convenient
way to sample many of the cold appetizers on the menu.
The maza platter arrives as a burst of bright colors, topped
with fresh basil leaves and tomato chunks, with purple highlights
from strips of fresh pickled beets and kalamata olives, four
small handmade dolmas arranged in the center, a variety of cold
tapenades around the side.
The hummus carries a light sesame bitterness from tahini,
with fresh lemon accents. Two different eggplant preparations,
babaghanouge and M'nazaleh, offer smooth textures with earthy
flavors, the latter with a slight crunch from walnuts. Tabouli
salad, tomato and feta with chopped almonds, and yogurt with
cucumber and dill add more fresh tastes.
The maza platter could easily serve as a meal on its own.
Lentil soup ($2.50) and an attractive selection of hot appetizers
could also act as a light dinner. Standouts include Fatayer ($5.95)
made from baked filo dough stuffed with spiced ground beef, on
a sauce of tahini and date syrup.
Dishdash's lunch menu features a subset of these appetizers,
and includes more salads, wraps and lower prices entrees. The
lunch wraps ($5.95-7.95) come with choices of falafel, fish,
mixed roasted vegetables, chicken, kufta or shawarma (variations
on minced lamb and beef.)
Family Sized Entrees
Dishdash's servings are large enough to order family-style,
and indeed many large parties do just that.
Mansaf ($13.95) is a signature dish of the restaurant, a memorable
combination of rich fragrances and flavors. Tender chunks of
lamb hide under a mound of saffron rice, with soft onions and
fresh parsley, on a pool of aromatically spiced rich yogurt cream
Each ingredient carries complimentary fragrances of different
finely ground fresh spices: the lamb with allspice and cardomon
in its marinade; the rice with saffron, turmeric and a hint of
cinnamon, the sauce with its earthy sweet-tart buttery smoothness
and myriad specs of subtle flavorings.
M'sakhan ($12.95) wraps a brick-sized purse of shredded chicken
and caramalized onions in thin tanour bread (resembling a flour
tortilla or lavash), baked crispy brown and bathing in a tart
pool of sumac and saffron yogurt. Fresh tomato chunks augment
the bright flavors.
The kebabs ($12.95 - $15.95) arrive on heaping oval platters
of rice with grilled zucchini, cauliflower and sweet red peppers.
Tender chunks of chicken, beef or lamb have been marinated in
yogurt and garlic, then charbroiled on a skewer. The flavors
of the meat dominate, with wood char and saltiness lingering
in the mouth.
Tabsi ($12.95) places kebabs of ground beef and lamb in a
thick reduction sauce of caramilized onion, bell pepper, eggplant,
tomato and olive oil. The tart flavors of sumac once again rise
to the top in this savory blend.
The vegetarian sambusak ($11.95) offsets soft textures with
the light crunch of slivered almonds. A crisp crust of filo filled
with spinach, mushrooms, onions, and feta cheese sits on a delicious
creamy bitter-tart tahini spinach sauce.
M'shakaleh ($11.95) presents a molded cylinder of saffron
rice layered with eggplant, cauliflower, mushrooms and tomatoes,
in a rich yogurt tomato sauce accented with parsley and a dash
A Context for Wine Pairing
Dishdash offers affordable beers ($3.50) and a short mid-priced
wine list to augment its delicate food. I think this cuisine
has great potential for pairing with good wine, despite evolving
within a culture that tends not to drink wine.
The list leans toward large fruity California-style wines.
I found that my glass of Joel Gott 2001 Cabernet ($8) tended
to overpower the subtle nuances of saffron and allspice in my
lamb dish. A better choice might surprisingly have been the Altenhofen
2001 Spatlese Reisling ($7), one of the more inspired selections
by the glass.
Dishdash could better flatter its aromatic cooking by adding
lighter, more finessed wines to its selection. I think this food
would pair beautifully with a floral Grenache-based Côtes
du Rhone, or perhaps a smokey Syrah.
If you survive the enormous entrees, the desserts at Dishdash
($5.95) could flatten you at last.
Kenafeh comes hot from the kitchen, requiring a 15 minute
wait since they make it fresh to order. A toasted pastry of crisp
shredded filo soaks in sugared rosewater, sprinkled with pistachios.
Inside awaits a rich filling of melted sweet farmer's cheese,
almost cloyingly decadent.
The rich and aromatic M'Halabieh consists of housemade pudding
impregnated with rosewater, cardomon, pistachio and shaved almonds.
Other desserts include assorted baklava or sorbet.
I highly recommend the Turkish coffee ($2.50), which comes
lightly sweetened and spiced with cardomon. This is one of my
favorite ways to drink coffee, its nutty richness so close to
the taste of the bean itself.
Mint tea ($2.00) can offer a soothing finish, with fresh spearmint
leaves steeping in a glass of either hot water or black tea.
I'm pleased to find such an excellent spot for the delicate
flavors of Arabic and East Mediterranean cooking. Every dish
that I have tried here has delivered on its promise. The long
well-conceived menu is filled with enticements, calling me back
for repeat visits.
The service is friendly and professional, although little
tasks like water refills can take time when the room gets busy.
The staff projects a sense that they enjoy their environment,
which makes me feel happy to be dining here.
I can easily order too much food at Dishdash, with its huge
portions, rich flavors, and reasonable prices. I'll have to order
less and return more often to try new dishes. I want to discover
more of this subtle and warming cuisine.
190 South Murphy Street,
Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:00-2:30 PM
Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:00-9:30 PM
Sat 5:00-10:00 PM
Free parking in rear