Nuba: A First Middle Eastern Food Experience

This past rainy, wet Sunday marked another somewhat spontaneous food adventure to Nuba. Lesson of the day/month/year: always get into the habit of checking the hours of operation for EVERY. PLACE. you plan to visit, because since Michelle and I didn’t, we were faced with the closing doors of Waffles Gone Wild. Venturing down the windy and wet street, we decided that the options nearby were either Neverland Tea Salon, Swiss Chalet, Banana Leaf or Nuba. Neverland was quickly ruled out because they were closing in 10 minutes (6PM), I didn’t really like Swiss Chalet, so we were left with Nuba. The two of us were initially rather skeptical, having heard not-so-good reviews; but because Nuba was recently suggested by one of my customers at work, and also present on my list, I decided to push for settling here for dinner (this was also partly motivated by the poor weather).

Promptly greeted and seated by the window, I notice instantly that the restaurant was much bigger on the inside than expected. A poster inside the bathroom later informed me that this location, conveniently located along West Broadway, was the largest and also newest. Two other Nuba cafes are located on Seymour Street and East 3rd Avenue, and the other Nuba Restaurant  can be found on West Hastings. I would recommend this restaurant if you are looking for somewhere romantic for a date because of the quiet, dimly-lit environment. In another section, beautifully constructed with Lebanese elements such as dome-shaped doorways, there was an upstairs area capable of accommodating larger parties and events.

I knew virtually nothing about Middle Eastern cuisine, so Michelle was my “white cane” in guiding me on my selections. The both of us almost unanimously agreed upon the most appealing main courses offered, which were Yamam, and Habash Mahshi. One interesting thing I learned off the menu was that “Mezze” essentially is equivalent to tapas, or small appetizers for diners to share among each other.

Michelle ended up having the Yamam ($16), which was a dish of deboned, butterflied, and pan seared quail over sumac roasted potatoes with a ginger garlic jus. I regret not inquiring further on why the menu description was followed by “(m)(gf)”, but my guess is that the latter probably means gluten-free according to Urbanspoon. I managed to get a taste of the quail, which I found delicious because of the searing that managed to effectively retain the juice and flavour. The impression of the quail resembled what you would taste from pigeons at a Chinese seafood restaurant. The Yaman was decorated with green grapes sliced in half, which I found were an interesting match to potatoes and quail. Something to mention by the way: although the waitress suggested that the Yamam could be something to share, there was nothing in the entree that could be easily divided. We were both glad we did not order the quail to share.

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I chose the Habash Mahshi ($18.50) not only because of the turkey thigh rolled and stuffed with cranberries spice, nuts, and mushroom duxelle, but moreso because of the butternut squash stew on the side. I find that my liking for turkey is rather ambiguous, mostly because turkey meat is usually very dry. I loved the mushroom duxelle (because mushrooms are my favourite food), but at the same time disliked the stuffing due to the spices. However, the sweet taste of cranberries quickly compromised this sharp taste. Turkeys and cranberries always go hand in hand anyway! Overall, the Habash Mashi looked kind of gross because of the rolled turkey thigh mashed with a brown-coloured stuffing, but fear not, the whole entree actually tasted really delicious. In particular, the butternut squash stew served as an excellent dip for our pita, which I will talk about next.

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Both our entrees were accompanied with this bread, which the waitress gladly refilled for us free of charge more than once. The pita was cold and even somewhat soggy near the bottom, but that did not affect my overall impression of the food. Here, pita bread was kind of equivalent to rice for an Asian dinner: a staple food. Dessert came around and this time we decided to share. Michelle suggested sharing the Baklava ($8), which are pastries deriving from the Ottoman Empire, according to Wikipedia. The flavours Nuba offered were pine, walnut, almond, and ma’amoul – a type of Middle Eastern pastry made of pistachio and shortbread. All of the baklava were drenched in syrup, as indicated in typical recipes, so they were EXTREMELY sweet. I am a sweet tooth though, so that did not matter much. My favourites of the evening were pine, for its strikingly similar taste to my favourite maple flavour, and ma’moul, which presented a chalky type of shortbread infused with pistachio that melted on my tongue. The others, walnut and almond, I felt were a little bland because all I was able to taste was sugar.

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Looking at the mixed reviews on Urbanspoon, I must say I disagree with most of the negative reviews. The service and food I received were great; as for the portions, they were deceiving for appearing to be small at first. At the end of the meal, after the layered pastries, I found myself to be much fuller than antiicpated. If you look at other restaurants in the same area offering dinner, their prices do not differ greatly from one another, so I would say the price was reasonable. All in all, I am pleased to see that Vancouverites are given the chance to taste Lebanese cuisine at Nuba, given that Middle Eastern food is not too common around town, as opposed to other types of food such as Japanese or Western.

Nuba on Urbanspoon

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