Minor misses aside, Pasha deserves a star ranking for its pan-Mediterranean cuisine.
The “shrimp cigars" are a creative combination of fried dough surrounding bits of tiger shrimp and rice noodles.
NORMA LOPEZ MOLINA
A wall-filling mural of the Atlas Mountains isn’t something one expects to find adorning a restaurant in the strip malls surrounding The Mall at Millenia. A pan-Mediterranean menu with some stunning cuisine, even less so.
Pasha (a Turkish word for a high-ranking individual) calls itself a taverna and lounge, and conveys that with a large bar, areas of cushy seats, and a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself to the nightly hookah lounge. Open since October, the restaurant intertwines Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish and Mediterranean cuisines, with Middle Eastern appetizers such as light and creamy hummus and smoky babaganoush ($5.99 each) along-side Greek spanakopita and tyropita—filo filled with spinach or cheeses, respectively ($6.99 each).
The starters are real treasures and are offered as combination platters that would make satisfying meals by themselves. I particularly enjoyed the “shrimp cigars” ($7.99), fried dough sheets rolled around bits of tiger shrimp and curried rice noodles, a brilliant idea that is different enough to be really attention grabbing—and it tastes good, too. The “cigars” were a better use of tiger shrimp than on a kabob ($16.99), basically unadorned grilled shrimp on a stick and a bit overpriced.
Zaalouk ($6.99) is a Moroccan delicacy, a dark-cooked roasted eggplant and tomato salad similar to Italian caponata, spiced with cumin and coriander. By the time I was done, the plate was mopped to a pristine shine. I didn’t enjoy the small football-shaped kibbeh ($7.99) as much, a plate of fried minced beef croquettes that were a bit dry.
Tagine, the signature North African dish, is both the menu item and the pot it is cooked in, a cone-shaped clay vessel that accommodates slow braising of meats and vegetables at low heat, kind of a Moroccan crock pot. As it takes several hours to develop the flavors and textures of these exotic offerings, the charming single-serving tagine that your tagine comes in is not the one in which it was cooked; that is done in much larger ones in the kitchen. But it’s romantic to imagine that this Salome of meals, its one veil dramatically removed at the table to release a fragrant cloud of steam, was cooked specifically for you.
The chicken tagine ($14.99) at Pasha is mellower and more Mediterranean than I’m familiar with, but I’m sure there are as many ways to cook one as there are grains in a bowl of rice. The recipe I use at home shifts to yellow and red—turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and paprika—while Pasha’s spices are greener, full of olives and cumin and cilantro and lusciously tart preserved lemons, a slow-cooked chermoula that infuses the chicken with an almost Italian heartiness and fall-apart tenderness. Rice, now that I’ve mentioned it, accompanies the meal, firm saffron-colored grains that stand up to the rich broth.
Interestingly, Pasha’s meats are prepared under the strict dietary laws called halal (the restaurant itself isn’t halal, as it very proudly serves alcohol). So no pork on the menu. You won’t miss it.
The misses at Pasha are merely pedestrian, but the hits are major delights. There are belly dancers on the weekends, for those in that frame of mind, but for me, a soothing cup of fresh mint tea is all the entertainment I need after some of the pleasures that Pasha is capable of delivering.
Adding another specialized cooker to the repertoire, Pasha uses real couscoussiers, double-leveled steamers that cook pearly grains of pasta and a choice of lamb, chicken or sausage and vegetables to perfection.
Pasha Taverna & Lounge
4104 Millenia Blvd., Orlando