Last night I had the most unusual meal in quite some time when Tony and I dined at Al Waha Restaurant and Hookah Lounge on South Grand. Al Waha, which means "oasis" in Arabic, is a Bedouin restaurant, one of only a few restaurants in the country to offer the cuisine. Bedouins are a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group, and based on Al Waha's menu, their food seems to be similar to any number of Middle Eastern cuisines.
Bedouins were originally nomadic people, and the idea of hospitality is ingrained in their culture. Our meal began with a traditional gesture of hospitality, a bit of Bedouin coffee brought by our waitress. It was dark, strong, and mixed with cardamom; a great start to the evening. The waitress came back a few minutes later to take our order, and it didn't take long for the food to arrive.
I started with a yogurt salad, which was a mixture of finely-chopped greens, cucumber, green onion, slivered almonds, and tomatoes topped with yogurt. For dinner, I got the Al Waha plate, which the menu described as ground beef cooked with pomegranate and tomato sauce, garlic, and chili peppers served over basmati rice with raisins, crushed almonds, and dried apricots. This dish looked like a work of art! A large dome of rice was mounded in the center of a round plate, with a border of lightly-sauced meat circling it. The top of the dome was garnished with a bit more meat, dried fruit, and nuts. It had a unique flavor-savory with sweet bursts from the fruit, and a very slight hint of heat from the peppers.
Tony chose Menezulah, a mix of eggplant, onions, garlic, and potatoes in tomato sauce. It was also served with basmati rice. His dish wasn't as beautifully composed (the entrée filled one half of his oval plate, and a large portion of rice covered the other), but as much as I liked my meal, I might have liked his more! If there had been an easy way to split the food we would have done that, but instead we nibbled from each other's plate in addition to our own until everything was gone.
There were two desserts on the menu. One of them was baklava, which I've had many times, so we shared the more unique sounding Palace's Nest, a mixture of toasted sweet bread, raisins, almonds, pistachios, dried apricots, and shredded coconut. It was a bit like a cold bread pudding which was topped with a layer of whipped cream and garnished with a more coconut and a bit of dried fruit., and it was delicious. I finished the meal with a cup of fragrant mint tea...as much as I liked the Bedouin coffee, it was getting late and I needed a non-caffeinated drink.
The front room of the building also doubled as a section for hookah smoking. There was a man indulging as we left, but that will be an adventure for another night.