The Place: Basha’s Lebanese Grill, 3748 Vestal Parkway East, Vestal, NY
The Rundown: First, a quick note: this week’s going to have a fair amount of activity on the blog. First, there was yesterday’s “State of the Blog” post (hard to imagine I’ve been doing this for a year now!), and since Thursday is Pi(e) Day, there’ll be a post about that, too. The first Restaurant Week review (which starts today) will probably be up next week.
Anyhow, review time!
Basha’s is one of the newer restaurants on the Parkway, having opened late last year. In fact, I think they just barely hit my “3 months open” requirement. Located next to Panda III, in what used to be D.P. Dough’s old spot, their location isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best. Their signage makes them pretty hard to miss, though, so that’s a point in their favor.
Basha’s, much like Binghamton Hots, has clearly gone with the “Quick Serve” model of restaurant. You go up to a counter and place your order, and they serve it to you on a plastic tray. However, like Binghamton Hots, they will bring your order to you once it’s done.
Basha’s menu is fairly limited, which is a good tactic for a restaurant that’s just starting out. Food costs are a huge part of a restaurant’s overhead, and it’s prudent to try and keep those low. It also allows the restaurant to focus on perfecting a few dishes, rather than a boatload of them. Quality tends to fall if a cook or chef has to prep for a whole lot of dishes, as well.
If you haven’t had Lebanese food before, it falls under Levantine cuisine. In other words, you’ll find classic “Middle Eastern” dishes such as Baba Ghannoouj and Taboule here. Basha’s seems to be more oriented toward “grab n’ go” type foods, which befits its concept. In other words, they’re much more suited for a quick lunch than a leisurely dinner.
Though I had initially planned on getting some Falafel (which I love to pieces), I changed my mind when I took a look at their menu. Basha’s, to my knowledge, is the only place in the area which offers Shawarma, a dish made popular by this scene at the end of The Avengers:
For the uninitiated, Shawarma is classic Levantine street food, made by roasting meat on a spit (usually vertical, though not necessarily so), then shaving it off and rolling it up with an assortment of vegetables and some kind of sauce in a pita or a flatbread. It’s similar to Turkish Doner and Greek Gyros, though the preparations vary somewhat. In fact, Basha’s also offers their version of a Gyro, if you want to see the differences for yourself.
Basha’s advertises their Shawarma as being marinated in “7 spices and wine”. Some of those spices are sweet spices, such as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom; the others seem to be fresh herbs thrown in after. I was able to pick out parsley and cilantro among the latter. The meat is also tossed in a tahini sauce, which I initially mistook as a yogurt sauce, due to the tanginess of the wine. The whole thing is wrapped up in something similar to a flour tortilla, with lettuce and chopped tomato.
I found the meat to be a bit stringy, but it wasn’t at all tough. I’d say it was about on par with your average cut of stew meat. By now, it should be no surprise that I’m a fan of red meat dishes seasoned with sweet spices, and again, it works well here. The veggies were all nice and fresh, and the acidity of the sauce gave another dimension of flavor to the dish. A couple of notes here, though. First, it is rather messy–expect to look like Bruce Banner up there when you’re finishing this thing off. Second, it is huge.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this thing is at least 10″ long. Granted, that’s the general standard for Shawarma, but it’s still worth a mention. The only other thing I could say about this dish was that I wish that the meat were shaved a bit thinner. I think it might help with the stringiness a bit.
I opted for a side of fries with my Shawarma, which believe it or not is traditional, even in Lebanon (they were under French rule for a while, and this and a few other European dishes became commonplace there). The fries themselves weren’t anything special; they’re the same Simplot fries that most locally-owned establishments serve. Basha’s seems to cook theirs blonde, though, so if you want them crispier, I’d tell them when you’re ordering.
I finished my meal with a piece of Nammoura, a Lebanese cake made with semolina and coconut, then soaked in a floral syrup and garnished with a walnut half. Though I’m generally a fan of floral-flavored things, this didn’t really resonate with me. The semolina reminded me too much of cornmeal, and the texture was very reminiscent of Hush Puppies. Because of that association, every time I bit into a piece that wasn’t positively loaded with syrup, I tasted a fishy flavor. I don’t think it was actually there, mind you–I think my brain was inserting it due to the association. I also thought that the flavors that were present lacked depth–the Nammoura just felt too one-note to me. Some more spices likely would have rounded out the flavors a bit.
The Verdict: If you’re looking for a sumptuous, elegant, relaxed dining experience, then I’d look elsewhere. That’s not Basha’s wheelhouse, and they know it. If, however, you’re looking for a quick, tasty alternative to the fast food joints that litter the Parkway, then I’d give Basha’s a shot. I myself am looking forward to returning so that I can try the Falafel.