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Nabil El Safy at The Luxor

Gilded Serpent presents...
Noshing around the Bay
by Neran and

On Neran's first visit back to Bay Area a year after relocating to Knoxville, Tennesee she announced to Nisima, "There are no (and I mean no) Middle Eastern restaurants in Knoxville; let's go to as many as we can while I'm here!" and that was the birth of "Neran & Nisima Noshing......"

Sun Valley Deli
We started our Middle Eastern Bay Area restaurant tour at Sun Valley Deli, a small, clean, moderately priced place in Pacifica.  The food rates four stars with home made falafal, soups, plus coffee drinks, and Dreyer's ice cream.  It is moderately noisy being right off the street. [Nisima’s note: Since we wrote this article, unfortunately, this charming deli has closed]

There is no entertainment/music, but the son of the owner more than compensates with his sunny smile, cordial manner

and offer to open our drinks as we had just had our nails done.  (That was definitely a plus!)

Our next stop was dinner at Tarboosh in Redwood City.  The décor rates 2-1/2 stars with beautiful pottery in wall niches.  However, the lights are way too bright, although they were dimmed when the singer came on around 9:30 pm.  There are too many tables crowded too close together which made it difficult for the wait staff to serve.  We suggest taking out tables near the musicians and two or three tables in main dining area to alleviate crowding, especially when the patrons are dancing in between tables once the music starts. 

Patrons were congenial and ranged in age from their 20s to 60s, predominantly Middle Eastern, and warmly welcomed non-Middle Eastern women. 

The food rates three stars.  We had the $35 price fixed dinner show which has no actual menu; courses are all served family style.  There were several dishes of appetizers; the best being the fried filo dough with cheese but we thought the hummus was a bit bitter.  The main entrée was a large platter of lamb, chicken and sausage kebob and roasted vegetables, delicious.  The dessert, a pink-colored  Middle Eastern cheese cake with coconut and pistachios on top, is definitely an acquired taste.  Nisima swears her dessert was trying to escape from the dish! Tarboosh rates one star on the noise level due to an entire large wall of glass windows to the outside which reverberate the sound inside.  When the music is on, it become almost impossible to speak or hear above it.  We suggest at the very least covering these windows with drapes or tapestries to alleviate the “reverb” effect.  It is not a large restaurant, and singer and band can be heard without amps at full blast.  We rate Tarboosh two and one-half stars for entertainment. 

The singer had a great voice; he took requests and sang along with the patrons. 

It was a fun place with everyone getting up to dance for hours, despite crowded and noisy conditions.  Tarboosh rates three stars for service.  As in a European restaurant, one was not rushed through a course.  One was given time to eat each generous course leisurely before being given another.  Our wait staff, although very busy, was smiling, courteous, and attentive.  We were asked if our table could be moved about a foot to accommodate another table and were thanked profusely for our cooperation; whole process took less than a minute.

Rakkasah Food Court
Our next stop was the Rakkasah Festival Food Court.  It certainly rates low for décor, but it is not a "restaurant" in the true sense of the word, and Nisima and Neran liked being able to “ogle” the sparkly stuff at the vendors right next to the food court while eating! 

The food however, rates only one star:  the hummus was watery and the chicken too spicy. 

It rates one star for noise, but it’s in the middle of a large MED festival.  Because of that fact, we give it two stars for entertainment, as the festival music could be heard.  We rate it one star for service, which was annoyingly slow, we wonder why there had to be one slow line for beverages and another even s-l-o-w-e-r line for food.

Another day, another dinner, and this time we chose Aziza in San Francisco.  The décor was not particularly inviting, way too dim to even see the food much less read the menus, even though there were lots of candles in pretty holders.  Neran did not like the fact that she could not see the "color" of her food, feeling this is part of the presentation.  However, it rates three stars for excellent food – all the appetizers and main dishes were delicious and presented elegantly; we recommend highly the house specialty, couscous with prawns.  The menu offers a selection of “tasting menus” or ala carte and was a tad more expensive but well worth it. 

We rated the noise as one star, as the high ceilings and no tapestries on walls allowed conversations to “float” over from adjoining tables so much that the Middle Eastern music from the bar area was only audible as a droning hum.

We also rate it one star for entertainment.  Aziza no longer has a belly dancer, which was a disappointment,

particularly to Neran, who was in town from Knoxville, Tennessee.  But, we give it three stars for excellent service from the wait staff.  Aziza has wonderful little red "stained glass" hearts left on the table when you pay your bill to alert the wait staff that there is food boxed up for you.  Nisima went crazy over the little hearts, and it was a struggle to get her to leave them after she found out they were not for sale…

El Mansoor banketteEl Mansoor
And yet another evening, and back into San Francisco for dinner at El Mansoor.  This restaurant looks like a Morrocan jewel box! Lush oriental carpets, decorated walls and fabulous colorful beaded chandeliers, which the head waiter informed Nisima were NOT for sale. A very warm and inviting atmosphere, and we rate it four stars.  Dinner rated two and one-half stars from us. 

We highly recommend the game hens with lemon, but the Bastila was a bit less flaky than we have usually encountered. 

We rate it three stars for noise level; the music was nicely muted during dinner.  The music was a bit too loud for the dancer’s performance.  As to entertainment, the dancer Stasha  performed to taped music.  She is a vivacious and experienced dancer with a warm and gracious stage presence and gets the audience up and happily dancing throughout both her shows.  Her cabaret style costuming is tastefully glamorous with just a hint of folkloric to make it distinctly her own.  Service earned three stars.  Our waiters were friendly and never missed pouring tea into small glasses from two feet above!  Neran was very impressed with this skill, which Nisima refused to allow her to practice back at the house the next morning!

Al Masri
Our next dinner was at Al Masri.  The décor is in Egyptian lapis blue, gold and turquoise colors with hieroglyphics above the bar and numerous colorful maps and framed artwork throughout dining area.  However, the large decorative gold “throne-chair” in the middle of the room takes up too much space.

There is no seating at bar as bar stools were removed, which does not convey a welcoming “ambience”, so overall we rated the décor as two stars. 

A jarring element was the host Hatem's habit of monopolizing conversation at our table with off-color and unsolicited stories! As to the food, it was excellent and we give it three stars.  The presentation was delightful, especially well done was the rack of lamb.  Our rice came in the shape of a pyramid. (Throughout the meal, Nisima's rice kept looking like a new Pyramid, and Neran's looked like a ransacked pyramid.  Nisima kept saying she was rebuilding!  Whatever that meant.  Neran just kept eating her rice!)    The Chef is a charming Egyptian woman, whom we had opportunity to meet after dinner and compliment her on her cooking and presentation.  The noise level was low, even though it is a very high ceiling dining room, possibly because there were only four other diners in the restaurant besides us -- on a Friday night!  Service was excellent, but we were the only diners after 8:00 p.m.  Entertainment we rated one star; all the dancers at Al Masri are advanced students of owner Sausan.  The dancer on the Friday we were there performed only one show to taped music.  She was costumed in a gorgeous Egyptian style black and gold bedlah.

Overall, she was technically competent, but lacked the stage presence and polish of an experienced professional; her bright smile signals lots of potential! 

New Luxor
Our last meal (not forever, only on this trip), was the New Luxor.  This place definitely rates three stars for décor.  It is gorgeous and lavishly Egyptian in style with gold statuary in the “nightclub” area, which holds 250 diners. A great place to party the night away to 2:00 a.m. dancing on the large dance floor to the live band with singer, synthesizer, and two, count them TWO drummers!

This place is classy and beckons: come and enjoy! 

We even ran into a couple of Middle Eastern people we knew from our Tarboosh experience the week before!   We had the price fixed menu for the dinner show for $35.  There is also a $30 price fix dinner show choice available; both are served family style with no menu.  For those who just want to dine without the show, there is a dining area separate from the nightclub room which offers standard menu ordering. The food was good and rates two stars.  Since this time, Nisima returned to Luxor to find a new program in the nightclub offering 3 price fixed choices on a printed menu. Each table chooses the $25, $35 or $45 level and the food is served family style. We appreciated not only the good food but having choices.

Terry dancing at the Luxor on another night.

The club is moderately noisy with the band playing.  We were there on a night that was not very busy, and some patrons

asked if the music could be turned down a little, and the band was courteous and accommodating, and we give it two stars on the noise level.  We rate it three stars for entertainment.  Saturdays are the only night the restaurant offers Middle Eastern music and dancers.  For some reason, the dancer was not there, but the band and singer were terrific!

Did we mention TWO drummers?  Singer and musicians performed for three hours without a break. 

They took requests and obviously enjoyed performing.  All the patrons got up to dance, and we were asked to join in.  We were the only non-Middle Eastern people there and no one seemed to care.  (Note:Nisima kept Neran dancing until closing at 2:00 a.m.!)  Our service was excellent.  At the bar before dinner, the bartender struck up a conversation.  (We were two non-Middle Eastern women, wearing coin scarves).  The singer talked with us, not realizing that Nisima had danced professionally for ten years in various and sundry clubs and restaurants in the Bay Area “back in the day”. Service in the nightclub room was warmly courteous even with our requests to adjust the temperature as it was too chilly in the large nightclub room.

In general, we found the food to be very good, the Middle Eastern restaurateurs to be courteous, warm, and helpfully informative. 

As two non-Middle Eastern women, we were welcomed and genuinely had the feeling that everyone at the restaurants wanted us to enjoy our experience with them. 

We do wish that more of the restaurants would include a dance night, and are somewhat at a loss to explain the lack of belly dancers in some of these restaurants.  Overall, we enjoyed ourselves immensely and cannot wait to do another round of Middle Eastern restaurant dinners – we didn’t even cover East or North Bay!

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
12-14-04 My Disastrous Experience at the New Luxor Restaurant in South San Francisco! by Sadira
We noticed patrons around us being brought drinks, and food, yet not one waiter stopped by our table. In true Egyptian style she was showered with dollar bills during her performance from both men and women alike.

5-26-04 Dance Festival or Shop-a-thon? by Nisima
Shukriya, can you hear me now?

4-12-03 Critiquing, the “Agony & The Ecstasy” by Nisima
It’s an unnerving experience to be “critiqued” by your peers, but my personal opinion then and now is that when you perform in public, critiquing just goes with the territory of performing.

3-3-05 The BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does Best by Sausan
Even though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar to that of mine and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime, he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating the dance, and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.

12-7-05 The Universal Categories of The Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition, report by Amy Bonham
held February 19-20, 2005 in Long Beach, California, photos by GS staff

12-3-05 Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part 8 by Edwina Nearing
Begun in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi" were first published under the title "The Mystery of the Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond to the continued demand for these articles by making them available to our readers worldwide.


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