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Review of The Sultan Restaurant
You'll have more power in numbers.

by Aileen

If you're going to Sultan's down in Santa Clara, make sure you bring a large party. This is a family restaurant in the since that you need to bring your family or a large party to ensure a good view of the band and the dancer. The restaurant probably seats just under 100, but there are only two tables reserved for parties of two. These are located either far away from the stage or else behind a partition which inhibits the view of the dance floor.

I went down to Sultan's last night, having (foolishly) made a reservation for myself and my sweetheart earlier this week. We arrived 35 minutes after our scheduled 8:00 reservation, thinking that we were adhering to Mediterranean time. But, we were still painfully early. Upon our arrival, we negotiated with the maitre'd about where we would sit. He was somewhat interested in letting us sit at a table for four. As it turned out, he had no record of our reservations, and seemed a bit perturbed that we wanted to sit where we could see the dancer and the band. The house was empty, the lights turned on full blast, and there was no sign of a musician. I was worried that we had come to the wrong restaurant, that we might not see anything until dawn. We decided to sit at one of the tables for two in the outback. Let me cut to the chase, mes amies Americaines, please do not expect to see a dancer before 11:30 p.m.

This situation suited me fine, because the people, the families, the groups celebrating milestones don't waste the time between their dinner and the presentation of the professional dancer. The band, first of all, is a hoot! The band sits above the wood dance floor on a slightly raised stage. The electric keyboard player was obviously enjoying playing for us and doing a few sexy vocals. He was adept at his background tape machine which provided an instant chorus and a zil player. The drummer made full use of the chorus, meanwhile giving us the backbone of the music. He lip-synched to the ladies singing in the chorus and pretended to give us a zhagareet. He tickled me pink with this comedy. I couldn't really see the tambourine player, but I'm sure he was doing a great job. Finally, our oud player also doubled as an Arabic Frank Sinatra. When he started serenading, the lights were dimmed, and it seemed to be a sign to the crowd that they needed to get up and dance. And, thus, my fellow diners and celebrants wasted none of the two and one-half hours waiting for our lovely dancer Terry to get up and entertain us. The crowd was great. They knew how to make themselves happy. I saw good moves from women you might have thought matronly, and from men you might have thought too stodgy to shimmy.

My suggestion for attending Sultan's is to go with a crowd and to go with the flow. Take some friends and you will no doubt make some friends. Do not take a date, do not take Americanized friends who are used to bottled-up easy-to-swallow entertainment. Since I was with the only blonde person in the restaurant and appearing fairly Anglo myself, I must admit that I was a bit too shy to get up and dance, although I clapped vigorously and practically broke my (very uncomfortable chair) by wiggling around. My date commented that he felt as if he were crashing someone's wedding. This isn't such a bad thing, as long as the wedding party doesn't resent your presence. Unfortunately, being a bit inexperienced, it was hard for me to tell if it was acceptable for us to get up and dance or not. Again, please go with a group of friends. It's always easier to attack a dance floor in numbers, rather than as one single shy girl, who looks like she just stepped off the boat from Ireland.

For appetizers, we sampled the foul and the Jerusalem salad. Foul is supposed to be a dish of fava beans, stewed until it is a perfect creamy combination of bean and garlic. Jerusalem salad is a diced tomato and cucumber mixture marinated in vinegar. This particular vinaigrette had mint in it, which was delightful. The foul was stretched out a bit with garbanzos and even some pinto beans, and a little too much oil on top, but it was delicious nonetheless. Luckily, I'm not one of those fanatic low-fat gurus and I am happy to indulge in a bit of olive oil madness. However, where were the favas? They are an expensive
crop, but I would have preferred a smaller portion with more favas and less filler beans. The pita was not as toasted as I generally like it, but it was warm enough and made for good foul dipping and salad wrapping.

Be warned, if you like to partake of spirits. The beer and wine is $5 a glass regardless or origin or quality. I had a glass of the Cabernet, which hasn't given me a headache yet. Other ladies were enjoying what appeared to be strawberry daquiries with fancy paper pineapple straws. You might need to take out a second mortgage to enjoy these.

The main course was a lamb kebab. We split it, since we were already so full of appetizers. Although our rather inexperienced waiter did ask my friend how he would like the meat cooked, it still came out crispy and not really medium rare. Since I prefer my lamb kebab practically black, the meat suited me fine. The rice was fluffy, somewhat fragrant. We also had lightly done tomatoes and onions to accompany this dish.

In some ways, the inexperienced and slow service can be a blessing. Since the emphasis of the restaurant is on reserved banquets, parties of at least 6 or more, there was no pressure, as is the case in some San Francisco restaurants, for us to leave to make way for the next party of two to four. The waiter was no doubt new to his trade, but he had a great smile and seemed genuinely interested in having us stay and see the dancer. He did delay bringing us this and that, but his dawdling allowed me to stay to see the dancer despite the constant watch-checking of my friend.

Finally, the dancer, the fabulous dancer Terry, emerged from a door near the band. Hey, I'm not gushing, this is what the drummer really said to announce her. Terry is a good dancer. She entertained a fairly demanding crowd. Like I said, we had been entertaining ourselves just fine for two hours, so she had somewhat of a hard act to follow. There was one table of young men, who despite their good dancing, were somewhat obnoxious. They showered her with bills during her first song and threatened to upstage her with their own moves, but she is obviously a completely resilient dancer and she managed them well.

She wore a yellow costume with heavy bead and sequin work and without the typical Egyptian glass fringe. Instead her hip belt was fringed with heavy large gold beads; a matching gold pendant adorned her top. Her yellow chiffon skirt wrapped all the way around. No split skirts here, thank you very much.

Terry entertained us well. And, like the casual dancers who had preceded her that evening, she appeared to enjoy herself immensely. She occasionally sang along with the music. She always paid attention to the crowd and involved us, yes, even those of us seated in the back of the room. Her dance style is enthusiastic. Her moves were at times quick and snapping, as if she were snapping her hip in time to the music, just as easily as I could snap my fingers. Well, maybe she can do it more easily. Terry laughed when she danced and smiled at us all. When the music stopped, she took a drink of water, as if she were a lecturer taking a pause between lofty statements. The drummer handed her a handkerchief to wipe her brow and her nose and her chin. When she danced an earthy number with a cane, she drove the crowd to the brink of insanity.

Her drum solo finale rocked the house with loud clapping and yelling. Finally, I was in a crowd that understood not only how hard it is to make these moves, but also how enjoyable it is to observe them. Unfortunately, I did not stay to see the band's second set, but at 11:30, they were promising to come back on sometime that night. Maybe you can go sometime, and tell me what happens after midnight.

If you want to take the plunge, here's the directions to Sultan's



Take 101 South to Lawrence Expressway Exit
Take Lawrence Expressway to El Camino Real exit (get in the right lane for the exit)
Take a left onto El Camino Real.
Go through about 4 stop lights.
The restaurant is on the left hand side of the road (if you're going south)
Tucked away into a little strip mall called Bowers Park (spelling?)
You can hardly see it from El Camino, but it is there!
3099 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, 408.296.5318

Ghanima also teaches dance at the restaurant-
Email ghanima@anatours.com,
or call (408)246-7646 for further info

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