In Downtown, it’s business as unusual
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Looking over Zohra’s menu was frustrating. My issue wasn't limited to classifying, or perhaps clarifying, a rundown of far-reaching Middle-Eastern cuisines. Attempting to separate Indian dishes from Pakistani dishes from Afghani dishes from Iranian dishes is challenging enough; try adding Navajo tacos, hamburgers and spaghetti to the mix. Zohra does, apparently covering its bases by offering anything a Downtown diner could possibly want. It’s a lot to consider. The menu comes off as muddled, but the broad claim of “authentic cuisine” covers a little bit of everything. Don't concentrate too hard. Just point somewhere and start chewing.
I loves me some meat on a stick, so I immediately went for chicken kababs over rice ($7.95). The chicken was moist and unbelievably tender. It melted away from its skewer like a Popsicle in July. And the rice? Fluffy and light and dotted with peas. Each basmati grain stood alone without clumping or sticking.
The chicken was moist and unbelievably tender. It melted away from its skewer like a Popsicle in July.
Chicken salan ($4.99) had the same beautiful chicken, minus the stick. Here, it was stewed in a rich, warm gravy heavy with cardamom and mint, among other aromatic spices. Absolutely lovely. It was surprising, too, to find myself eating such a stunning Middle Eastern representation in a nondescript corner of the Galleria office complex.
And then, hello gyro! To be honest, gyro meat usually pisses me off. It’s so ... undefined. And it spins upright. While Zohra’s wasn’t altogether unique, it did carry a certain “favorite street-cart” flavor. It was the kind of gyro you stumble out of a bar craving. Technically correct or not, it was good (and only $5.50).
Skip the spaghetti and meatballs ($5.95). Period. The noodles conjured uneasy memories of Chef Boyardee’s trademark mushiness, while the sauce was flatter than a prairie in Kansas. This pasta pile should have been cast into exile along with its meatballs, which were inexplicably sweet, as though they had been glazed in honey.
Falafel ($5.50), on the other hand, was just right: crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside and nicely spiced throughout. Stuffed into a pita and topped with chaka (an Afghani sauce of yogurt and cucumber), the fried falafel is sold as a compact, meatless lunch. Almost all Zohra's dishes are served with a dollop of chaka which, like its Greek cousin tzatziki, acts as a cooling contrast against the warmth of numerous seasonings.
Since soft drinks are served canned or bottled, carrying your lunch back to the office is easy and spill-free. Service is fast and counter-style; orders are taken and prepared in no time. A small dining room gathers patrons around a large, flat-screen TV, although staring out the windows at business-attired passersby is also an option. Open only for breakfast and lunch, Zohra's clearly caters to the 9-to-5 crowd. And if you can’t tear yourself away from your desk, you can have your fragrant dish of salan delivered right to your cubicle.
The Alibi recommends:
• Falafel sandwich
• Gyro sandwich
• Chicken skewers over rice
• Chicken salan and making faces at guys in suits
Zohra, 20 First Plaza Suite 246, 247-2323. Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Price range: $2.75 (Afghan rice) to $8.95 ( shoahla rice with spices, beef and beans). Ambience: Ethnic food without the knickknacks. Credit cards, delivery, catering.