To be perfectly honest, I have rarely met a hummus I didnt like.
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
Two college friends from Lebanon introduced me to the garlicky chickpea spread, and I was immediately hooked. But some hummus is better than others, and when I swiped a triangle of pita through the silky-smooth golden hummus at the Basha Cuisine, I felt as if I were tasting a great hummus.
Our server warned me one night that I might not want to order hummus as an appetizer because entrees are served with more hummus. I just thought I should tell you. I dont want you getting hummus-ed out.
Never. The more, the better. But I had to figure out what made this particular hummus soooo smooth. A dining companion and I agreed it must be yogurt. When I finally got the chance to quiz co-owner Mohammed Mosley, he soundly rejected our yogurt theory, insisting the hummus was nothing more than chickpeas, garlic, salt, lemon juice and tahini.
The way we prepare it is similar to the way they make it in Lebanon, he said. Technique and proportions set the restaurants dip apart, Mosley said. They soak the chickpeas overnight, then cook them for two to three hours, then spread them on a sheet pan to cool completely before blending the ingredients together.
Mosley is from Jordan. He met his business partner, Nader Shehata, while working at a landscape construction company. They both dreamed of owning a restaurant that reminded them of home from the bedouin-style dining alcove to the decorations hanging on the wall, to the Egyptian chef. A dream starts with the quality of hummus the owners insist on making themselves each day.
When you think about the Middle East, you think of hummus, Mosley says. I take a lot of ownership.
The Basha a Turkish title for a person, association or group of people who have respect, influence, power or authority is in a former hair salon in the strip shopping center at Metcalf Avenue and 105th Street in Overland Park. Moorish-style arches etched into cocoa-colored walls turn what might have been a bland space into something a bit exotic.
A meal starts with fragrant cinnamon, mint or anise tea served in gold-rimmed glass tea cups on a silver platter or a tall glass of ruby-colored hibiscus juice that has the tartness of cranberries and is often lightly sweetened, then served over ice. Next come the appetizers, an array of standard hummus and a deliciously smoky baba ghanoush, meatless dolmas, falafel and kibbeh.
Menu descriptions are fairly straightforward, but if you eat with your eyes, each table is equipped with a small video screen that offers a revolving gallery of mouthwatering dishes. The restaurants website is also highly visual and includes hypnotic mood music.
One of the best dishes I tasted was the chicken shawerma platter chunks of chicken marinated in olive oil, vinegar, spices, grilled and garnished with fresh parsley over rice. Similar was the shish tawook, skewered chicken served with basmati rice that has been cooked with a cheesecloth bag of onions, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves and colored by turmeric.
Mosley estimates 80 percent of the menu is prepared on two grills: a 42-inch charbroiler and a 36-inch flat-top. The kitchen takes up 40 percent of the restaurants 2,900 square feet.
Another standout were the lamb chops, small, tender pieces of grilled meat served over turmeric rice. If youre not a fan of lamb, try the combination platter with chicken kebabs, beef kebabs and kefta (ground lamb) kebabs served over rice.
To try something totally new, I ordered the kushari, an Egyptian noodle dish commonly served from stands throughout Cairo. Elbow noodles were mixed with lentils and topped with fried onions, then served with a side of hot sauce. Its a bland dish that seems to have lost something in translation from street to dining room.
I dined at the Basha on two weekend nights several weeks apart. One exceptionally busy Saturday night the service was rough. Our waiter couldnt find the time to find a proper glass for water, leaving a plastic foam cup at the table (I assume the dishwasher was behind) but never returned to fill it. It was clear watching Mosley and Shehata scramble around the dining room that they were overwhelmed.
But I give them credit for stopping at our table to apologize for any inconvenience, offering complimentary baklava and bowls of thick, creamy Egyptian rice pudding made with whole milk and cream then dotted with slivered almonds and golden raisins. They told us they had been caught off guard by a party of 20 that showed up without a reservation to celebrate a graduation.
On another visit, the owners recognized us as return customers, and Shehata waited on us. The service was gracious, as it had been on my first visit at lunch, but not overly attentive. We were through with the appetizer platter before we were able to get napkins and silverware, and plates did not get cleared in a timely manner.
At the end of one meal, my Brazilian husband and Palestinian dinner guest gulped down strong Turkish coffee, then swirled the dregs around, trying to read their fortune. Things were murky at the bottom of the cup, so they poured the grounds onto an uncleared dinner plate, but the international parlor game made Mosley smile.
I dont read my horoscope, and Im not a big believer in fortunetelling. After all, back in high school a flaky fortuneteller told me I had lived a past life as Marie Antoinette. But I do predict the Bashas owners will succeed in smoothing out their service bobbles.
Sampler combo appetizer platter | $7.99
Mixed grill platter | $13.99 for one, $26.99 for two, $49.99 for four
Chicken shawerma plate | $7.99 lunch, $10.99 (larger portion for dinner)
Rice pudding | $3.99
WHAT TO DRINK
The Basha Cuisine does not have a liquor license. Instead, choose from a selection of teas, including a fragrant cinnamon tea served in glass tea cups, and strong Turkish coffee. Mango juice and a jewel-toned hibiscus juice are a change of pace from the usual soda.
THE BASHA CUISINE
7016 W. 105th St.
Food: * * *
Service: * *
Atmosphere: * *
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Entree average (including nightly specials): $$
Vegetarian options: There are plenty of options here, starting with hummus and moving on to the veggie plate. Also plenty of salads, lentil soup and kushari, a three-layer dish of lentils and rice, elbow pasta and fried onions topped with tomato sauce and served with a side of hot sauce, which is vegan.
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Parking: Shopping center parking lot.
Kids: The kids menu offers burger on pita or chicken nuggets. If you have a beige eater, try the chicken sandwich, shredded white meat tucked into a pita pocket and pressed on the grill. It comes with a potato dip that resembles a thick mayo and French fries.
Noise level: Very comfortable for conversation.
Reservations: Appreciated for groups of more than seven or eight, but not necessary.
Star code: * Fair, * * Good, * * * Excellent, * * * * Extraordinary
Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.
Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewers. The Star pays for review meals.