Katerina and I have been friends since high school. After that, she went off to some snooty private school in Washington, DC while I attended Arizona State. She majored in some sort of government studies but ultimately ended up being a school teacher. My guess is she changed career paths when she realized that being a government overseer and managing children were pretty much the same job.
Katerina is also one of those friends that you may not see for a couple of months and then when you do, things pick up right where they left off, with family updates and talk of work and such. Normally, when we get together, we end up at one of our old standards as far as restaurants go, but I convinced her to join me for a review. â€œNothing too weird,â€ she said.
Since I knew she had no aversion to Mediterranean food, I suggested we try a place up in North Phoenix near where Katerina once had an apartment. She wasnâ€™t sure there were any interesting restaurants nearby from what she remembered, but being a good sport, she put her trust in me.
We drove to the intersection of Tatum Boulevard and Bell Road in North Phoenix. On the southwest corner, I pulled into a parking spot nearly in front of Sabaâ€™s Mediterranean cuisine. We walked into the long and narrow restaurant and were instructed to take a seat anywhere. We opted for a table about halfway back.
Upon sitting down, we were visited by our server, a young and somewhat reserved man who handed us menus and filled our water glasses. He welcomed us to the restaurant and took our drink order. Katerina and I both had an Iced Tea ($1.75 each). With our server heading for the kitchen, we went over the menu and I only needed to mention the word â€œhummusâ€ before Katerina let out a very affirmative, â€œOf course!â€ So, we decided on the Hummus ($4.65) to start, followed by the Saganaki ($4.95), because fire, booze and cheese are proof of a loving deity.
When our server returned, we told him of our desires for appetizers and then followed up with our entrees. Katerina thought the Baked Prawns ($12.95) might be a stand out while I couldnâ€™t pass up the Chicken Shawarma Dinner ($10.95). We were told that our meals came with the House Salad, which sounded even better.
Our server departed and Katerina and I spent some time catching up about our work situations and how our respective families are doing. I told her about Dadâ€™s new infatuation with Thai food which she found â€œadorable.â€ I told her about Madgeâ€™s new hairdo to which she put her hand to her mouth and muffled a quiet â€œOh, god.â€ I was also noticing the various artwork on the walls and the decorations scattered throughout. The interior was interesting not from the decorations but from the narrowness of the space. It reminded me more of a restaurant in Manhattan than at a strip mall in Phoenix.
Our server brought out refills on our beverages and also a long basket of hot pita bread that had been cut into large triangles. The pita was too hot to handle at first, but once it cooled a bit, I grabbed a piece and munched on it. The pita was very good. I found its soft interior and crunchy exterior to be a pleasant contrast. It wasnâ€™t chewy in the slightest, although the quality rapidly deteriorated as it cooled. It wasnâ€™t in any way bad when it had cooled; it just wasnâ€™t as top notch as when it was hot.
One or two triangles later, we were served our Hummus. The large, oval plate contained a substantial serving of the dip. I wasnâ€™t sure why it had a yellowish hue, but the taste was excellent. Even though it visually looked as if it had lumps or, perhaps, a gritty texture, it was quite smooth. Thankfully, it hadnâ€™t been drowned in olive oil, but was dusted with paprika and served with a couple of cucumber slices. I was happy with the hummus. It wasnâ€™t the best I have ever had, but it was satisfying.
Another server arrived sporting a cast iron serving dish and ignited the Saganaki. One tower of flame later, we were watching our hunk of cheese transmogrify from a slab of solid cheese into a bubbly delight. The cheese had also browned slightly on the edges. The taste was wonderful, with the remnants of the alcohol still lingering on the exterior of the cheese. Katerina loved the saganaki as much as I did and we rabidly used some of the pita to wipe up the last bits of liquid and cheese.
Just as we finished the saganaki, our salads arrived. The large plates of fresh and crisp greens were covered with a bright yellow creamy lemon vinaigrette. The contrast between the colors made for a beautiful presentation. A tomato wedge and a couple of cucumber slices rounded out the salad. This was a simple preparation with excellent vegetables and a very refreshing dressing. The only fault I could find was that I wished the dressing had been a bit tangier. It had a wonderful lemon edge, but would have enhanced the salad with a bolder taste.
There was only a short gap between the salad course and our entrees. Katerinaâ€™s Baked Prawns arrived first and it was still bubbling around the edges of the casserole dish. The serving of prawns was accompanied by a mound of white rice and some steamed vegetables. The prawns were covered with a mildly spiced tomato wine sauce. Katerina took a bite and was disappointed. â€œThe shrimp is overcooked,â€ she said. I took a bite and the poor creatures had been cooked into a rubbery mass. While the taste of the sauce was excellent, the rubbery texture of the shrimp was a major turn off. Simply dreadful. Katerina did like the fluffy rice and the tender-crisp vegetables, but the remaining rubbery shrimp rested in their tomato-based embalming fluid waiting for the garbage or the disposal.
My Chicken Shawarma, on the other hand, was outstanding. Large slices of grilled chicken were slightly layered around a pile of the white rice. They had then been drizzled with a garlic and lemon sauce which burst with color. Along side the chicken and rice were more of the steamed vegetables and a small plastic cup of a dill yogurt sauce. The chicken had a great smoky flavor and the sauce provided a noticeable creaminess to the feel of the dish. The chicken was tender and flavorful, but it could have been a tad moister. The rice was standard issue, but light and fluffy, so it was fine. The vegetables were nothing special, but hadnâ€™t been boiled into a mushy mess, so I was happy with them. The dill yogurt sauce in the cup was grand. It was just what the dish needed and the combination of the chicken, pita and sauce reminded me a bit of a gyro.
We finished our meals and passed on dessert. Our bill was presented and the total was $40.00 which included tax. We thought this was an excellent value (sans the shrimp). Our server was very good and did a great job of keeping our drinks filled and letting us know that our food was on the way.
As we headed home, Katerina said she thought Sabaâ€™s was good, but still lamented the treatment of her shrimp. That really was the only down side to our meal. The rest was hot, fresh, delicious and a good value. I asked Katerina if she would return. She nodded affirmatively.
Sabaâ€™s isnâ€™t the best Mediterranean restaurant in the Valley, but it certainly held its own.
And the menu didnâ€™t have anything â€œtoo weirdâ€ on it.
Sabaâ€™s Mediterranean Cuisine
4747 East Bell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85032
Hours: Monday through Saturday – 11 AM to 9 PM; Closed Sundays
Notes: The restaurant is in the same plaza as the Wal-Mart.