Middle Eastern dining shines at Petra House

A Mediterranean atmosphere envelops all the senses

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Why: Issak and Elizabeth Dakar, owners of the local Peachtree restaurants, have opened Petra House Restaurant. Their new restaurant opened on Nov. 5, and features traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. Petra House has been fashioned to exude an authentic ethnic experience for the whole family, offering hand-washing and floor-style seating.

Atmosphere: Much care was put into transforming the strip mall space to present itself as a window into the origin of its cuisine. Richly colored drapes, shades, and rugs have been combined with numerous brass effects and other decorator items to enhance the atmosphere. Seating offers regular booths in addition to the floor seating, which allows a more intimate dining experience. Dinnerware is an attractive extension of the atmosphere: delicate glass and china tea cups and saucers trimmed in gold and silver; vintage blue and gold teapots; and a potpourri of plates and bowls. Each table is topped with a large, round brass tray. A variety of brass lanterns add interest above.

What I Tried: To start, I chose the Foul Maddamis, a fava bean dish, but I was told by the server that it was not available so I decided on the Baba Ghanouj, a blend of baked eggplant, lemon juice, garlic and tahini sauce. The dip was served drizzled with olive oil and garnished with parsley and olives. Two fresh-baked petite pitas accompanied the dip. It reminded of guacamole and paired well with the pitas.

I settled on the Chicken Shawarma Plate for my entree and my dining companion had the Chicken Kabab Plate. Both entrees were served with basmati rice (colored yellow with turmeric) and a small, fresh Petra salad consisting of chopped romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and parsley tossed in a light vinaigrette and sprinkled with sumac. The chicken on my shawarma was flavorful and had a somewhat ground texture, though the menu described the meat as “strips.” The chicken kababs — lemon-garlic marinated, drizzled with a tangy yogurt sauce and served over rice — were made with halal chicken (a term for meat raised and handled in accordance with Islamic law). The chicken was moist and tender.

For dessert we sampled the homemade Baklave with Turkish Coffee. The Baklave was good, though it did not have the chopped pistachios of the picture on the menu — disappointing because pistachios mark the best baklava, in my opinion. The coffee was delicious, close to the best I’ve had. The mark of a perfect cup of Turkish Coffee — strictly my preference, not because of tradition — is an oil slick on the surface. I also prefer to swirl the mud into the last sip, which is against tradition.

Menu Highlights Beyond what I tried: The Lamb Shank, served with taziki and basmati rice, sounded delicious. On Saturday, Mansaf (lamb cooked in a yogurt sauce and served with rice) is the traditional dish for the day. Gyros, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves are on the menu as well. Knafeh is another dessert option. This is made using shredded phyllo dough, white cheese and housemade syrup.

Other Observations: The prices are well matched to quality and portions. I found the waitstaff anticipated our dining needs quite well and were also polite and knowledgeable about the menu. The atmosphere does a good job at taking away the strip mall feel of the restaurant when you walk through the door. I hope keeping the many surfaces clean and dust-free will be a priority — if not it, will greatly detract from the experience.

Cost: Appetizers cost $4.99 to $6.99. Wraps are $7.99. Soup is $5 and salads are $6. A soup and salad combo is $8.99. Entrees are $12 to $16. Daily traditional dishes are $15 to $19. Open-faced pies are $5.99 and $8.99. Desserts are $3.99 and $4.50. Sides are $1 to $7.99 and traditional beverages are $2.90.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Telephone: 360-718-7182.

Online:petrahousewa.com.

Where: 1900 N.E. 162nd Ave., Suite D-106, Vancouver.

Health Score: Petra House has received a pre-opening inspection and is scheduled for a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.