Restaurant review: New Grill House serves up commendable Middle Eastern food and warm hospitality

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From the December 5, 2013 edition

While I was admiring what would turn out to be one of my new favorite homey pastries, the amazingly friendly counter guy broke my reverie by saying, “Go ahead, have one, it’s delicious.” As you already know, he was right. He was also one of the most hospitable people I’ve encountered in a restaurant in a while.

After I placed my actual order that night, my new pal pointed at the various chambers of a styrofoam container and said, “I’m gonna put your salad here, your meat here, and I’m gonna put a little something extra for you right there.” Frankly, I don’t care if this lagniappe policy was only a limited-time ploy to hook in a new customer, because the food I’ve recently enjoyed at the newish Grill House is enough to do the trick alone.

Taking over the ex-Beyrouth space, the to-go oriented Grill House is a simple but very clean room with a few tables, a TV and several bar stools looking onto High Street windows. Initially, this not-always-quick and often-out-of-menu-items place seems a little hard to figure out because its menu is loaded with deli-style stuff (I’ve yet to try). But its soul is clearly Middle Eastern.

For instance, that aforementioned salad (with romaine, scallion, parsley and a lot of big cucumber chunks) was a delightfully rustic and assertive-with-red-wine-vinegar Fattoush ($7), whose extra-crispy pita chips and touches of sumac and mint overrode its pale fresh tomatoes. The meat ($4 extra) was earthy dark curls of aromatically spice-leavened and delicious shawarma.

The huge Mixed Grill Kebab Combination ($20; can feed two) corralled that same allspice-scented shawarma with moist, loose and excellent saffron rice plus other meats bearing a smoky char, like tender, juicy and lemony chicken breast knobs, lean and mean lamb hunks and top-notch, onion-and-parsley-powered kefta logs.

Another recommended medley is the Grill House Mixed Appetizer ($12). That biggie came with a crispy, wonderful and cinnamon-y kibbeh; tahini-and-olive-oil-rich, super-smooth hummus; campfire-smoky, chunky and rich baba ganoush; and five pieces of un-greasy, better-than-most falafel. Oh, and the same “extra” I got with my fattoush: a tart, tangy and addictive red cabbage salad.

That homey pastry? It’s a pistachio-dusted, dense, moist and sophisticatedly just-sweet semolina and coconut cake redolent of citrus and vanilla that’s called harissa here. If you already know something like it called namoura elsewhere, believe me, you need to get to know this one too.

Photos by Meghan Ralston