East is East is one of those places I often pass by, sometimes every Saturday since Happy Pho nearby is the unofficial headquarters of Dot Com Pho, but have never tried. Not for any particular reason…just never have but I’ve always enjoyed the “…well, no kidding.”-factor when it comes to the restaurant name. Food is food. Chair is chair. Ed is Ed. Are we just stating the obvious now?
Previously located a couple doors to the left, East is East is one of the best looking Middle Eastern restaurants in town although there aren’t exactly a lot of them around. I’ve always lamented that most people only experience wraps and shawarma after a night of drinking. Don’t get me wrong…that was one of my favorite things about drinking in Europe…that there’s a shawarma place around every corner but that’s just a tiny part of this delicious style of food. There’s a wealth of spices and flavors that aren’t found anywhere else and to be honest, with all the sushi and pho joints in town, don’t you want to break up the routine sometime?
The food is a sort of fusion of cuisines from the Middle East as well as India and Southeast Asia, borrowing from several different cultures so you really can’t put the menu into any more specific of a category. The Dot Com Pho crew is full of adventurous eaters so when we decided to film at East is East that week, we were all excited to dig in at East is East.
East is East also contains Chai Gallery, a Middle Eastern-inspired teahouse. I had barely sat down before the server brought me a complementary chai tea. I’m more of a tea drinker than coffee and I absolutely love teas from the Middle East. It’s fragrant and intense so despite the small cup, don’t drink it all at once…
The menu is diverse and sort of overwhelming. There are so many options and each description sounds very different from the rest. They all sound delicious…even some of the vegetarian and vegan options if you’re into that sort of thing. I, as well as some others of the Dot Com Pho boys, went with the Silk Route Feast ($19), which let’s you pick two (at a time…) from the following:
- Afghan eggplant (vegan)
- Eastern ratatoullie (vegan)
- Alu Gobi (cauliflower and potato in tomato sauce…also vegan)
- Peas and cheese
- Spinach paneer (vegan)
- Mango butternut squash (vegan)
- Thai tofu (vegan)
- Chickpea (vegan)
- Persian Korma Sabzi (you can get this without lamb for a vegan dish)
- Wild salmon
- Minced beef kabab
- Chicken masala
- Lamb pan kabab
That’s a whole lot of vegan options and you can try everything if you want to so despite my better judgement, I even ordered some of the meatless dishes to go with my delicious animals. By the way, I’m told that the meat here is Halal but I would probably ask to make sure if that’s important to you.
I started with the wild salmon and the Afghan eggplant. The salmon is baked in miso (…are you sure?), coconut milk, lime leaves and red/green curry. The flavor is fantastic (although I couldn’t tell where the miso was) but a little too mild and the salmon is a tad dry. We didn’t ask for spicy but cooking with spice doesn’t mean it has to be hot. It’s lacking in that intensity of flavor you’d expect from Middle Eastern food but it’s tasty and goes great with the coconut rice.
I really enjoy eggplant but I get it’s a bit of a mixed bag for people. The eggplant here is tender without being soggy, served with a vibrant tomato, herb, onion and garlic sauce.
One platter is a lot of food as it also comes with flatbread, a surprisingly delicious salad and a small cup of soup as well as Afghan and coconut rice. You can pick two entrees at a time but you can pick anything off the list. If you don’t want another set of sides, you don’t have to get all of them each time you get a refill on your Middle Eastern feast but I thought the Afghan rice was delicious enough to get a second helping.
Next up was the lamb pan kabab and spinach paneer. The lamb is cooked with ginger, onion, tomato, garlic and curry. The lamb is tender and looks like it’s going to have some strong flavor but it’s actually quite mild. It’s still quite tasty but again doesn’t have the flavor profile you expect from Middle Eastern cuisine.
The spinach paneer got some mixed reviews. The cheese is creamy, stringy and delicious but the spinach puree is quite bland, lacking in both salt and…spinach.
The servers provide utensils but if you want, you can dig straight in with your hands like Anthony here. That’s the way this would be eaten anywhere else in the world, right?
Some of the other guys ordered the chai tea but I decided to try one of the fresh fruit smoothies ($4.50). This, the Indonesian, is a blend of kiwi, strawberry, banana and blueberry. The fruit flavors are bold (is there even ice in here or is this all fruit?) and tangy.
Also on the table were a couple of these roti rolls ($11.50). I didn’t give them a try since the feast was more than I could handle already but they looked pretty good and come with a soup and salad.
Strangely, I really enjoy East is East and the food was delicious although not what you’re expecting. I equate it to the sort of Chinese food that actual Chinese people hardly ever eat themselves like sweet n’ sour pork and General Tso’s chicken. They’re delicious when done well, a guilty pleasure for most of us, but if you had prior knowledge of actual Chinese food, then it would be a bit of a shock. East is East serves very tasty food but it definitely tastes like a fusion restaurant with Middle Eastern food adapted to Western palettes rather than an “authentic” Middle Eastern experience.
Nothing wrong with that. We all really enjoyed our meals and at $19, the Feast is a great value. The servers were friendly and knowledgable, clearly describing menu items that we weren’t familiar with.
Summary: The food at East is East lacks the spice intensity and punch (but not necessarily heat and spiciness) we’ve come to expect from Middle Eastern food but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. On the contrary, the food is delicious, the menu is great value and the space is festive and interesting without being kitch. It’s an interpretation of Middle Eastern cuisine with strong influences from the surrounding areas. That may not satisfy those looking for authenticity but it also means people who have never tried Middle Eastern food may find it easier to dip their toes in the pool. The Afghan eggplant and the lamb are good places to start.