Remember the line about the postman not wanting to take a walk on his day off? When you review restaurants for a living, the thrill of going out to eat is somewhat, shall we say, dampened. The last thing I want to do on a day off is go out to eat at a restaurant… that postman has my sympathies. But as a result I rarely go out to any non-client eateries just for the experience. My significant other finds this most annoying.
Saturday was a rare weekend day off from doing work. After a late afternoon viewing of “The King’s Speech” (which was deserving of every Oscar it won) it was decided to go out to dinner at Za, one of the few non-Asian restaurants in Arlington. We pulled up at 6:20 and were still smiling about the movie when we saw the waiting line for tables. You would think someone in the industry might think that it would be a good idea to make a reservation for a table on a Saturday night… but that little detail never occurred to me (hey, I was not working, remember?).
This is how we ended up at Pasha, a fairly new Turkish restaurant where we had tried the take out once before the week they had first opened. Pasha is shoehorned into a long narrow space in Arlington Center. Once past the window seating (where it is 10 degrees colder than the rest of the room) you are basically seated at a long banquet table for 20 or more with a few inches of space between your eating area and the next group (and perhaps also their kids). At the back there is a six seat bar with no one working specifically as a bartender. There was barely audible (I assume) Turkish music and a video travelogue about what was likely Turkey on a TV screen that ran continually, could not be heard, and had no closed captioning.
The unit was quite busy and had only one open table (a deuce by the door) that no one as of yet was dumb enough to accept, as each time the door opened the temperature at that table matched the lovely 25 degrees it was outside on this evening.
The wait staff (all female) work the tables, greet the guests and work as hosts, and also share the bartending duties. The name on our check was Waiter 3… does that tell you anything? Good for labor costs, not always good for prompt customer service or learning names. The staff were all smiling, but for some English was clearly a second language. They seemed either unsure of the menu items, unsure of English, or unsure of the guest’s pronunciation of what they wanted, so they often asked guests to point at the items in the menu they were ordering. There were only two Turkish red wines by the glass, and one of them was out of stock. The beer selection was extremely limited but they did carry both Turkish brands Efes and Efes Light (if you do not smile at the thought of Efes Light I do not know what else to say) but sadly Efes dark was no longer available.
We took open bar seats while waiting for the next spot in the long crowded row of dining room tables and decided to stay there rather than move to the newly opened table. This turned out to be one of a succession of good choices we made that turned the experience into a more positive one. The bar offered a bit more room and privacy (albeit only because for much of the visit we had the entire bar to ourselves) . As there was no bartender per se, guests can order from any waitress who goes back there. Some of the staff cater to bar guests and asked if they needed anything, but nearly everyone stopped what they were doing to fulfill a bar guest’s request. When we asked to taste a Turkish red wine before we ordered it the waitress looked like she had not heard a request like that before, but gave us the taste of a $9.95 Turkish wine that tasted like a cheap merlot. The Four Vines red zinfandel was less money ($7.95) and much better.
We called over to one of the staff and ordered our meals when no one had asked if we were ready to order food; a bowl of red lentil soup, the Arugula salad, and mixed grill kebab combo. Bread and three types of toppings (hot salsa, flavored oil, and olive paste) were served quickly. The red lentil soup ($3.95) was a large bowl, served just hot enough to eat easily, and while it had the brownish color and consistency of (lets politely call it) waste water, it was tasty.
The entrees made the visit. The Arugula salad ($8.50) was a large colorful bowl of greens, fresh avocado slices, onion, and red tomatoes in a light dressing. The mixed grill kebab ($20.95) was outstanding; thin slices of lamb, steak tips, chicken, and a small burger with bulgur rice and a tomato/pepper/parsley salad that I for one could not eat enough of. The three items were enough for two with some take home left over so the dog could share our evening with us.
The wait staff kept making little hourglass shaped glasses of Turkish tea in front of us, so we had to try that also. The tea is made at a weaker or stronger strength by how much hot water is added to the already brewed tea. The apparent manager was behind the bar later in the visit, and he happily chatted with us about the tea, the strength of Turkish coffee, and how he did not mind guests stealing the tea glasses but not the coffee holders. However he never asked us how we liked the meals, if we had been in before, or tried to learn anything about us to get us to return again soon. These are all things the staff should be trained to do to build business, but if the manager is not doing them, how fair is it to expect the staff to do them?
The service overall could use some work; if you are not using a host, at lease use a specific wait staff member who speaks and understands English the best. Perhaps assign one key person to work the bar as well as their tables so these guests are always well attended to rather than have to flag down someone. Based on this visit, we would sit at the bar again rather than the cramped dining room spaces so maybe this area will catch on. Bottom line is we went home happy and full for $53.00 before tip. The problems with service should improve with some small changes; perhaps a return visit on a weekday evening would be more revealing. Who knows, I may actually (shudder) go out again soon to another location that is not a client and pay for a meal rather than get paid for being there.