November 2004 Vol. 39 No. 11
EDEN'S GRILL13843 N. Tatum Boulevard, Phoenix, 602-996-5149
Twice in one week, I heard that Eden's Grill was fantastic, and I took that as a sign that I should go. I really must listen to those inner promptings more often, because this charming Middle Eastern restaurant is a real gem.
Owners Marcus and Shalem Narsa moved here from Chicago last February, but they're originally from Iraq - the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization, the place where scholars believe that God created Eden. And so, being Christians, they named their restaurant after that paradise lost, adding the somewhat incongruous "grill," I suppose, to convey something about their kebab-oriented menu.
Their daughter, Nahren, waits on my friends and me one evening, and it's clear that she’s proud of the labor intensive, made-from-scratch dishes her mother creates. And she should be. I don't think I've eaten a single thing I didn't like.
Oh, maybe the yogurt-cucumber dip could be a little zingier, but the hummus is wonderfully creamy and the baba ghannouj has that smoky quality I love.
At Eden's, Nahren says, nothing comes from a can, and that includes the grape leaves that serve as wrappers for a plush mixture of rice, chopped onion, dill, mint, olive oil and spices. I seldom like dolmeh, and now I know why It's the can that gives the grape leaves that acrid flavor. At Eden's, however, they're lovely We sample all four of the above-named appetizers from a platter for $11.95.
There are potato-cake appetizers, too - crunchy, puffy ovoids filled with meat or veggies (green beans, carrots, mushrooms and onion) and served with yogurt-cucumber dip ($5.95). But watch out. Portions are generous and you're going to be stuffed before all's said and done. Feasting is the Iraqi way
Nahren refuses to divulge which herbs and spices make each dish so aromatic. I detect cinnamon in many things, including wondrous basmati rice, golden in color and strewn with raisins, sultanas and toasted almonds. My broiled catfish (cooked, the menu says, with lemon, herbs and red wine, $14.50) has a sprinkling of sweet spice on it, too. It's unlike any catfish I've ever had, and it's delicious.
Eden's gyros (a mixture of pressed beef and lamb, broiled and thinly sliced, $11.50) are worlds better than pre-fab versions served elsewhere, but it's the kebabs that really shine. Both lamb and beef tenderloin; meaty and delicious, are wonderful with charred bell pepper, onion and tomato. Even better, however, are golden, turmeric-tinted chicken and ground beef kebabs - moist, fork-tender and fragrant with herbs and spices.
There is absolutely no room for baklava, but we order some anyway because Nahren assures us it is neither cloyingly sweet nor soggy, and she's right. Sprinkled with ground pistachios and drizzled with special syrup rather than honey, it's crisp and miraculously light - the best baklava I've ever eaten.
There's no going back to Eden, but I'll settle for Eden's Grill any day
Lunch, 11 a. m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday; dinner, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., daily.
- Food Critic Nikki Buchanan can be reached at email@example.com