day nineteen: sahara mediterranean restaurant

June 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Once upon a time, there was a sketchy bar on The Commons called Micawber’s. Often, my friends and I would peek in and wonder what this strange place was and who went in. Only once were we ever drunk enough to try and find out. The year was 2009 and everyone inside was smoking cigarettes like it was 1999, without care. We asked for a local beer, to no avail, then a Yuengling, to no avail, and settled for Budweiser. I was very drunk, yet, canvassing the place, realized I was probably the most sober person there.

A few months later, the windows were covered with official-looking orange stickers reading SEIZED and handscrawled signs warning KEEP OUT. Some lazy Internet searching reveals the story behind the closure: It seems the owner and her partner died in a tragic boat accident that December on the Chesapeake Bay.* Back taxes in the tens of thousands were owed on the place were owed and a warrant was issued. A new owner claimed that he and the previous owner’s family “came to an agreement…right before she was last seen” and wanted to re-open the bar as Micawber’s in her honor. The place remained closed, though, until late 2010, when an overhang was installed which, in Papyrus font, read: SAHARA. A sandwich board on the sidewalk of Aurora Street proclaimed WEEKEND SPECIALS AND BELLY DANCERS.** I peeked inside to see if the belly dancers had arrived yet. They had not, so we went in.

Inside, Sahara looks exactly like Micawber’s with its floors mopped, walls painted, and infamous back room converted into a kitchen. The scene induced a certain kind of hungover déjà vu, which I chased with a little hair of the dog. Sahara’s options for this were decent but limited: Despite the still-installed full bar, Sahara does not have a full liquor license and serves only wine and beer. I went for a Dr. Frank my first visit; a Blue Moon, my second. Not a bad way to start off each evening, I thought.

Each evening went downhill from that first drink. Sahara, as its name suggests, is a food desert. The menu is a mirage featuring promising-sounding but ultimately empty descriptions. I wish I had had my camera with me during my first visit so that I could have snapped a picture of the fatoush. The fatoush was described as “a fusion of flavors, a melange of romaine, sweet tomato, cucumber, onion and toasted pita bread tossed in a light lemon garlic dressing.” What arrived at my table seemed like the remnants of the salad bar after a rush of sorority sisters. The sweet tomato, cucumber and onion were virtually non-existant, and the toasted bread looked like the pita equivalent of bacon bits. Only if “fusion” and “melange” are to be taken at their most elemental meanings — “two or more things mixed together” — could this qualify as either.

Last night, my friends suggested we meet at Sahara. I had already eaten dinner, so first suggested that they snap some photos and report back, in the event my limited sample of the restaurant’s offerings had been non-representative. But it was Friday, I was restless, and ended up heading down to The Commons anyway. I was glad I did, so that I could capture their reactions in person.

The dishes that arrived were basic greasy spoon Greek diner food. I have no problem with this in itself–and, in fact, really enjoy the greasy spoon Greek food at the State Street Diner. But, this wasn’t even good in a guilty way. Even the fries were strange and tasted oddly vegetal. To quote one friend, “Even the pickle is bad. I didn’t know that pickles could be bad.” He insisted I taste the pickle, but I refused. Another friend ordered chicken skewers, which arrived, oddly, skewer-free and looked more liked grilled nuggets.

I suppose the upside of eating at Sahara is that if you stick to the appetizers, salads, or sandwiches, the prices aren’t exorbitantly expensive. That said, the entrees here run $14-$20, which seems outrageous. In honor of its Ionian namesake, Ithaca deserves a Mediterranean oasis. Sahara just isn’t it.

* I don’t boat nor claim to know anything about December boating conditions on the Chesapeake Bay, but, to me, being on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay in December sounds, in general, like a terrible idea.

** The last time I was at a restaurant with belly dancers was at a Moroccan joint in Los Angeles. I was served a platter upon which rested the whole, roasted bodies of three small, harmless animals and pieces of a larger harmless, fourth: Duck, rabbit, squirrel and lamb. I thought if there was a hell for carnivores, after this, I was certainly going to it.***

*** I am really noodling around here, digressing and trying to avoid talking about Sahara’s food, but I suppose I have to get back to it some time or another, huh?

Price: Varies, from the reasonably reasonable (< $9) to the questionably pricier for entrees ($14-$20)
Hours: Open 11am M-Sat for lunch and dinner; 4:30 Sun for dinner only
Recommended: Sitting in the patio area
Website: Sahara

Sahara on Urbanspoon

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