Monday, August 20, 2007

Restaurant Review: DishDash in Sunnyvale, CA

I was in bad shape. Silicon Valley was supposed to be a center of diversity, right? I certainly saw a lot of different ethnicities while I was there. But as near as I could tell, none of them could cook. After two failed attempts at finding Indian restaurants with my rented GPS, I finally found an Indian market selling samosas from a heat lamp next to the register. They were okay.

The cafe down the hall from the training center was largely disappointing. As it turns out, it was also where I ate 2/3 of my meals in California. The only thing that really qualified as good was their falafel sandwich, which as advertised as being served in a pita, but was actually served in a tortilla. Judging by the flavoring, I wondered if the Arabic family that owned the place had intended a fusion southwestern American falafel. One night I ventured over to a Thai restaurant, and was completely unable to finish even half of my meal.

Quite frankly, I felt almost as if I was being punished for my attempts at eating not just the occassional adventurous meal, but for eating in California in general. By Wednesday night, I had given up. I walked over to the IHOP adjacent to the hotel and picked up some take-out. It was the most successful meal that I had eaten all week. Fortunately for me, my good friend Scott lives in Cupertino. On Thursday night, he took me to a restaurant in Sunnyvale that saved my culinary experience from a fate worse than mediocrity.

I was already feeling better by the time we parked in a crowded parking lot in downtown Sunnyvale. He had described DishDash as "Mediterranean", which I translated as "Italian/Greek". Nothing adventurous, but I like to think that Scott has good taste. The restaurant was crowded and noisy, and it looked perhaps a little more upscale that I had originally been willing to give it credit for. As I opened the menu, I realized that Scott had apparently been thinking of the South side of the Mediterranean, not the North where Italy and Greece are. This was definitely reminiscent of much of the Lebanese food that I had come to love. I must admit my excitement level suddenly spiked.

I insisted on ordering grape leaves as an appetizer. They were cold (I'm used to warm), but they were incredibly good. In fact, they were at least the second-best grape leaves I've ever had (mine are still the best; I guess I should post a recipe as soon as I get back home). The cucumber yogurt sauce was also among the best I've ever had, and altogether, my tastebuds had enjoyed an excellent implementation of a dish common both in Greece and below.

For my entree, I ordered something called "beriani". I had never heard of it before, but the menu description had a few key words that appealed to me: beef, potatoes, raisins, yogurt sauce, rice. After the grape leaves, this promised to be good. When it arrived, I must say I was a little disappointed. It literally looked like a large dome of yellow rice centered in a pool of what I initially thought was bechamel. It threatened to claim a position with the rest of the bad food I had eaten that week.

I was so disappointed with the presentation in fact, that I failed to remember that this dish was supposed to have beef in it, until I stuck my fork into the rice and found a chunk of it. Much to my surprise, the chunk of beef that I had found refused to stay together. It was literally falling apart. My first taste emphasized my newfound expectations: while just a tad bland, it was some of the most tender beef that I had ever put into my mouth. I couldn't stop. I can't say I entirely resisted the temptation to start shoveling it in. A golden raisin found its way onto my fork, and the flavor of the beef suddenly magnified, complimented by the sudden burst of fruit. I was so intent on eating my beef and rice that I almost missed the sauce around the side of the plate. Some rice in the path of my destruction had fallen into the sauce, and the sauce found its way to my tongue.

I stopped in shock. I tentatively tasted the sauce again. I instructed Scott to try some as well, with a piece of pita bread left over from out bread course. It was amazing. I couldn't figure out what it was about it. Was it bechamel? If it was, it was the most flavorful bechamel I'd ever laid tastebuds on. I rechecked the menu, which reminded me that it was an "aged yugurt sauce". I started mixing rice with it, and then beef, and anything else I could get it with. It occurred to me that this might be the reason the beef had tasted a little bland. When combined with the sauce, it became a thing of beauty unparalleled by anything I had even hoped to see that week.

Our waiter came over at about this point to ask how things were going. I told him that the food was really good. He thanked me and I said, "no, you don't understand! This is really, really good! You need to go back into the kitchen and tell them that their food is really, really good!" It was the least cliche way that I could think of to send my compliments to the chef.

While we were eating, we sipped on mango laban, a yogurt-based drink that I swear is spiked with just a touch of pineapple (the mango version, at least). It is now a goal in life to recreate that drink. If you're expecting it to taste like American yogurt, I hate to disappoint you. Something that sweet would just be too much. Mediterranean yogurts are saltier, creating a balance in this drink that causes an addiction, but encourages the person drinking it to take the occassional break from it to enjoy the rest of the food.

Our only disappointment came with dessert, a dry baklava assortment that was in complete contrast with the rest of our meal. It was drizzled with some sort of rosewater reduction that honestly just tasted like burnt sugar. I can only hope that the rest of the desserts are up to par.

The next time you're near Sunnyvale, check out DishDash. Despite our baklava, I would go back in a heartbeat. Our drinks, appetizer and entrees were superb, and the wait staff was friendlier than expected, especially considering the rush. If can figure out how they make those mango drinks, let me know. I'm a man in need.

The baklava lost them a few points, but for amazing Mediterranean fare and an extra friendly waiter, I award DishDash three Giadas.

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