How a restaurant does with its vegetarian and vegan options is a strong indicator of the skills of those working in the kitchen. Since you're not dealing with the traditional meat-starch-vegetable combination, dishes have to be creative; both the restaurant and the patron need to step out of their typical lanes. I've started spending the majority of my time as a vegetarian, so that creativity has become essential. While I still love a great piece of meat, I'm trying to eat it only on rare occasions and in smaller portions.
My wife and I decided to try El Basha in Victor to see to see how things would go if we took meat off the menu for a night. If you're a staunch meat-eater don't worry — we tried some of the animal-based options on our second visit.
El Basha's menu puts an Egyptian spin on Mediterranean classics, and features ample vegetarian options. We kicked things off with the Egyptian Delight ($6 as an appetizer; $12 for a plate), an engaging variety of dips and falafel all in a fried pita bowl. The savory mix of components worked, although the individual flavors of the foul, eggplant, and tahini got lost. The house-made falafel stood out, with a base of dried fava beans and chickpeas that had a crunchy exterior and a moist interior. These fritters alone were worth the trip — it's hard to find good falafel like this in Rochester. If you're looking for a to-go option, the falafel pita ($6.50) is a well-balanced bet.
The Koshary ($12) combined al dente lentils, chickpeas, and rice in what came across like an Egyptian garbage plate. The house red pepper hot sauce was dynamic and a necessary addition to the Koshary to brighten up the dish's cooked-down tomato sauce topping. An addition of yogurt could have helped round out the dish, and would have made things a little messier. A garlic-laden hummus ($5.50) served with toasted pita was a solid side dish, but fresh pita and more lemon would have made more of an impact.
These dishes made for a completely satisfying, delightful meal that never felt the need for meat. If you want to explore taking meat out of your diet, the execution at El Basha makes it easy to do so.
Still, on our second visit, meat came back into the picture, starting with the Kebda Alexandria ($8 for an appetizer; $16 for a plate). The dish's tender slices of beef liver had a delightful marinade with notes of lemon, cumin, and garlic. The meat was over salted, but the spice level was spot on with slices of hot pepper to go on each piece.
Lamb's more intense flavors can be overwhelming if not balanced with complementary ingredients, and the Fata Carouf ($18) did it well by braising the meat in a tomato sauce accented with warm spices. It reminded me of a rich Indian dish and one perfect for a cool, fall day.
The Mashawi mixed kebab plate ($18) was cooked well, but in contrast to the Kebda, a lack of salt and seasoning held the dish back from being a standout. I did enjoy the charred edges of the chicken and steak while the subtle addition of fresh herbs in the kafta kebab accented the ground meat well.
Baklava and namoura ($3 for two pieces) both hit the spot for dessert. They were dense and nutty while the namoura was more sweet compared to the subtle baklava. You can also grab the Egyptian Bomb ($7) consisting of namoura and baklava crumbled over a serving of rice pudding. It seemed like it would be excessive but was much less sweet than expected.
You can listen to Chris Lindstrom on the Food About Town podcast or check out his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.