Cafe Reviews

Fat-tushy Fetish

In my line of work, a double-wide backside seems to come with the territory. I'm sure there are certain female food critics in Arizona whose tailbones are as sharp as needles, but really, ladies and gents, should you trust a thin restaurant reviewer, someone more concerned with donning a size 6 or 8 skirt than trying yet another platter of pâté?

This is why, inevitably, men are better restaurant reviewers than women. I know it's chauvinistic to say, but there's less pressure on chaps in our society to have waistlines the circumference of bamboo reeds. I mean, ladies are always worrying about looking like Roseanne, the early years, whereas fellas have no shame in looking like John Goodman, or even the guy who played Norm on Cheers. Um, the bottom line is . . . portly men carry the weight far better than females.

The retort of the anorexic magpies, the skinny chick reviewers out there, will no doubt be that they need only taste a little of what's on their plates to comment upon it. Puh-lease! This attitude explains why the establishments they recommend are almost always precious and frou-frou, with the food itself coming in dead last.

The way I look at it, my hiney's huge so yours doesn't have to be, folks, and I wear my rotund rump like a bulbous badge of honor. Maybe that's why I was tickled to hear that a new place named Fat Tush has opened on 19th Avenue, where the Algerian joint Delicious Couscous was once in business. So like a greyhound after a metal rabbit, I hoofed it over there, only to discover the eatery's moniker wasn't Fat Tush or Fat Tuchis, but Fattoush -- which is a Middle Eastern salad the place makes with romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, mint and toasted triangles of pita bread, all mixed together with a balsamic vinegar dressing. It's a tart, slightly sour treat, and my tushy won't be getting any bigger because of it.

I should point out that I truly adored Delicious Couscous and the unique, Algerian take on Middle Eastern cuisine provided by its owners, Salima and Rashid Hassaine. But Delicious Couscous, the Hassaines' first venture into the restaurant biz, was plagued with service problems. The food (especially the couscous) was outstanding, and I found the Hassaines to be charming, but, upon ordering, customers had to wait forever for the main course. And I suspect this is what killed off DC. I'm sad to see it go, though I understand the reason for its demise.

By comparison, the Zankanas, a family of Kurdish Iraqis who came to Arizona in 2000 by way of Syria as refugees, have really got their act together. You're served fairly soon after your order, and whether Saman the manager or his sister Aya is playing waiter, they're quick to ask if you want a refill of your beverage and to bring more pita bread when your basket is empty. Their mom, Maha, is a fast and able cook, and even if certain items take longer than others, you'll at least have your appetizers out quickly, so you're not starved to the point of looking like Calista Flockhart by the time the entrees come 'round. See, the Zankanas bring a great deal of experience to their enterprise. Dad Ibrahim is a chef at Scottsdale's Grand Cafe, and both Saman and Maha worked at Scottsdale's Pita House. So Fattoush benefits from the sort of combined wisdom for which most neophyte restaurateurs would trade their first-born.

The pleasant, green-and-white little box of a restaurant hasn't changed much through several owners, and many of the framed images on the walls, and the knickknacks, will be familiar to those who've visited previous incarnations. However, the menu is less concerned with couscous than that of the previous tenant. Fattoush offers both a lamb and vegetarian couscous, but the couscous itself tastes like it's from a box. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, since most places don't make their own. But the couscous at Fattoush does pale in comparison to that of Delicious Couscous, where it was made from scratch. On the other hand, it doesn't take an hour to receive a plate of Fattoush's version, which, as the newly incarcerated Martha Stewart would say, is a "good thing."

Fattoush's rice is a lot better, and I've been served two types while there: either saffron basmati or a rice prepared with minced beef, cinnamon and slivers of almond. A very funny thing happened one day when I asked Aya what kind of rice this second one was. A woman at a table nearby interjected, "That's basmati!" Then Aya replied, "No that's not basmati. Our basmati is yellow." With this lady looking on, I pressed Aya to identify the rice, when she said, "I think it's, what do they call it -- Uncle Ben's?"

I couldn't help but chuckle. Uncle Ben's or not, the rice was delightful, as was what came on top: chicken kebabs, strips of beef shawarma, or a small, flavorful shank of lamb. Fattoush prepares a couple of really outstanding lamb dishes: the kuzi and the minsaf. The kuzi comes with a bowl of stewed tomatoes and okra that you pour over your tender lamb limb and rice to your heart's content. According to Mama Zankana, their kuzi is a real Iraqi-style dish, whereas the minsaf is Jordanian. The kuzi is probably my fave, but I really like the minsaf, too, where the shank is topped with a sauce of aged yogurt, cream, and almonds. As Saman remarked once while setting the minsaf before me, it's one of those recipes you get to enjoy for a while after you've downed it, as a result of the tasty burps as you digest.

Mrs. Zankana bakes up some great baklava on the premises; however, for appetizers, the grape leaves and baba ghanouj are fairly standard. But what really gets my salivary glands going is a big bowl of mushy fava beans, prepared with olive oil, garlic, and plenty of fresh lemon juice. With these squashed legumes comes crispy falafel, and spears of pickle, so it's satisfying enough to eat just this vegetarian entree and nothing else. Though I do wonder sometimes if it'll be enough to maintain my globular glutes.

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