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Shaharazade's Tea Room and Restaurant

December 12, 2004

By E.T. MOORE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - A top-end restaurant wants patrons to feel like royalty, being served exquisite food by attentive servers in a sumptuous setting.

Shaharazade's Tea Room and Restaurant, a new establishment in Shepherdstown, comes close to hitting this mark. Although my party had complaints on our recent visit, overall, we were pleased. I predict Shaharazade's will only get better as the restaurant matures.

A few minutes after my seven-member party was seated at Shaharazade's, we were in agreement on two points:

n This was one of the most beautiful and exotic restaurants we had been in.

n We were upset at how we were being served.

In fairness, it was a bad-karma night for us. We carpooled in two vehicles; the battery went dead in one and we had no jumper cables. We were an hour later in getting to Shepherdstown than I intended. Then, when we arrived at about 8 p.m., the party of six who preceded us in the door by 30 seconds got the last available table.

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Shaharazade's host, co-owner Lance Dom, almost turned us away. Instead, he asked us to come back in 15 minutes when he predicted a table would be open. The table took longer to open up than expected, but we waited. We were seated at about 8:35, and our waitress promptly informed us - to our shock - that the kitchen grill closed at 8:30.

Despite our obvious upset, the grill remained closed.

Still, the evening was remarkable. Shaharazade's - named after the legendary woman who saved her life by telling stories about heroes like Alladin, Sinbad and Ali Baba - is definitely worth a visit. Oriental carpets line the floor. Ruby-red satin drapes the ceiling; sheer red curtains frame the windows. Rough plastered walls are painted a lively moss green. Decorating the two-room restaurant are beautiful objects of porcelain, glass and silver, mirrors in silver-gilt frames, tropical flowers and lots of lush fabric. Pleasantly mismatched tables - many of them small and suitable for singles or pairs - are scattered throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere is wonderfully intimate and exotic.

The tea list at Shaharazade's is extensive. More than 40 teas from around the world are offered, plus herbal teas. And the food is fresh, carefully prepared and generally flavorful.

But, after the grill closed, our selection of foods was limited to cold foods, one hot soup and a few servings of specialty hot dishes.

I was disappointed, since I wanted a decent sample of food in order to write a fair, impartial review. But we worked with what was available. We ordered spanikopita (spinach, feta cheese and pine nuts in thin, crispy phylo dough), the last shish kebab in the kitchen, French onion soup, a large house salad, scones, a fruit and cheese platter, a hummus platter and an extra order of pita bread.

Members of my party were discriminating tea drinkers enchanted with the idea of a teahouse with a long list of teas. These teas - green, black, white and oolong - are fully described in the menu.

We ordered silver needle tea, East Friesian tea and the house chai tea. They arrived in two-cup personal pots with small glass tea cups without handles and tiny decorated spoons. The presentation of tea - as with most dishes laid before us - was lovely. My party praised the Friesian and chai teas but found the silver needle a puzzle. It was virtually clear and the flavor was so delicate that even those of us who liked subtle flavor found it bland. With so many teas to try, some will please and some will not.

The food was a hit, too. The soup was zesty and beefy. The hummus was flavorful, with carrots, cucumber slices, yellow and green pepper sticks and grilled pita bread. The salad was the best house salad I have had, a heaped variety of greens and vegetables with pine nuts and dried berries. We did ask for more house dressing; the dribble of balsamic dressing was virtually invisible.

Everyone wanted a share of the shish kebab. I doled out the chicken, steak and veggies around the table but inadvertantly kept the dipping sauce for myself. Good thing. It was a marvelously spicy complement for the meat and veggies; I used it as a salad dressing, too.

The fruit and cheese platter was noticeably fresh - apple slices and grapes providing a foil for four cheeses and accompanying seed crackers. Our scones were terrific - light, almost a cross between a biscuit and a scone. They are made at the restaurant.

We always save room for dessert, and that was a good thing. Of nearly a dozen delightful-sounding desserts, we ordered and shared baklava, key lime cheesecake and tiramisu. All were good. The tiramisu compared well with European versions, according to the German member of our party. The cheesecake was light - less dense than traditional New York-style cheesecake, less sweet and delicately limey.

And the baklava was not too sweet, not too dense, with a hint of citrus.

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