Bringing the flavors, spices and ambiance — in other words, the experience — of the Middle East to Lewiston-Auburn is Nabin Naral and his partner, Pramod Shrestha, who recently opened Narals Experience Arabia in Auburn.
Located at 34 Court St., the eatery is Naral’s newest venture. “Everything is made from scratch,” he said, opting to shy away from prepared or processed foods. “My style is Arabic, Greek and Western,” he added, noting customers might find the Arabic offerings slightly more fragrant and flavorful than the other two styles, but not overly spicy.
He shared his recipe for Mandhi Chicken, “a very popular meal,” he said, which is made the same way as their house specialty, Mandhi Lamb. Mandhi meals are typically recognized for the tender meats and spice mixtures used in the cooking. Traditionally, they were cooked in a clay oven “tandoor” and served at weddings. Although he considers it “very typical Arab cooking,” he believes his cooking style is unique. “Other places might cook lamb shank, but ours is totally different.”
A selection of lunch specials is offered Monday through Friday. Included in the $7.90 price is soup, a choice of their “special recipe” Mandhi rice or pita bread, a dessert, and tea or coffee.
Regarding appetizers, Narals’ evening menu runs the gamut from five or six bread and dip combos (involving assorted pitas along with the requisite hummus, falafel and traditional tahina sauce) to assorted soups and salads.
Among the soups: Cream of Fresh Shiitake Mushroom Soup (shiitake mushrooms in a hearty cream base) and Saltah (broth of lamb in fenugreek with potato, served with bread, originating in Yemen). Prices range from $3 to $5.50.
The list of salads available at Narals appears to offer something for everyone’s palate, from a traditional Caesar to the more ethnic Salata Sawlah — a base of rich, creamy feta cheese sprinkled with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peppercorns and olives. A meal-sized Seafood Salad, featuring shrimp, crab and tuna, is priced at $12.20.
For new customers who might find themselves mildly confused about which items to try, the establishment smartly offers two mixed appetizer platters, both of which offer five different items. Intriguing Mushrooms Olivia (crunchy mushrooms baked in olive oil with a creamy lemon and oregano sauce) are part of the “Best of Nabins” platter, for $21.90. The Arabic platter, for $18.90, offers up Sfeeah (a spicy minced chicken with a dash of tomato puree and olives) and Bitingan Mali (fried eggplant, mixed vegetables and minced lamb), both of which sound fun and a bit adventurous. With 17 other single appetizers to choose from and two additional “snack feasts” (one of which is more Western in nature), there seems to be something for everyone.
Diners will be faced with another tough decision when it comes to selecting their main course. With a list of approximately 18 entree items, you will need to decide if you’d like to try one of the house specialties (Mandhi lamb shanks, chicken or quail), Shish Kebab, Moussaka (an oven-baked dish of beef, eggplant, potato, nutmeg and bechamel, topped with gouda cheese) or perhaps something a bit more familiar-sounding — Creamy Baked Salmon (baked Arabic style with homemade bechamel sauce and Narals' herb-mix, also topped with gouda). For those in your party with less international leanings, more Americanized meals such as chicken cutlets, rosemary lamb chops and fish and chips might hit the spot. Most meal prices range from $9.80 to $24.90.
Nine desserts are listed on the menu. Along with several creative smoothies, any urge for sweetness will definitely be fulfilled. Ingredients include lots of Middle Eastern staples such as milk, raisins, honey, cardamom, almonds and dates. The perfect mid-afternoon treat (to this writer): the Laban Lauzah, an almond milk drink of Yemeni origin containing honey and a touch of cinnamon and cardamom. The Arabic Iced Tea might also be of interest: a rich brew of tea, infused with orange and lemon juice.
And speaking of treats, Naral said they offer coffee concoctions, using an Italian coffee. The layered espressos were beautiful, and Kahwa, a thick Arabic coffee, and Kahwa Saudia (which adds the choice of cardamom, cinnamon or ginger) have perked my curiosity.
Employing a staff of 15, Narals Experience Arabia is open seven days a week. You can dine in or order take out. The restaurant offers a full bar, currently features beer and appetizer specials, and is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. To further enhance your “experience” of Arabian culture, check out the belly dancing demonstrations on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. At other times, the Middle Eastern music playing in the background is a nice touch. For more info, go to www.narals.com or call 344-3201.