Dad was visiting us for the weekend and I wanted to take him to a type of restaurant he's unlikely to visti back home. The choice that jumped to my mind was Moroccan, with the belly dancing, the strange food and the high prices these restaurants generally command, I could not imagine he would otherwise go to one. Plus, we were in North Beach and there was a Moroccan restaurant in the neighborhood.
I didn't have very high expectations going to Pasha, as I had read mixed-reviews of the restaurant online. They were positive enough, however, so I had made the reservations. We were on time, and were sitted immediately after we arrived - albeit in a section close to the stage (and the bathrooms), that was too crowded for the three tables it accommodated.
The decor of Pasha's was much nicer than I was expecting. In the main dining room, the walls are covered in fabric which meet together in the center of the ceiling giving the room a tent-like feel. The middle eastern decor seems sumptuous while understated, something very difficult to achieve. Divans line the walls, while seating in the center is provided by large, heavy cushions. The low tables are actual wood-coffee tables, covered by very large (seemingly made-to-order) metal trays. They are both attractive and serviceable (though sometimes a little slanted). There is also a front room, where the bar is located, with beautiful ancient-Egyptian decorations on one side, and a couple of last-century paintings on the other; it's very attractive. The waiters are dressed in period-Turkish clothing, with embroidered vests and fez hats. All in all, it makes for a very "exotic" atmosphere.
There is a small stage at the back of the restaurant, where three musicians were expertly playing Middle Eastern music - much of it was of the belly-dancing type, but softer melodies were also played. The musicians were very good, obvious professionals. At least some of them seemed to be Iranian, and Persian music was also played.
We got to the restaurant around 9 PM ( near closing time for many other places) and Pasha was at full swing. A belly dancer was still performing; she was good without being outstanding, and as expected paid attention to each table in search of dollar bills. She wasn't pushy, however, which made this activity much less annoying than at other restaurants. There was a large degree of audience participation, people were drawn to the area before the stage for belly dancing "classes" and contests, but it was less forced than at other places. Most customers seemed to be enjoying themselves, though it probably helps to have something to drink. All the activity, however, makes Pasha a place not conductive to conversation of any sort. As with other Moroccan restaurants, Pasha is probably enjoyed better in a larger group - indeed many people were there to celebrate birthdays and whathaveyous.
All the activity, including at least one singing waiter, seems to have at least some effect on service, which we found to be somewhat lacking. Our orders were taken in good time and our appetizers were promptly served, but then our entrees came almost immediately after the empty dishes had been cleared. It would have been nicer to have some more time to digest the appetizers and enjoy the music/dancing. Water glasses were also only occasionally refilled, so we went thirsty for much of the evening. Still, our service experience was much better than that of our neighbors. They were there before we arrived, and I think they probably had finished their appetizers around the time we sat down. However, it seems that the waiters had forgotten all about them - we had finished our entrees when we heard them ask the waiter about theirs. The waiters were very apologetic, and the food came soon after, but this people had obviously waited for their main courses for close to an hour. Later in the evening, they again had to remind the waiter about drinks they had ordered some time before.
The menu offers many typical Middle Eastern and North African dishes. Sixteen appetizers range between $5.50 and $8.50, while fourteen main courses go from $16.50 to $22.50. There are also combination dinners for two at $29.50 each, and a "Royal Feast" that includes Hummos, Falafel, Kesir, Piyaz, Fried Pite, Tabbouleh, B'Stilla, Dessert & Tea for $9.50 over the price of the main course (two person minimum). While the prices are somewhat high (though in order with those of other Moroccan restaurants), it's not a bad deal when you realize you are no only getting dinner but also entertainment.
For appetizers, we decided to split the Cheese Flambe with Cognac ($7.50) and the Bastilla ($8.50). The cheese was OK, and it tasted exactly as it sounds, not a bad combination for those who like cognac, but I really don't like it that much. My dad liked it, though. The Bastilla (a filo pie baked with chicken - pigeon is traditional - and topped with powdered sugar), on the other hand, was excellent. I was amazed at the size of the pie: it generously served three people, it certainly would have been too much for one. On the other hand, if you really like bastilla (as I do), you may want to combine it with other appetizers and skip the main course.
Our main courses were OK.. I had the lamb with honey, almonds and raisins ($18.50), and it was very flavorful and sweet. It could have used with some cuscus on the side, however, to absorb the extra sauce. Mike had the kefta ($17), which was also pretty good. My dad had the rack of lamb ($22.50), and he was not pleased with it. Now, my father doesn't have particularly high standards, so it must really have been very mediocre for him not to like it.
We skipped dessert as none of us are too fond of Middle Eastern.
In all, we found the dining experience very nice, even if both the food and the service can be improved, and we are likely to go there again.
On a side note, Pasha offers valet parking for $9.