Eastern Nights Offers Middle Eastern Delights
For savory Middle Eastern cuisine served in a comfortable, friendly setting, a trip to Eastern Nights on Steinway Street should be on your agenda. The cozy dining room resembles a comfortable Egyptian home with walls in warm earth tones. Tables are dressed in cinnamon-colored linens and hanging plants lend an outdoor note.
Middle Eastern cuisine relies on fresh ingredients that are combined with flavorful spices and herbs such as cumin, coriander, turmeric and garlic. The result is a wonderful array of appetizers, fresh salads, and tender grilled meats and fish. Start with an assortment of spreads such as hummus, made from mashed chickpeas, and babaganouj, made from roasted eggplant ($2.50). Tahini is a creamy sesame spread that is easily scooped up with warm pita bread. These spreads are presented artistically, garnished with fresh vegetables and fruit, making them even more inviting. Grape leaves are filled with rice and seasoned meat, then rolled tightly into bundles that are easily devoured and perfect for sharing. Share a platter of crisp, tender calamari rings too. Between courses, enjoy a refreshing fattoush salad, a blend of chopped tomato, parsley and olives in a lemon dressing ($5).
Entrees consist of specially prepared meats and seafood grilled to order over an open flame and served sizzling hot. Lamb or veal shish kebabs are tender and succulent, as are the tiny lamb chops. Chicken kebabs make for a lighter meal still full of flavor. Kofte, a handmade sausage without a casing, is skewered and grilled. The blend of herbs and spices makes these tender morsels hard to resist.
Mohammed Bashir, Eastern Nights’ owner, surprised us with the Eastern Nights Cocktail, an enormous platter containing a sampling of all the grill items on the menu. We tasted all the kebabs, the kofte, lamb chops and huge shrimp that were butterflied and grilled in their shells to retain their moisture and flavor. There were even some falafel, little patties of chickpeas and spices. While the menu says that this dish is for two people, it could easily serve three or four. Special entrees such as lamb with vegetables or whole grilled fish are listed daily. All entrees are served with light and fluffy steamed rice with a subtle, nutty flavor that I really enjoyed.
While no alcoholic beverages are served at Eastern Nights, a number of fresh fruit juices and teas are offered. I had a wonderful fruit shake, made with strawberries and mango and served in a tall, cool glass. Mint tea, a staple throughout the Middle East, will aid digestion after one of Eastern night’s hearty meals. To sweeten your palate, try one of their homemade desserts such as creamy rice pudding topped with crushed pistachio nuts. Delicate pastries made with nuts and honey are sweet and delicious too.
Eastern Nights was recently host to the Queens Council Festival where more than 100 dignitaries, community activists and citizens took part in a celebration of Queens’ diversity. Bashir, a very friendly and hospitable host, made the guests feel special as he introduced them to the fine cuisine of his native country of Egypt. He’ll soon extend his hospitality to diners during the upcoming festival of Ramadan. From October 15 to November 15, hundreds of participants will fast during the day and after sundown visit Eastern Nights, where an outdoor dining room is soon to be transformed with a special tent from Egypt into a festive party room. The atmosphere is sure to be congenial, with hundreds of dishes prepared for the occasion and live music accompanying the feasting.
Eastern Nights, which opened three years ago, is open seven days a week from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m. to accommodate late-shift workers who visit in the wee hours. The food is always fresh and the host is nearly always there to greet you with a warm smile. Celebrate the diversity of Queens while treating your palate to the exotic flavors of Eastern Nights’ cuisine.