Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


Mini Restaurant Reviews
short takes and editorials

Fayrouz at Illusions
Super Club or Supper Club?

by Robert Rich, November 2006

Is it called Illusions or Fayrouz? It took me a moment to realize that "Super Club" was a pun and not a typo. I'm not exactly sure where the nightclub ends and the Lebanese restaurant begins, but I am impressed by the decor and excellent service at this large venue, which used to be the Edge nightclub at the end of California Ave. in Palo Alto (Vortex and Keystone before that.) I wish I were as impressed by the food, however. I have returned a few times now, and on each visit I felt underwhelmed by many of the dishes.

We first came on a quiet night a few days before Thanksgiving, with only one other table dining inside, and a party of friends smoking a houka outside on the inviting patio. We were scouting for interesting new restaurants to try again in the future. We wanted to like Fayrouz, and in fact my preliminary report on this page sounded quite positive.

After we got settled, a basket of warm sliced pita bread arrived with a plate of sour cream and spiced olive oil. The dip created a perfect blend to whet the appetite. During our meal we asked for (and received) a refill of dip so we could finish the pita, since we scarfed up the first batch.

We ordered only two dishes on this first visit, both main courses. First arrived a fresh green salad, followed soon thereafter by dinner. This felt a bit rushed, as we had only started our salads, and had to shuffle plates and shovel food a bit to make room on the table.

Chicken Shawarma ($15.95) had a bright flavor profile, although it seemed a bit simple. A small mound of chopped marinated chicken white meat came mixed with bits of bell pepper, alongside some pickle slices, rice pallau and yogurt sauce. I probably wouldn't order this again, in preference for something more uniquely flavored.

The Kafta-Meshwi ($15.95) reminded me of the kubideh that I have often enjoyed at Rose Market on Castro St. in Mountain View (for $3.50.) A tender and flavorful skewer of spiced ground lamb and beef arrived on a platter with rice pallau and sliced onion. Such skewers can become dry and mealy when overcooked, but this one was perfectly succulent. I made savory little bite-sized sandwiched with the pita and my extra salad.

We ordered a pot of mint tea ($4) which complemented the herbs in the meal nicely. The wine list struck me as rather overpriced, with some of the mark-ups hovering at 300% over retail. I've made this point elsewhere, but I'll say it again here: if a restaurant charges a fair mark-up on their wine list (double wholesale for example) they will sell more wine and make more money in the long run. I can't imagine paying almost $400 for a bottle of Opus One or Dom Perignon. On the other hand, I do want to try the more affordable Lebanese wine that Illusions offers. Corkage fee runs $15, which might be a worthwhile option for connoiseurs.

On subsequent visits, we found the experience sufficiently so-so that we gave up trying. Having heard that the mezze plates surpassed the main courses, we tried the Arayes ($8.95), ground spiced lamb on pita bread. The flavors were salty with a lot of onion in this rather simple small pizza-like presentation, the price a bit high for the serving. Not bad, just not very exciting. Far more disappointing, the Lamb Couscous ($18.95) offered an enourmous starchy serving of overcooked stew, bland mushy couscous, and only a few small cubes of lamb buried under a heap of boiled squash and carrots.

To add flavor to this mound of mush, I asked our helpful hispanic waiter if he could find some sumak for me to shake on my dish. A tart savory dark red powder, sumak is a common condiment in mid-east Mediterranean restaurants. He had never heard of sumak, so I suggested he go ask the chef in the kitchen. He found some, and it helped make my dinner more flavorful, but the dish was so large and so bland, I left most of it uneaten after fishing out the four small spoonfuls of lamb.

Shish Tawook ($17.95) was rather better than the couscous, but it's hard to mess up a basic chicken kabob. These chunks of grilled chicken breast were not too dry, although perhaps they could have had a more flavorful marinade.

I won't go so far as to say Fayrouz is a bad restaurant, but I will say that you can find some superior places with overlapping cuisine. My favorites include the Turkish-owned Café Artemis at the Pruneyard in Campbell, the Palestinian-owned Dishdash on Murphy street in Sunnyvale, or Kabul Afghan restaurant, also in Sunnyvale.

Illusions & Fayrouz
Contemporary Lebanese Cuisune and Super Club
260 S. California Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 321-6464