Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cheap lunch at Nuba

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The last time I was at Nuba -- the same one, in Gastown, incidentally -- I was soundly disappointed by the dinner portions, especially for dessert. When I went back Tuesday afternoon for lunch with a friend (her pick of where to eat), I tried to reset my expectations to zero and give them another chance.

I got there at 11.30 AM, and it wasn't open yet. The metal gates at street-level were closed, and there wasn't any sign of a line-up. I was seated at around 11.45 AM to wait for my friend, and there was a steady stream of people. Shortly after noon, the place was basically packed. No line-up yet, but any busier and there would have been one.

Mjadra ($7.50 as mezze/appetizer) Organic green lentils and rice with onions and jalapeño, served with avocado and caramelized onions. Served with pita and pickles.
  • Vegan and Gluten-Free.
  • I picked this in part because of the caramelized onions. It's not pan-fried softened onions, but crispy-fried shallots. In Teochew, we call it "jiang jiu la". It can often be oily, and if you're not careful you will over-do the frying part and it comes out burnt and on the bitter side. Nuba does a decent version, though I would have liked it to be crispier. But that is a pretty minor point. If you've never had it, the flavour is wonderful in moderation, and it goes well with very many things.
  • Avocado was a slice on the side. I didn't really see the point of it. You could try mushing it up and stirring it in.
  • Appeared to be mostly lentils, not too much rice. Not a lot of heat from the jalapeño, so there's little point in asking for "mild" or "medium". Don't worry too much about it.
  • Overall, this was a nicely put-together dish, and the portion for price was reasonable -- especially considering that this appetizer portion can work as a light to medium lunch all on its own.
  • There is nowhere enough pita to eat this solely as a dip. Just remember to save a couple of slices to scoop up / wipe down the last of it from the bowl.
Veggie Fraiche Pita ($7.50) Rolled pita bread with organic greens, tomato, homemade pickle, all served with tahini and hot sauce (optional). Veggie fraiche filling is baba ganooj, taboulleh, red peppers, organic carrots, green onions, cucumber and avocado.
  • Vegan. Pita is also vegan.
  • For $7.50, my friend got a pretty big pita that weighed in at between 1 to 1.5 burgers! This makes it a rather cheap lunch. No sides, but you won't really need it.
Juice ($4 for 10 oz)
  • Not Tropicana anything but real juice! I asked for something involving ginger, and our lovely server suggested her favorite mix of carrot, orange, and ginger. All three flavours came through well, and although there is an initial ginger burn at the back of your throat, it passes quickly and it's not quite so strong afterwards.
Baklava ($1.50 per piece)
  • Does Nuba have something against dessert? For $1.50 you got a pretty tiny piece of vegan baklava. Although to be fair, pistachio isn't exactly a cheap ingredient.
  • We asked for two pieces, and we got two different types of baklava. There was a roll that was about 0.5" in diameter and maybe 1.25" in length. It looked mostly like wrapper but there was a decent amount of filling inside.
  • The other piece was approximately a cubic inch obviously cut from a large tray. One clove stabbed into the top. If, like me, you hate cloves, you'll have to pay attention and pull it out. I almost missed it, thinking it was just a slightly more-brown-than-the-rest part of the crust on top.
  • Not too sweet, and not pungent with rosewater. Probably one of the better versions of baklava I've had.
A nice touch here is the two sets of doors at the bottom of the stairs before you enter the restaurant proper. This helps keep out any winter cold, so if you end up seated near the door, it's fine. At just about any other restaurant, you'd be treated to a blast of cold air every few minutes, if a steady draft from the doorway didn't annoy you first.

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