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Friday, April 21, 2006
HOOKAHS! HOOKAHS! HOOKAHS!
While flipping through Willamette Week's recent "Cheap Eats" guide, I realized that I'd never eaten Lebanese food.
So on a recent Saturday my younger sibling and I headed over the Arabian Breeze on NE Broadway. It's a new-ish restaurant that specializes in Middle Eastern fare. We immediately headed to the bar upstairs, which is decked out in decor reminiscent of illustrations in any given copy of The Arabian Nights,. A ceramic camel lingers next to a fountain in the corner and neon lights run along the walls. It's all a bit cheesy but I'm pretty sure that's the point.
The waiter immediately brought out what appeared to be a droopy tortilla shell on a candle stick. I guess this is the Middle Eastern equivalent of nachos and it tasted sort of like a gordita shell. I've forgotten the name of this culinary treat but the Breeze's glossy menu included a complete rundown on the history behind it. The lamb dish I ordered was good too but....
...to be honest, what got us out there wasn't the food. Every Saturday and Sunday night the Arabian Breeze hosts belly dancers that sway to electronica imported from the Gulf region. Also on the menu, Turkish beers and....
While I'm told that hookah bars are prevalent on the east coast, I don't know of any here in Portland. This evening marked the first time I've ever rented an three foot tall water pipe. The tobacco menu contained flavors like apple, mint, strawberry and the like. My sibling was unwilling to partake and claims she has never, and will never, smoke so much as a cigarette. I decided on apple and didn't bother to remind her of the effects of second hand smoke.
To begin with, we were the only people in the place with a hookah. Soon later, a yuppie couple behind us put in an order. Eventually, a few other tables joined in and the bar began filling with flavored smoke. I've heard tell of "tobacco highs" but I didn't believe in them until now.
Over the course of about 45 minutes, I probably smoked the equivalent of half a pack of cigarettes. The "high," if it could be called that, was similar to a Red Bull buzz. Every once in a while, a member of the staff came by with a metal basket and replaced the embers at the top of the hookah. By the time we left, my voice had become raspy and I literally couldn't take another drag.
Nevertheless determined to smoke as much as possible, I instantly began coughing every time I attempted "one last toke." I was hoping if I cashed it that the staff might reward me with a free "I smoked the whole hookah!" t-shirt. Maybe I should have asked for a doggie bag for the remainder of the flavored tobacco. Perhaps a doggie hookah?
The pipe set me back $15 and probably took six months off my life. Nevertheless, I will return to the Arabian Breeze again. Belly dancers, water pipes, Turkish beer, sitar remixes and Arabic nachos? You can't find those at your friendly, neighborhood McMenamins.