Sweets, Tasty Falafel Help Darna Grill Soar 

click to enlarge Mixed kebab plate with sides—not pictured is the amazing baklava - CASEY HOWELL
  • Casey Howell
  • Mixed kebab plate with sides—not pictured is the amazing baklava

Sometimes you have to get dessert to go. Sometimes that means ordering a pound of Mediterranean sweets after polishing off way too much hummus. This is what cheat days at Darna Grill are made for.

Let me backtrack for a minute–my first visit to Darna Grill was on a recent Friday evening, where I stayed away from the sweets bar. The eatery is deceptively large considering its shopping center locale, and the decor is a mellow mix of green potted plants and lanterns. Tables fill the dining area, as sturdy wooden booths line the right side of the joint. A single flat-screen TV aired a soccer match, but don’t ask me what teams were present on the pitch (the channel was Arabic, and sadly I’m not fluent). The open kitchen with its handful of vertical spits gave a pseudo-cafeteria feel to the restaurant, but servers instructed us to grab any table instead.

The menu presented as appetizers, salads, sandwiches, house specials and entrees, does offer a few surprises that help set it apart from standard Mediterranean joints around town. The fried kibbeh, available solo and in a pair, offers a crunch at Darna with ground beef, lamb, pine nuts, spices and bulgur wheat, which made for a savory and moist starter.

For dinner, I opted for a mixed kebab entrée with a surplus of sides that arrived at our table in separate small plates with hummus, Darna salad and choice of basmati or biryani rice. The biryani rice, slightly sweet with hints of cinnamon and colored by a decent helping of saffron crowded the chicken sheesh tawook, lamb kebab and Darna kebab, made with a mix of ground beef and lamb with onion and spices. Though the lamb was a bit on the overdone side of things, the chicken and Darna more than made up for that with moist, tender sizable chunks. The ultra-smooth hummus, heavy on the tahini, was creamy and just tart enough from the helping of lemon juice, while the Darna salad was a winner with lemon and olive oil-marinated diced cucumber, tomato, onion, bell pepper, mint and parsley. The pita didn’t win me over entirely (I may have been hoping for fresh-baked slabs of flat bread a la Pasha), but the offering was suitable.

Maybe Darna isn’t trying to wow with its meaty offerings. For visit number two, I settled on the vegetarian entree with falafel, grape leaves, hummus, baba ghanoush and tabbouleh. Besides portion sizes being on point, the plate won this eater over with its two star items—the vibrant and zesty tabbouleh that used a hint of yogurt for tartness, curly parsley, tomato and enough bulgur to satiate but not overwhelm the dish, and the stellar falafel. The chickpea-only patties are delightfully seasoned, smooth and, best of all, moist while still retaining a crisp outer crust. There was no need for extra tahini sauce here. The baba ghanoush was no slacker, but an extra whirr in a food processor would have helped clear up some fibrous chunks. Another highlight was what the server described at Mediterranean tostadas, fried house pita, tossed in a jazzy zaatar blend. I could eat bowlfuls of those, with or without something to dip them into.

I capped off the excellent visit with a mix of the aforementioned sweets. Darna showcases the lineup of phyllo desserts along its bar, where yes, you’ll find several varieties of baklava (available in rolls and poppable bite-sized minis), but also basbousa (or semolina cake) and sinful kunafa available in two varieties with crisp thin noodles, a soft white cheese similar to ricotta in the center, and loaded with syrupy rose water. Win over office mates with a pound of the sweets, or take them home. We won’t judge.

                        

                        

Darna Grill

8132 Fredericksburg,
(210) 614-1800
darna-grill.com
The Skinny You could do a lot worse than trying the falafel in a sandwich or on its own at this inconspicuous shopping-strip eatery in the city’s Medical Center area. Don’t miss the dessert case.
Best Bets Falafel, sheesh tawook, Darna kebab, Darna salad, tabbouleh
Hours 11am-11pm daily
Price $2.99-$13.99 lunch and dinner

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