The Star Ledger
Friday, July 13, 2007


Comfortably settled with her fellow Munchers on the outdoor patio at Sahara Restaurant In New Brunswick, Heather Soriano sampled some ezme, a Middle Eastern dish of spicy mashed vegetables, walnuts, garlic, paprika, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini, a sesame-seed paste.

"A little strong for me," the Bloomfield resident observed.
"You're a wimp," Michael Straker teased.

All's fair on the Munchmobile. Soriano and Straker, who both work at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, were part of a Munchmobile mission for Middle Eastern food. The Middle East is a divided region, but we can agree on this: There's a lot of delicious, distinctive food in that part of the world.

Our crew consisted of a doctor, two nurses, a book-keeper, a Rutgers professor, and a Muncher from Short Hills who, his wife insisted, wasn't a "foie gras-nibbling, Cristal-swilling" kind of guy.

Sahara Restaurant, New Brunswick,

... For Sam Algar, Sahara, on Easton Avenue, is home in more ways than one. "This was my old house; we rebuilt it," Algar said of the attractive, high-ceilinged restaurant. For a more wide-ranging mix of backgrounds, you'd have to visit the United Nations. Algar is Jordanian. Niki Saljaj, our waiter, is Albanian. Shareen Mahmoud (you can see her in a video on is Egyptian. The pastry chef is Lebanese; the cook who prepares the kebabs is Turkish. There are waitresses from Russia, Israel and probably a few other countries we missed.

Annie Lennox sang "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" on the sound system, and we settled dreamily on the patio in the gorgeous summer twilight. Best bread of the day: the thick, toasty, Turkish bread here, soft and crunchy all at once. Recommended appetizers: the tomato feta toast and the pizza feta toast, irresistible little cheese-topped treats. Even better: the spiced ezme. "Full of flavor; packed a punch," Straker said. ... the Sahara Combination Kebab is a first-rate intro to Middle Eastern food, with its plentiful array of shawarma (spiced marinated lamb), four kinds of shish kebab and rice ... Desserts were largely a delight; try the kazandibi, a cinnamon-dusted rice pudding, and some of the strong, supple Turkish coffee ...
One more restaurant? We would have, if any were open.

Top Tastes
Lori Middleton: "The baklava at Sahara - mmm mmm! To die for! Sticky and gooey and oh so sweet."
Michael Straker: "Sahara was the best all-around restaurant, from the fine-dining atmosphere to the friendly service to the excellent food."