The Middle East brings to mind many exotic images — palm trees, belly dancers and yes, endless stretches of sand. Sadly, much of the food I sampled at Sahara on Midlothian Turnpike echoed that last feature: Even the pita bread was parched and could not be resuscitated by a dipping sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and sesame seeds.
On my first visit, two shish kebabs, beef and chicken, and a kebab — ground meat mixed with herbs and spices, formed into a cylinder and grilled — were sampled. All were overcooked, dry and lacking in flavor. Fortunately, they were served with a cucumber-yogurt sauce and baba ghanoush, which provided some moisture. The best part of the meal was the chopped salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, called fattoush. Simply dressed with a small amount of olive oil and lemon juice and enlivened by parsley and mint, it was refreshing and crisp.
The fattoush was also one of the better bets from the lunch buffet, a bargain at $9.99. Unfortunately, with the exception of the falafel, the items my dining companion and I sampled were dry, overcooked or bland.
For dessert, we tried the assortment of Arabic desserts, including baklava and cookies. The baklava was passable but was primarily layers of phyllo rather than a balance of phyllo and honey-nut filling. More impressive was a date-filled cookie — its not-too-sweet filling of chopped dates encased in soft and crumbly pastry.
Perhaps I hit Sahara on a couple of off days, but I found it to be more desert than oasis.
9550 Midlothian Turnpike, 272-4111
Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Appetizers $3 to $16. Soups and wraps $4 to $7. Entrées $11 to $20. Desserts $3 to $6. Lunch buffet $9.99.