A sampling of Nora's Lebanese fare.
Last night, Nora, the new restaurant in what I still think of as the old Pasta Luna space (recently Riad Moroccan Grill) at 8902 W. Broad St., held a soft opening before it opens today at 11, and I stopped by for a smorgasbord of Lebanese cuisine. Owner Walid Boustany already owns on Nora in Gainesville, and manager Katie Minnick told me that Boustany decided to open a second location in the Richmond area both because of the lack of Lebanese food here and because he has lots of friends around the city.
The restaurant décor is elegant with a spacious marble patio, a sweeping bar inside, a hookah lounge upstairs and even a small Lebanese market that sells ingredients and hookahs. Diners last night were treated to a large sampling of dishes. We sat down a table already filled with labneh — a combination of pita chips, strained yogurt, mint and olives that will be a free starter for every table — along with a selection of hummus, tabouli, baba ghanoush, kibbeh and made-in-house pita bread. I really enjoyed the thick texture of the yogurt, as well as the flavorful meat in the kibbeh, which were stuffed with a delicately spiced beef blend that had a bit of sweetness on the finish. Next we sampled spinach pies, which were also well spiced and slightly tangy, along with sambousek, which were lightly fried meat pies stuffed with that same delightful meat combo as the kibbeh.
That was just the appetizer selection. Up next came the mixed grill, which featured a combination of grilled kofta, chicken and beef, served with rice and grilled veggies. To my surprise, I found the rice to be the most addicting part of this dish. Mixed with bits of vermicelli, this rice had a rich, savory flavor and was topped with crunchy roasted pine nuts. Usually I leave rice behind as a bland waste of calories, but I’ll be eating every last grain of this on return visits. The meats all had an underlying charry flavor, and the whole dish was served with tahini and a homemade garlic sauce.
If you’re looking for a heavier entrée on a future visit, Minnick told me the lamb shank with tomato sauce is a must-try: “It’s so tender it falls off the bone,” she says. She also suggests requesting the special homemade hot sauce that pairs well with the chicken.
The liquor license isn’t in place yet, but once it’s up and running, there will be a full bar, as well as Lebanese wines and wines from around the world. If you do want to try a Lebanese vino variety, Minnick recommends Massayah Gold or Silver, both of which are available by the bottle only, but she says they are the most requested at the Gainesville location.
Before heading out, I also stopped by the retail section. I’ll definitely be back to shop for ingredients like rose and orange blossom water, za’atar spice blends and mint milk.
Starting today, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. There will also be belly dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.