June 12, 2011

A night at The Nile

One of the things I look forward to when I come back to Madison for a visit is dinner with the Madison Area Veg Meetup Group. Dave, the group's organizational genius, plans the best dinners and events. The dinners are so popular that they always sell out very fast, no matter if there are 50 available spots or 80. As soon as I knew the dates I would be here, I signed up for two events. Dave finds great restaurants that agree to prepare a completely vegan meal for $15 per person. Besides great food, other things I like about the group are, it's very friendly, and very age-diverse. There are singles, young families, older folks — a real range of attendees. And you never know who might turn up; I and each of the four people I went with, all unexpectedly ran into someone they knew.

My friend, Claudia

The dinner I just attended was held at The Nile, a new restaurant run by the former manager of Lulu's, a beloved Middle Eastern restaurant that fell victim to the redevelopment of the neighborhood in which it was located. While the food at the event was excellent, I think the number of diners overwhelmed the kitchen, and the quantity was a little slim. I had just enough to eat without feeling full, but there were a couple of things I didn't get to taste, and at least one dish that never made it to our table. We were at a very large table and received the same size platters as the smaller tables did, resulting in the five of us at the end of the table scraping out the remaining dregs on the plate. I was at the wrong end of the table for taking photos, that's for sure. I never got to photograph the lovely platters, just the little I managed to get on my plate — no zucchini on the couscous for me.

Friends, Donna and George. Claire was there, too, but somehow didn't make it into a photo. :(

The meal started with hummus, falafel and fresh pita. The flavors and textures were excellent, even if the quantity was scarce. The pita was perfectly warm and chewy.

The yellow split pea soup that followed was amazing. Perfectly spiced and creamy, it was the soup I can never seem to get right at home. We each got our own little cup, so no shortages for this course!

Salad with lemon and olive oil dressing followed the soup, and it was fresh and crisp.

There were several entrées, the first of which was spinach pie, theoretically served with tabbouleh, but our table didn't receive tabbouleh. The delicious pastry contained spinach, chopped onions and walnuts layered in thin dough and baked.

Couscous with vegetable stew came next. I often used to order the couscous at Lulu's, one of our favorite restaurants when we lived in Madison. The wonderfully fragrant stew with carrots, zucchini, potatoes and tomato sauce, was delicious as always, but my portion was mostly sauce, as most of the vegetables had disappeared long before the plate reached our end of the table. I never did get to try the zucchini, but I still enjoyed my portion, even though the couscous was a little too salty, in my opinion.

What you're seeing here is a little take-out container of Egyptian kushari. It's pasta and rice tossed with brown lentils and fried onions, served with a light, spicy, garlic tomato sauce. It looked and smelled great but I can't tell you how it tasted because our poor, neglected table didn't get any. The staff brought little to-go packs of leftovers from the kitchen, and gave them to our table — not enough for everyone, though. At that point, I'd already had dessert, and passed up an offered taste from one of the lucky recipients.

Dessert, of course, was baklava, and it was really good. Really good. I'd already dug into it when I remembered to take a picture. The entire dinner was delicious, and I definitely want to go back and enjoy another meal there. Although some people at the dinner were still hungry, I was happy to leave without the over-stuffed feeling I sometimes have at restaurants if I over-indulge. But I'm a somewhat light eater, so I can certainly see where my fellow diner's complaints were valid.


  1. The food looks delicious, such a bummer there wasn't enough to go around. It would have been nice for the staff to alternate which end of the table gets the next dish first, you know, to kinda even things out. :-)

  2. Very tactfully said, Andrea!

  3. That's really too bad about having to skimp on portions. At least you got the baklava! That and the couscous with stewed vegetables are my favorite Middle Eastern foods, besides falafel of course and great pita is grrrreat.

  4. Chow vegan,
    I kept thinking that same thing but felt weird asking for it to happen. It was especially frustrating when additional dishes of couscous and vegetables were brought out and ended up nearly empty when they got to our end of the table!

    Thank you. The food was really good, though, in spite of the scarcity.

    I wouldn't have minded a second falafel, or more than a tiny blob of hummus. I guess I'll just have to go back.

  5. Sounds like a nice event with friends...the food looks great, but too bad about the portions...especially the kushari, that's something I want to try but never have.

  6. Really good post!

  7. Rose,
    I think you should make kushari for your blog and share the recipe! :)

    Thanks! Were you there?

  8. Sounds like a fun time except for the part about having to skimp. Everything does look delicious! I really need to try baklava sometime very soon. :o)

  9. Michelle,
    It was a fun evening, but the food, while beautiful and delicious, was a bit scarce.


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