Yemeni’s Restaurant in The Tenderloin, A Tea Partier’s Outrage
Eat cheap Halal food at Yemeni’s
I’d bet the left side of my brain that your garden variety Tea Partying dip stick wouldn’t know Yemen from He-Man. Still, the likelihood of Yemeni’s restaurant existing in one of those crazzzzzy red states, serving as it does strictly halal food from the Middle East and sporting the title of one of that region’s least understood and tradition-bound countries, is slimmer than a ballerina’s femur.
In San Francisco, however, ain’t no thang. I don’t need to tell you that our city, and The Tenderloin in particular, is full of food from every corner of the earth. Type in a set of geographical coordinates into your computer’s search engine and even if it lands you in the middle of the Pacific ocean miles from anywhere there’s probably at least an un-moored island floating around nearby like a tin can; it’ll have it’s own particular brand of Polynesian cuisine and it WILL have a representative in S.F., sporting dishes like “Gauguin’s Butt Polyp Poke”.
The experience had by my ignorant Western eyes and taste buds didn’t jibe with Wikipedia’s assertion that “Yemeni cuisine is entirely distinct from the more widely known Middle Eastern cuisines”. While I’ll admit that one trip to a single Yemeni restaurant (one whose food must have been dumbed down for American palettes) makes me less informed about their food than your typical Yelp-era dilettante, I’m taking that position with a grain of salt. My meal was very straight-forward Mediterranean fare, as far as I could tell (again, I’m no food scholar of the Mediterranean rim). I started with a small salad of tomato, olive, lettuce, red onion and tahini; my main course was basically an osso buco of lamb on a bed of long-grain rice. Nothing about the flavors, textures or ingredients struck me as being “entirely distinct” from food I’ve eaten hailing from Lebanon or Turkey or even Morocco. Aside from its disputed singularity, the quality itself was middling to low. More’s the shame, because the place has character, staffed as it by decorously polite young Middle Eastern men speaking in soft, melodious accents. Their puzzlement upon hearing my request to sit at the bar (technically just a counter behind which are stacked jars of honey and boxes of tea) endeared them to me immediately. I had to insist twice that I’d rather, as a lone diner, sit there rather than at a table in the lovingly decorated dining room. They also insisted I would hate their pre-sweetened black tea, which I in turn insisted on having.
Fattah, a traditional Yemeni dessert
After the plates and cutlery for my savory repast were cleared, my earnest and attentive waiter offered me a traditional Yemeni dessert called Fattah. It was easily the best part of the experience, being essentially a bread pudding with banana, date, honey and eshta (my spelling), a light and sweet cream cheese. While it hit the stomach like a ball of elephant dung, it was delicate, delicious and soulful, the one part of the meal that spoke to me with a less familiar, refreshing voice.
1098 Sutter St. @ Larkin St.