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Sunday
Nov072010

Middle Eastern Home Cooking @ Safita

Overlooking the Mediterranean sea, nestled among 3 hills and their valleys, is the beautiful, old town of Safita, Syria. Only a few miles from the long island sound, nestled between Westport and Fairfield proper, is the beautiful, month old middle eastern restaurant, SAFITA. It is the "Tale" of two Safitas, both with their charm, beauty, and authenticity. And it is just this authenticity that Kheder Hassoun and his family bring to this brand new Middle Eastern restaurant, situated where the old Chat 'N Chew used to be. Tiny in size but big in hospitality, Safita, at 2217 Post Road in Fairfield is pulling in the crowds, night after night. This is middle eastern at its finest, with "Ummu" ("mother" in Arabic) Amal in the kitchen, cooking up all her own recipes from scratch. This ain't your roadside Shawarma.

Indeed, the Hassoun family is new to the restaurant business. Kheder and his sisters Ranan and Maya help run the establishment while mom, Amal, coaxed into opening a restaurant by  friends and family who loved her cooking, stirs, spices, creates and prepares all the delights that her native country offers. But what makes Syrian food special? Syrian food is the diffusion of the cultures of civilizations that settled there and thus gets a lot of its influence from Persian and Turkish cuisine and resembles Lebanese and Palestinian cooking a great deal. Whatever middle eastern delight you may seek,  Safita has it all. And you feel that you are there, in that town, on those hills, overlooking  that sea.

As soon as you walk through the doors, you are transported. Although the space is small, seating about 45 people, this allows for a cozy welcome. The windows are draped and the ceiling is covered with dark, red tiles. The wooden floors are warm and the gilded tiles that separate the kitchen from the dining area sparkle and reflect the many Hookah pipes that decorate (and ONLY decorate, we're told) the space. If you have to wait for a table, and many were happy to wait the night we were there, there is a comfy sofa, complete with pillows, to rest your hungry bones.

And then, the food:

To start the meal, we were served a classic ZATAR, a mixture of dry spices, that clung perfectly to the pita after a quick dunk in some earthy olive oil. The spices - sumac, toasted sesame, salt, pepper, and oregano- were a jolt to the tongue, though not an assault by any means. I thought of it as a wake up call, "Reveille" for the taste buds! So now the mouth was awake. Time to eat!

We began with FATTOUSH - a traditional Levatine salad made from toasted or fried pita and mixed with coarsely chopped tomatoes, cukes, red onion and sumac (a favorite and tangy addition to many of Amal's recipes which adds a lemony tang to whatever she is concocting) - which is special at Safita due to the surprising addition of POMEGRANITE JUICE whose sweetness complimented the tang ideally. The TABULEH met expectations. Not disappointing in any way, but just what one would envision with the predominant parsley as the alpha-male, dominating the cukes, tomato, onion, bulgar wheat, lemon and olive oil. There was a hint of mint in this TABULEH which added a tiny element of surprise. Watch out parsley, there's a new herb in town...

Next on our list was an order of CHEESE FATAYAS. These were sesame-topped buns, filled with a blend of sweet and flavorful Syrian cheeses. All the dough at SAFITA is home-made and as we took our first bites of these FATAYAS, we knew that Amal had the baking down to a science. The dough was flaky and light, and dipping the FATAYAS in deep red Syrian hot sauce made these simple buns come to life. What makes this hot sauce so special? The answer I got was, "crushed red pepper, vinegar, and the rest is a secret..." I promised that their secret would be safe with me, but no dice. I'm kind of glad they didn't divulge. It added to the magical quality of our experience. 

Onward! We sampled the VEGETARIAN KIBBEH next, a cracked wheat shell stuffed with tender, sweet spinach and a chick pea medley. Again, Amal's baking shone; the delicate and flaky structure of the cracked wheat case melted into the vegetable mixture with each bite. Carnivores - there's BEEF KIBBEH if you prefer, accompanied by tender pine nuts and onion. Don't forget the "secret sauce" here as well. It's a MUST ADD for all of us who demand "zing."

True, SAFITA is a VEGETARIAN'S paradise. But there are plenty of options for those of us who classify ourselves as omnivores. We tried the SAFITA CHICKEN ROLLS, which were a tad ordinary, but that mysterious red sauce boosted the flavor to a whole new level. In the rolls, the chicken was ground and spiced and sauteed with sweet onion, sumac, and that POMEGRANITE JUICE, again! (Sumac? Pomegranite Juice? Could either of these be the secret ingredient to the sauce? I will have to keep tasting and let my olfactory detectives solve the case!) 

Top of the line as far as I was concerned was the SAFITA MIXED GRILL (seen above). Here, tender chicken, beef filet, and an amazing lamb sausage were served over rice and grilled veg. The lamb had been marinated for two days, then broiled, then grilled, then ground and mixed with peppers, onion and garlic, and then packed in their casing. These sausages rocked!

And of course, all the usual suspects, disguised as condiments, were present:  the HUMMUS was good, not amazing; the TAHINI was rich and flavorful; the CREAMY GARLIC sauce was, well, creamy and garlicky. All were wonderful dipped in the PITA that the crew at SAFITA have trucked in from a famous Middle Eastern shop in New Jersey - the local store brands just don't compare. And a true stand-out in this category was the GRILLED EGGPLANT. This was par grilled and then pureed, served with green pepper, tomato, parsley, lemon and garlic. Amal has the proportions just right in her recipe and the result is smokey and superb. 

Last but not least, the BAKLAVA: small rolls of phylo which were surprisingly not cloying despite the moist honey soaked dough. There were plenty of rich pistachios inside which probably contributed to the fact that, while I'm thoroughly DONE with Baklava after three small bites, I was able to lick this plate, clean. Another interesting dessert was the KENEFEH, shredded crispy phylo with lightly sweet cheese inside. The cheese was just firm enough, soft yet not runny. Again, flavored with honey and a dusting of pistachios, this dessert had a pleasing crunchy exterior which juxtaposed nicely with the mild, sweet cheese inside.

SAFITA is a real find in this part of Fairfield County. FInally, authentic Middle Eastern in a comfortable setting with delicious food and an incredibly friendly staff (go, Gretchen!) The restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and take-out and might be my next go-to destination for catering. The Hassoun family is doing Middle Eastern right! 

Safita 2217 Post Road, Fairfield. 203.319.0000

Safita on Urbanspoon

 

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  • Response
    Good info
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    Middle Eastern Home Cooking @ Safita - CT Bites - Restaurants, Recipes, Food, Fairfield County, CT
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    Nice page, Preserve the fantastic job. Thanks.

Reader Comments (13)

Yum. Can't wait to give this one a try!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjo

I look forward to trying. Bereket in Bridgeport sets the standard, right now, for middle east cuisine (though in a mostly take-out location). Interested to taste the differences between Syrian food and the more commonly found Turkish food.

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

We went there the second week it was opened and it was terrific!! The food outstanding and the service was great, the staff offered to explain anything on the menu. They also were accomodating when asked to put a sauce on the side. All the food was very authentic and we can't wait to go back!

November 8, 2010 | Registered CommenterMaire B

Just passed this today and was wondering... will definitely give it a try!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershira

hmmm...can't wait to try this place! I haven't had Zatar bread since I lived in Brooklyn. There fattoush looks amazing too!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkate

Thanks for the terrific preview! Can't wait to check it out.

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristy Colasurdo

Great review. Safita has wonderful food. Our server was terrific.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Very tasty food. Love the vegetarian dishes. Great assortment of tea. Don't forget to ask for the sumptuous desserts. The service is great and they are even child friendly.

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

Safita is the best thing to come to Fairfield County!! I would highly recommend this to anyone. Don't be intimidated by the menu, there's something for everyone. The service is unsurpassed and the decor ties everything together. The story behind the family that owns the restaurant is one to hear! Native born Syrian residents, they have managed to make a life in the US and now bring their culture and food to our community! The whole family participates in this place, which makes the entire experience really amazing!! A must try!!

November 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

We have been to Safita several times. Everything we have tried has been fabulous. Surprised at the author's comment on the hummus as "good. not amazing." Our impression is that it is pretty great, and served with warmed, soft pita triangles. Fabulous food, terrific service, priced right to make it a regular stop, open for lunch, too. Have tried things I never imagined trying, and not been disappointed. Safita recently began offering specials to add to the already fantastic menu.

December 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTTLover

We ate here several weeks ago and were really disappointed (maybe the chef was off or something, but it was a Saturday night).

I grew up with this type of food (my mom is from Israel) and it was all underseasoned. The falafel balls had no spice at all, basically just tasted like the oil they were fried in. The Fatoush dressing was so lemony strong, I couldn't finish it. The only thing that seemed authentic to me was the za'atar (sumac spice mixture). I would also agree that the humus is "not amazing" it wasn't horrible, it just tasted like the type of humus which you can get in a container in the supermarket - which is not very authentic.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commentershira

Safita is my favorite restaurant anywhere near here due to the unpretentious, yet devastating delicious Syrian cuisine..........The Shish-Kebab is good enought to kill for, and the Kefta Kabob is as good, or maybe even better......Yes I would walk barefoot on broken glass for this stuff.

But here's the news flash......

Safita is opening a branch in Westport, in Saugituck, near the bridge. It should open this fall. (early October?)

As a guy who lives just the north side OF that bridge, all I can say is.....WELCOME TO THE 'HOOD!

July 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I have dined in numerous Middle Eastern restaurants throughout the US (used to be a business traveler) and grew up nurtured by the home-cooked food of Syria and Lebanon. Safita is amongst the best of the best. This family knows how to serve up exquisitely delicious culinary delights. I am always eager to recommend to anyone who savors great food in a warm, friendly atmosphere.

April 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMetni

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