Omnivore - I'll have the lamb shank and an undulating torso
It's been quite a few years since I ate at Nicola's (1602 Lavista Road, 404-325-2524). This Lebanese restaurant was among the first to serve Middle Eastern food in our city, I believe, and, if our visit Saturday night was any indication, it's still going strong.
We arrived late, about 9:30, and I confess I agonized about going in when I saw a sign on the window announcing belly dancing â€” a spectacle that, to me, ranks only slightly higher than watching dental surgery on someone who hasn't been given Novocain. Wayne knows this and, to annoy me, always begins rifling through his wallet for dollar bills to insert under the waistbands of dancers as they undulate tableside.
Since the sign said the show was at 7:30 p.m., I convinced myself that the belly dancers had left. Chef Nicola, a man with an obviously large heart, was in the parking lot bidding diners goodbye but assured us he was still open. You know the rest of the story. We hadn't been seated five minutes when the weird music began and two dancers, members of the Nazeem Allayal Belly Dance Studio, appeared in the center of the restaurant. Wayne frantically went through his wallet and I snapped a few pictures.
I'm not exactly sure what it is I dislike about belly dancing. It's not the worst. Mimes, of course, are the very worst. But I don't like mariachi bands, either. Once, in Istanbul, we tipped a very bad band playing by our table in an empty restaurant. The musicians communicated their disgust â€” "not enough money" â€” and played louder. "Fine, play all night," Wayne said.
Anyway, as belly dancing goes, the flat-out gorgeous dancers at Nicola's were obviously better than average and the mainly older crowd enjoyed them. Indeed, after the dancers finished, four diners got up and danced in a circle. Chef Nicola darted in and out of the kitchen during the evening, clapping his hands and greeting diners.
The food? It was really good ... and inexpensive. I ordered the menu's most expensive item, the lamb shank, at $12.95. The meat, slightly garlicky and juicy, was served off the bone with lemony rice, the best stuffed grape leaf I've eaten in memory and some sauteed vegetables. A great bargain. Wayne ordered a mezze platter of hommos, baba ghanoush, fattoush, grape leaves, tabbouleh, artichokes and spinach pie for $9.95.
If you haven't been here in a while, it's time to return. The belly dancing takes place Friday and Saturday nights.