While the northeast swelters through more dog days of summer, ways to get through lunch and dinner without turning on a BBQ or heat-producing appliance are essential. In Bergen county, Samdan (pronounced Shahm-den), a middle eastern restaurant, provides the ideal range of cold appetizers for those who want only to cool off in a tasty kind of way, and loads of spiced up hot options for others. Located in Cresskill, Samdan enjoyed a makeover a couple years ago and has two large rooms, floor to ceiling windows and a fine dining ambience. Joined by a reception area with fire place, the rooms bustle with large families, couples and business customers. It’s the warm atmosphere, solid service, generous portions and consistent product that keeps the place busy year-round.
Start with a Shepherd Salad (large $8.50), a bright, crispy medley of finely diced tomatoes, parsley, cucumber, scallion in a vinegar and oil dressing. It’s perfect for 5-6 people. Sop up all those juices with the warm airy, slightly smoky, sesame seed-studded Turkish bread and traditional pita that will be served alongside. My kids love the shredded Bulgarian feta cheese which can be ordered on the side for an additional $1.50. Hot apps include cheese and parsley filled pastry, falafel, deep fried calamari and fried calves liver($5-6). I prefer the cold apps (ranging from $4.75 -$6.50) and recommend the Babagannus, Patlican Soslu, fried eggplant in a fresh tomato, garlic sauce and Tabuleh, the traditional salad of parsley, scallion and cracked wheat, with lemony brightness and tang.
Samdan serves fine grilled fish and patrons will have a wide selection of seasonal seafood specials to choose from. My favorite Sicaklar (main courses, starting at $11) are the Doner Kebab (lamb and beef gyro, thinly sliced), Sis Kebab (moist cubes of lamb), Kiymali Tavuk (skewered ground chicken) and Adana Kebab, spiced ground beef patties. Grilled entrees are served atop buttery, well-seasoned rice, gently charred whole plum tomato and green pepper and a mound of shaved red onion. As the serving indicates, filling pita wedges with the entree and its accoutrements is highly encouraged. My family tends to order family style and share platters so everyone enjoys a range of different taste experiences. Samdan offers several combination platters for the grilled items, making it easy to enjoy a couple baby lamb chops with a variety of other grilled meats.
Desserts, also known as Tatlilar, are made on premises and are about $3.50 each. Easily split and all quite sweet, our favorite is the milk pudding known as Kazandibi, as it is lighter than the other honey drenched and nut coated options. Essentially a Turkish panna cotta, this combination of milk and gelatin is cooled in sheet form, sprinkled generously with cinnamon and served jelly roll style. Its silky, creamy texture and delicate taste make it the perfect finish to a meal filled with well-spiced appetizers and entrees.
The restaurant offers a reasonable lunch menu, an early bird dinner menu and take out service complete with online ordering. www.samdanrestaurant.com.
Middle Eastern Restaurant
178 Piermont Road
Heidi Raker Goldstein is our Bergen county regional editor. A locavore, cooking enthusiast, publicist and mother of three junior gourmands, Heidi is equally comfy in greasy spoons and high-end restaurants. When not visiting local farmers markets and farm stands in Bergen and Rockland counties, this New England native, former Manhattanite and Bergen county resident is busy running her PR and green marketing agency, Raker Goldstein & Co., buying food, planning menus, cooking food, writing about food or simply eating. To reach Heidi, email her at [email protected].