It’s a safe bet that the roads in Fallujah are probably in better shape than the construction-ridden areas of River Oaks. Everywhere you drive, there’s a Buick-sized crater in the road, a detour sign, and those metal planks in the middle of the street that seem to sit half a foot off the ground. All that damage to your car might be worth it if you end up at Nish! Mediterranean Grill (4913 Ohio Garden Rd, River Oaks, 817-615-9292), a relatively new entry to the Oaks’ burgeoning, surprisingly good indie restaurant scene.
I don’t usually do buffets for a few good reasons, chiefly because I’m not a fan of hours-old dust-covered food that’s continuing to cook in a chafing dish while it waits to be picked over by some yokel’s unwashed hand. There are a few exceptions to my buffet ban, and Nish just joined their ranks. The spacious standalone eatery’s all-you-can-eat lunch presentation passed the Three-F test: fresh, flavorful, and free of suspicious-looking organisms growing on or around the food.
I’ve now been twice to Nish’s lunch, and, besides the fact that it’s a little off my personal beaten path, I couldn’t find a single flaw, save that exclamation point placed cheerily after its name. As you walk in, the open kitchen draws your eye. It looks stark and clean. Busy-looking guys in chef coats and hats lend an air of credibility as they frantically and faithfully refill the fast-emptying chafing pans. My guest remarked that none of the serving dishes ever appeared to be too full, which ensured a quick turnaround of fresh fare.
If you want the buffet, you order on arrival at the register. The same man, who I assumed is the manager or owner, took my order on both of my visits. He set a professional, kind tone that the servers carried on. The whole operation appears well run, and for someone who dines out as much as I do and is buffet-averse, that’s a comforting feeling.
Tucked away in a corner, the lunch selections were wide-ranging and tempting. The fare leaned Greek and Turkish, though seemed to cover most of the finer points of the Mediterranean. Vegetarian options abound, and carnivores will feel like they’ve died and gone to a Bacchanalian meat orgy.
Reluctantly (read: neurotically), I started on the soup and salad station and generously filled a ladle of the lentil soup, a strained puree that tasted mild but well seasoned. My Greek salad, one of four options, was plush with chunks of rich feta. With a little room on my plate, I ambled over to the table that held the hummus, dolmas, tzatziki, tabouli, and several other of the region’s greatest hits. After cartoonishly piling on various dips and bits, I flopped a fresh-tasting (though not warm) piece of pita atop that hillock and ate every bit of it like a dumpster-diving raccoon that lives beneath a head shop.
Soon after, and now waddling, I stalked one of the chefs until he dropped a freshly grilled batch of kebabs on the third table, which houses meats, veggies, and other more entree-like grub. I greedily grabbed a fresh-tasting, impeccably flavored slab of hot chicken, along with a smattering of saffron rice, grilled zucchini and squash, baked cauliflower, okra stew, and whatever the hell else I could balance on my buckling plate. For a person who professes to hate buffets, I fully – nay, embarrassingly – embraced this one.
I may have lost all the fillings in my teeth trying to reach Nish!, but at least I found a buffet I loved – even if it robbed me of my dignity.