The first thing I tasted when I dined recently at Silk Road was a stuffed grape leaf made by Chef Rafik “Rafiky” Abohattab, who is doing a “popup” as Torshi at Silk Road until March 28. It has been a while since I’d eaten at Silk Road and I was looking forward to eating Chef Ganesh’s outstanding Indian-infused cooking. I was disappointed to learn he is out at the moment, but I’m glad I had the chance to taste Chef Abohattab’s food.

It has been a while since I’d eaten at Silk Road. I did not recognize the place, because since my last visit they’ve added a retail wine operation and are also selling excellent cheeses and other items. I’m told chef Ganesh is going to focus on “grab and go” meals as well. It was a Tuesday night, and the place was doing well – while maintaining social distancing of course – and I think a lot of that has to do with the way they’ve renovated the space.

Silk Road was always a charming restaurant, and it still is. It’s the sort of neighborhood place that attracts people from outside the neighborhood but still feels like a neighborhood place. It used to be a little ramshackle, and that was charming too, but now it’s just comfortable and welcoming.

Chef Ganesh is a great guy, which I mention because I like to advertise my bias when I am biased. I like him and I like that he gave Chef Abohattab the opportunity to cook out of his kitchen. Not surprised, mind you, because that’s the sort of guy Ganesh is, but it’s worth recognition.

Back to the topic at hand: I was truly impressed by what I ate a few nights ago. Most of what we ordered was the same sort of thing you could order at any “Middle Eastern” restaurant in town; in addition to the grape leaves I’ve mentioned, the appetizer sampler we ordered included hummus, baba ganoush, labne and a dish of eggplant and tomato with lemon that made me stop the conversation I was having and say, “damn” for the second time in about as many minutes. (The first being the stuffed grape leaf). I think I made it a trifecta when I tasted some of the lamb from my friend’s gyro platter, though in that case it may have veered south of “damn” and into “I can’t print this” territory. It was what gyro meat everywhere aspires to be – a bit of crunch on the outside and just meltingly tender inside without being too fatty.

All of the standards were exemplary, but a few of the dishes had been spiced with a subtle hand such that I recognized flavors and aromas that were not the standard here but didn’t overwhelm the dish. Think a hint of cardamom, a little cinnamon (maybe) and a touch of coriander seed.

Stuffed grape leaves can be difficult to pull off – sometimes the rice in the stuffing dries out and sometimes the leaves themselves can contribute an okra-like sliminess. These were juicy, tart and full of flavor.

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Chef Rafik “Rafiky” Abohattab

Chef Abohattab told me that the eggplant and tomato dish was his mother’s recipe for moussaka. What I had was not remotely like the Greek version, in large part because there’s no béchamel involved and it was prepared without meat. Rafiky said that he does a version with a mix of ground lamb and beef and I’m looking forward to trying it.

There are options on the menu at Torshi that go beyond the standards. The night I dined, I ordered the Hwwaash, which was a pita stuffed with spiced ground beef and fried in butter. “It’s Egyptian street food,” the chef told me, “We love it.”

I do too.

There was the deft hand with warming spices again and the bread was fried such that the exterior was light and crispy while the meat filling was still juicy. I wish I’d put in another order, because I took a bit home for my wife to taste and the tiny sliver that was left the next morning was good right out of the fridge.

In looking at Torshi’s Facebook page, I saw a Valentine’s Day menu that included a host of other dishes that I would very much like to eat: twelve-hour lamb shank with apricot, Moroccan pearl couscous, black currant and sautéed vegetables; chicken tagine with preserved lemon and Egyptian rice (which is a short/medium grain rice similar to Arborio or the rice served in sushi restaurants); an Egyptian casserole that includes eggplant, cauliflower, sprouts, carrots, potatoes and baby okra baked in a tomato sauce.

I should mention that there are multiple vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.

Torshi is only going to be at Silk Road until March 28, but Rafiky told me he has firm plans to open a brick and mortar establishment in the Marigny in April. I certainly hope that’s the case, and that I have the opportunity to write more about the food he’s putting out when it happens.

In the interim, I’m going to get back to Silk Road to sample chef Ganesh’s cooking and to pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese.