A Table for How Many? at Ranoush
6501 Delmar Boulevard, University City
Special for You
Ranoush seated our large party at a special table toward the back of the restaurant. We had to walk through a colorful tent to get to it, which gave it a festive and authentic Middle Eastern feel. As we were seated, the owner explained to us that many Middle Eastern restaurants go for a hip, modern American style. He, however, prefers a more traditional feel.
After our whole group was seated, we were offered the option of a special off-menu group meal. We would be given a variety of appetizers, several main courses to choose from and a dessert for around twenty dollars each. While this was a great deal, it would have been nice if it had been offered at the time we made our reservation; that way we could have told our group a per-person cost and all who showed up would be prepared for it. Since the option was presented after our arrival and not everyone wanted to spend that much, we had to decline.
It's easy to make a meal at Ranoush out of the mezzas (appetizers). In fact, the main course section of the menu offers three mezza combo options (Ranoush menu, Traditional Mezza for Two, and Vegetarian Mezza for Two). These main-course mezzas turned out to be outstanding choices: They were filling, tasty and provided a nice sampling of a variety of flavors.
They did, however, cause some confusion. The main course mezzas were brought to the table with the appetizer mezzas. Since our server did not take note of who ordered what, he would simply call out something like "Hummus!" It was left to the table to remember who got hummus either as an appetizer or as part of a main-course mezza. It would have been nice if the main-course mezzas were served as large platters alongside the other entrees. This would have made food delivery go much more smoothly.
The main course mezzas for two could also be improved by a slight change. Several of the items on the mezzas came in groupings of three (for example, three pieces of falafel). If the mezza is designed to be shared by two people, there should be an even number of each item.
It Pays to Be Last
Ranoush did a superb job of getting all of our food out in a timely manner -- no one was left waiting for a meal for an unacceptable length of time. Despite this, when the last dish came out, the owner explained how he had put a little something extra on the plate to make up for that person's longer wait. It was such a small gesture but so incredibly endearing. No one wants to be the last one to get his food, but this made it almost worth the wait.
Tea for Twelve
At the end of our meal, the owner brought our table free mint tea. It was the perfect finish to the evening -- although those that ordered knafeh, a hybrid of baklava and cheesecake, to go with their tea had an even better ending.
On the way out the door, the owner noted my pregnant belly. He told me to please come back with my baby. He loves babies! I certainly plan to, with or without a group.
Stefani Pollack is the author of the food blogs Cupcake Project and Food Interviews. She is also a member of the St. Louis Dinner Club. She blogs about her large-group dining experiences twice a month for Gut Check.