Sultan’s Grill inconsistent with great shawarma, bad falafel

“Just because you’re on the go, doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a sultan,” promises the menu for the Sultan’s Grill, and that makes a lot of sense. Middle Eastern food, by its nature and origins, tends to be sort of portable, and as I walked in I found myself wishing I lived in this Summerlin neighborhood and could stop in on my way home or arrange delivery.

But then, unfortunately, I discovered that the food was a mixed bag.

“Wake up and smell the hummus” is another of the Sultan’s Grill’s mottoes, and it’s pretty clever as long as you don’t think about the fact that hummus isn’t all that aromatic. No matter; we figured the Hummus Trio ($6.99) would be a good way to start, and for the most part we were right.

The trio involves three cups of hummus, one each of the Sultan’s Grill’s classic, green and red, and this was our first indication that while the restaurant had a lot to offer, it wasn’t consistent. We liked that they included little mounds of pickled turnips and cabbage, and the pita triangles were warm, pillowy and lightly grilled, so those were right on target. So was the classic hummus, with a float of reasonably fruity olive oil, and the red hummus, bright with the flavor of roasted red peppers.

But while I was looking forward to the most offbeat of the trio, the green hummus, I was disappointed in it. While the menu’s promised parsley and scallions were there in great abundance, the flavors sort of canceled each other out, with neither discernible and the whole very definitely less than the sum of its parts. Plus, it was considerably thicker than the other two, which didn’t help.

Both of our entrees included salads. They were very simple – bowls of romaine, each with a grape tomato and a couple slices of cucumber – but this is, after all, a simple counter-service place, and the vegetables were cold, crisp and crunchy, the creamy house and vinaigrette dressings both reasonably well-balanced.

And the positive trend continued with the Chicken Sharwarma ($9.95 for a dinner serving, $6.95 at lunch). This dish, ubiquitous in Middle Eastern restaurants, is very dependent on how deftly the seasoning is mixed and the chicken is grilled, and it was spot-on on both counts, moist and flavorful and very appealing. Cabbage and turnips were served with the entrees, too, and chopped tomatoes and onions for some do-it-yourself seasoning, which was nice. We had fries on the side with this one, and they were crisp and hot and the pita bread just as it should be.

But man, what falafel ($9.95/$6.95) – and not in a good way. I’m crazy about falafel and have had dozens of versions over the years, from numerous permutations of the various cuisines that come under the Middle Eastern tent. This falafel, however, ranked way down the list. The chick-pea mixture had been formed into pellets that were about the size and shape of Tater Tots, only not as good (and trust me, I’m not a fan of Tater Tots). The predominant flavor was cumin, which was OK as far as it goes, but the texture was dry and mealy. Adding to the problem was that the nuggets appeared to have been rolled in something – maybe bulgur – before they were fried (actually, overfried), which gave them a hard shell. I kept going back to give them another shot, kept dipping them in the accompanying cup of sauce, but nothing helped. And the yellow rice on the side was just sort of blah.

So, as I said, a decidedly mixed bag. Plastic dishes and flatware, which we’d expect in a counter-service restaurant and especially at these prices. Ditto for the plain but clean interior. Service was fine; our food was prepared quickly, and an employee brought it to our table, along with napkins and flatware.

But I’d stay away from that falafel.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@ or 702-383-0474.

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