Downtown Elmhurst's best-kept secret might be hidden behind a standard brick exterior, but it houses no dental office. Upon entering this Middle Eastern restaurant, one's eye first meets a slick bar stacked with liquors and spirits that intoxicate upon sight. The main area that follows resembles a Mesopotamian theology lesson, complete with lush flowers creeping down the Doric columns towering over linen cloth tables. The walls are heavy with art depicting antique Assyrian and Babylonian battle scenes and weary faces.
The Athar represents the smoothest amalgamation of contemporary American and ancient Mesopotamian food. Those looking for a more delectable version of their favorite Americanized meal wonít turn away in disappointment, as the carnivorous portion of the menu promises rib eye, pork and lamb chops of inimitable taste. The melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake and chocolate fudge cake are a must-try dessert as well.
At the same time, every delicious menu item breathes of a Middle Eastern touch. A meal can leave a lingering and almost imperceptible hint of garlic and ginger, or radiate cinnamon and nutmeg. Hummus-lovers, beware: you might turn away from store-bought hummus after trying Athar's homemade version. The hummus also seems to complement all appetizers, starting with the dolmah (beef with rice and tomatoes wrapped in grape leaves) and ending with the more exotic sea scallops with white wine sauce and crab-stuffed mushrooms with garlic sauce. However, you will have to curb your enthusiasm and consume all entrees with care, as they are but a mouth-watering tease before the main courses. Even the simpler meals, such as the Mediterranean salad or the skewered filet mignon, will leave your taste buds reeling.
Before lunging toward the steaming plate in front of you, make sure that you choose a glass of red or white wine, or perhaps a cocktail to bring out the subtle flavors in your food of choice. Much like the hummus, Athar's superb drink menu completes each delicious bite of food. At this point, consider yourself lucky if you have enough room to finish the tasty symphony with some ataif, a phyllo pastry folded with walnuts and ricotta cheese, or the bourmah, a pistachio and walnut treat.
If your meal happens to be on a Saturday, donít raise your hand for the check just yet. Just as you are about to dry the last sip of wine, the normally subdued flute, fiddle and frame drum sounds will grow to a crescendo. Sheer curtains part to reveal a sequin-clad, stomach-baring belly dancer. As she rolls her body in harmony with the music, she makes individual rest stops at each table to ensure you leave the restaurant full and in high spirits.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Yana Paskova