By VICTOR E. SASSON
La Ziza is a Lebanese restaurant near the Paterson Farmers' Market that opened recently in the space once occupied by Al Assayad.
Unfortunately, the use of a hookah (photo) is allowed in the dining room, a concession to smokers that drove me away from the old place.
Luckily, only a few other tables were occupied while I had dinner last night, and I didn't find the fruity smoke a problem. I asked Jamal, the waiter, if smoking the water pipe improved the appetite, and he said he didn't think so.
I watched people at the next table as they ate, then smoked a little and then returned to eating. I still don't get it.
At the old place, to get away from the smoking, we asked to be seated on the second floor. But the service was poor, because the waiter had to run up and down the stairs.
Fortunately, the food at La Ziza is good enough to persuade me to return with my wife and son.
After I placed my order, I got the usual plate of pickles and olives, and warm, chewy pocket bread, which, as is the custom at Arabic restaurants, is microwaved in the plastic bag (with a small opening).
I enjoyed a fatoush salad ($6.95), which combines romaine lettuce with cucumbers, tomato, onion and fried bread chunks in a lemony dressing that includes powdered sumac. I wasn't sure whether it was sumac, because it lacked the sourness of the sumac used in the za'atar thyme mixture.
I ordered the fried whiting listed on the menu ($12.95), and received a platter of rice with fried bread sandwiching four whole fish, each about seven to eight inches long. They had been quickly fried, leaving a crunchy tail and head and moist flesh along the bone. Wonderful. I ate two fish there and the rest for dinner tonight at home.
Strong, smooth Arabic coffee came in a small pot ($2), enough for two cups.
This would be a terrific place for maza, the meal of small plates chosen from the appetizers, such as fava beans and spicy potatoes, to name just two of the meatless items. But carnivores will find plenty of meat throughout the menu.
La Ziza Restaurant, 341 Crooks Ave., Clifton
(Crooks Avenue divides Paterson and Clifton);
For an update on La Ziza, see North Jersey-style food run