Citizen Staff Writer
What: Chef Alisah’s Restaurant
Address and phone: 5931 N. Oracle Road, Suite 117, 887-5305
Hours: open daily 10:30 a.m-1:30 p.m for lunch and 5:30-9:30 p.m. for dinner.
What was ordered: Cevapi (10 sausages for $6.90), Mahune I Grasak ($8.90) and a soft drink ($1.79) for a total of $19.01, within our Cheap Eats goal of a meal for two for less than $20.
Comments: Tucson’s first and only Bosnian restaurant is something of a tweener.
I’m reviewing it for Cheap Eats because the prices are modest enough to do that (the two most expensive entrees are $10.90), but Chef Alisah’s could just as easily be the subject of a Fine Dining review.
The modest dining room in this little unit inside a curious office/retail complex set off Oracle Road belies the quality of the fare, which is all made in-house, including the bread.
For those who have never had Bosnian fare, it’s not the raciest cuisine in the world. There’s a good amount of stewing and boiling going on, but the delicate spicing and slow-cooked tenderness of the meats has a homestyle goodness that, matched with the unique flavor combinations, makes this one of the more interesting dining destinations around.
Opened in November, Alisah’s is billed as the “only true Bosnian restaurant” in the U.S. I’ll leave it up to nonpartial Bosnians to determine the validity of that claim, but it doesn’t take a Bosnian to appreciate well-prepared, generously portioned, reasonably priced food served in a pleasing, family-style atmosphere.
We went for one of Alisah’s signature items, Cevapi, Bosnian sausage that the chef makes fresh every morning (he told us he makes 1,000 Cevapi a day and sells a good percentage of them for people to take home and cook). Served with moist, large, moon-shaped bread rolls that taste like something of a cross between a pita and an english muffin, the Cevapi were mild but nicely imbued with hard-to-place seasonings. The chef also told us that he refuses to part with his generations-old family recipe for Cevapi with anyone, including his wife.
The Mahanse I Garask arrived as a large platter generously laden with slower-than-slow-cooked cubes of beef, green beans, smallish lima beans, red bell pepper, onion and garlic. Stewed in a delicate sauce of butter and olive oil, this is one of those dishes that initially strikes you as bland but gathers a quiet power with each bite, with mysterious essences of tomato, curry and cinnamon creeping in. It was served with a scoop of somewhat stiff but serviceable mashed potatoes and a nicely tart salad of marinated cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes.
I’ve paid three visits to Alisah’s and each time, servers stopped at each table to offer complimentary Vocne Kuglice, dried fruit balls of different flavors, dense and loaded with fruity sweetness. They also offer a baklava that’s exceedingly moist and served cold. While both of those sweets are tempting, the showstopper dessert here is the Tufahija, a whole, peeled apple gently poached in an exquisite, sweet sauce and topped with a little dollop of walnuts, whipped cream and vanilla sugar.
As unfamiliar as the Bosnian offerings may look and sound here, they have a soothing, down-home quality that makes Alisah’s a gently distinctive little gem.
Service: Tableside service was friendly, prompt and knowledgeable about the Bosnian fare, which comes in very handy for non-Bosnians.
Children’s menu: yes
Web site: alisahrestaurant.com
Most recent health inspection: A “good” rating Nov. 17. A critical violation was reported for food separation, packaging, segregation and substitution methods not preventing food and ingredient contamination.