Zeina, Highland Park, NJ

Zeina is a middle eastern restaurant though it dubs itself as mediterranean restaurant. I’ve read some decent reviews in the past, including one from the NY Times. Couple that with the fact that I really enjoy middle eastern food and have yet to find a middle eastern restaurant in central NJ that I like I was quite eagar to try out Zeina. My favorite middle eastern places are in northern NJ or London so there was a lot at stake for me.

We got to the restaurant on time for our 7pm reservation and were informed by the hostess that since they were really busy that night we had to be out of there in an hour and half. I found that a little off putting. Kind of like being invited to someone’s home for dinner and then being told that you can’t hang around for long because they have more interesting guests coming later and need us out before they arrive. The restaurant should have done a better job at managing their reservations rather than letting greed overcome them so that they could turn the tables over 3 times instead of twice.

The space itself is quite cramped. Tables are way too close together. I kept getting hit by the seriously annoying woman behind me because our tables were way to close. She never thought to apologise. On weekends there is a belly dancer though I can’t fathom where she would be dancing considering the lack of space.

Service was a little spotty. It seemed like the restaurant only had 2 waiters for the entire place. One waiter came and introduced himself to us and said he would be taking care of us and then completely disappeared and then the other waiter took over, eventually. I wonder if our table was an addition that night and they weren’t sure who was taking care of us.

They have a wine list, relatively short and quite lousy. I did order a glass of wine and regretted it. Should have stuck with water.

All this could be forgiven if the food was good. We ordered a cold vegetarian appetizer platter which included houmous, babaghanoush and various other things including grape leaves. Overall it was ok. For the main course we ordered the mixed grill platter which included kebabs, lamb and rice. Kebabs are a test for me in any middle eastern restaurant. If you can’t get that right, then you’ve got problems. The meat was tender however under-seasoned and generally bland.

Prices are a little on the high side for what it is and considering the service and quality of food I was surprised by how packed the restaurant was and how many people kept being turned away. The lack of half decent restaurants in the area means people will go for anything.

Not somewhere I would return.

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