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Reborn Shaharazade’s ‘waking up’

By Staff | May 6, 2011

Legend has it that the lovely Shahrazad wove stories over 1,001 nights to save herself from death. The king of Persia, having been spurned in love, decreed he’d take a virgin to bed each night, then have her beheaded in the morning. He would not be betrayed again.

When it came her turn in the royal bedchamber, crafty Shahrazad beguiled her king. She began a tale so compelling, he sat rapt all night. As daylight came, the story was unfinished. He spared her. The next night, Shahrazad finished her story and began another that was once again, unfinished as daylight broke.

Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and his magic carpet, Ali Baba and his thieves – all are said to have come from the imagination of Shaharazade. And in the end, it was this Persian queen herself who became as legendary as her characters.

But in Shepherdstown, Shaharazade’s restaurant might better be known right now as Sleeping Beauty.

Having sustained a shutdown last year, then a sale and change in management, the restaurant is reawakening. But there is still some sleep to rub from its eyes.

On a recent visit, the space was dark and the front door locked at 11 a.m., despite an advertised 10:30 a.m. opening. A lone server was the only staff. “Our cooks haven’t arrived yet,” she explained.

The day’s soup had not been started on the stove, and the restaurant was out of several key menu items. And although three-tier plates for English tea service were evident on the restaurant’s shelves, it was absent from the menu. Only after I finished my meal was I told it is still available.

The pot of Chai tea I ordered was wonderfully deep with spicy, sweet and mellow flavors. Restaurant proprietor Lisa Olney said she has concentrated on sourcing teas, offering 76 varieties categorized as fine, rare and exceptional. But by the time food arrived to join it, the teapot had lost its warmth.

The previous incarnation of Shaharazade’s offered impeccable cooking on a wide range of fare. Panini were striated with grill marks, brown and crisp outside and gooey within. Couscous was fluffy and studded with feta and vegetables.

The current cuisine isn’t quite there yet. A little more practice at the stove will bring wonders.

Lunch specials are available daily until 3 p.m. The menu centers on reworking ingredients as wraps, foldovers, cold and grilled sandwiches. There are also kabobs, that arrive with basmati rice, salad, hummus and warm flatbread, as well as a couple of quiches and a variety of salads.

Magazine back issues still are stacked on low shelves for browsers who want to sit awhile. There is still Middle Eastern music on the sound system. The ceilings are still swagged in red satin, and satin pillows provide a backrest on low chairs.

A lot about Shaharazade’s is the same as it ever was. But Olney says a lot is new, too. New carpets on the floors, new tassels on the curtains – new curtains! She says a lot of maintenance on the restaurant had been deferred as the previous owners bowed out, and she’s had a lot to do to refresh the space.

Olney and her husband gutted the kitchen, replaced the subfloor and remade most of the service stations at the rear of the restaurant. Everything was scrubbed clean. Teas were reorganized in new canisters.

“It’s only 900 square feet, and we wondered if we’d ever put it all back together,” she said.

The reborn Shaharazade’s is an established favorite made new. The next months will allow Olney, formerly an international adoption attorney, to find herself as a restaurateur. Shaharazade’s is just waking up from a long winter’s nap.