Nick's Picks: Yemen House
The late, great food critic Jonathan Gold was known for discovering the most interesting places to eat in Los Angeles. Gold wrote countless reviews on hidden taquerias, low-key ramen shops, and hole-in-the-wall eateries that served everything from Korean bibimbap to Ethiopian injera bread. In many cases, Gold’s picks were not found in the heart of downtown Los Angeles or in trendy neighborhoods but in nondescript plazas and strips malls miles away from any glitz or glamour. While the scale and geography of Los Angeles is obviously different in Rochester, Gold’s same strip mall method can apply to our local food scene. With much lower rent and cost of operations, restaurants outside of Rochester’s typical dining districts can afford to cook authentic, specific cuisine from abroad that may not appeal to mass audiences in the United States.
This principle is found at 1733 Norton Street where owner-chef Ramzee Yehia, who immigrated from Yemen in 1999, operates Yemen House, a restaurant that serves as Rochester’s introduction to a cuisine with a rich history that spans thousands of years. With Yemen’s location as a coastal country accessible by many trade routes, influences from other Middle Eastern countries as well as India and Africa can be seen in most meals. The healthy, aromatic, and powerfully flavorful cooking of Yemen is shown in traditional dishes that utilize rice, potato, onions, tomatoes, and slowly cooked chicken, lamb, and beef. A generous amount of spices like chili peppers, turmeric, coriander seeds, and cumin, just to name a few, bring the simple ingredients in Yemeni cuisine to their full potential. Sometimes, in lieu of silverware, meals are served alongside thin, unleavened flatbreads.
At Yemen House, which has become somewhat of a community center for many Middle-Eastern Americans near the Norton Street neighborhood, diners dive into Yemeni fare through the country’s perfectly executed signature dishes. Some of the most popular options include haneeth, essentially a platter with tender, succulent lamb or chicken in a subtle red sauce, basmati rice, diced tomatoes, and coriander; and agdah, which again uses roasted chicken or lamb, as well as onions, tomatoes, garlic, and okra. Many patrons also opt for saltah—a strong, pungent, and comforting beef based stew made with a zesty, spicy sauce of chiles, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, served while bubbling in a piping hot clay bowl.
Mirroring its accessible cuisine and community-center atmosphere, Yemen House’s staff is warm, inviting, and more than happy to walk new customers through their menu.
Follow Nick’s Picks on Twitter at @NickAbreu585.