Atmosphere: Warm and informal.
Price Range: From a fine salad at $4.50 on up to $6.75.
Hours: Every day, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair. There are high chairs and booster seats. Street parking if you cruise.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit Cards: American Express, Master Charge.
In unintentionally keeping with the spirit of Begin Sadat and Christmas all rolled into one, we wound up by a cozy fire in the closest thing to a Mid-Eastern manger complete with colored lights and a pine-cone tree the other night.
My wife and I have always enjoyed the Iron Gate Inn, be it in the cool outdoor garden on a summer night or underneath the hay racks by candlelight on in the dead of winter. But we weren't sure how our two children would take to the kifta-kibbeh-and-kabab fare that is the mainstay of this old estate-stable-turned-restaurant. They took well, and partook the same way.
In is said that the famous and popular general of the Spanish and Indian Wars' fame, one Nelson A. Miles, and his renowned prancing bays used to revel on this site at the turn of the century - and since it is said right in the middle of our printed paper placemats, far be it from us to question it at this time.
Besides, after our little walk through the iron gate out front and past the impressive multi-cord collection of firewood stacked along the alley wall, we're now nestled in a nook underneath the stairs, near the warm fire and the tasteful Christmas lights that frame it - and the children are blissfully calm.
Though he never hovers, the waiter is somehow right with us the minute we need him. We order two margaritas (from south of the middle eastern border, of course) and, as the kids are still wondering what drink to order, the waiter tells them he'll "take care of it" for them. That results in two Iron-Gate-version Shirley Temples, which had better favor and less of that icky-sweet taste than other STS we have known.
For starters, two of us considered humos, that fine chick-pea puree that is so wonderfully mop-upable with hunks of hot Syrian bread. But in the absence of any interest whatsover on the part of our young campanions, we ordered neither the small at $1.50 nor the large at $1.95.
Instead, I called some stuffed grape leaves at $2.25, which, despite several mumbled praises from the parents, didn't win over the offspring.
Well now, you may be wondering at this point, just what in the dickens did the children like here, anyway? The answer: Everything else that arrived.
With each entree comes Arabian bread, which, when it disappeared in a flash at out table, was replaced. All main dishes also include a salad, which, though highly seasoned for a young palate, drew compliments.
Our 8-year-old daughter had looked a bit apprehensive when she first read about kifta, at $5.25, but she became an immediate convert once it proved to be nothing more than super-good lamb meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with rice.
Based on his previous fine times with two particular menu words and their various spellings around town - sheesh kabab at $6.75, it says here - our 10-year-son wound up raving about his charcoal-broiled lambe with tomatoes and onions, also served with rice.
Actually, we were all on the lamb in a sense, for my wife was enjoying an excellent lamb curry at $5.50, "specially prepared from our own recipes, served with imported mango chutney." And I was pleasantly pacified with kibbeh, at $6.25, which is baked ground lamb with cracked wheat and toasted pine nuts, served with more of those nifty stuffed grape leaves.
For a first-time sampler of this sort of fare, there is a combination platter at $6.95; or if you'd just as soon stick with a full-entree salad for $4.50, there is a mideastern gradenful, with feta cheese, ham, chicken, Greek olives and pickled turnips.
While our children struggle to finish all the rice, we would interject that the Iron Gate really isn't for tray-tappers or toddlers; but for those who are, say, seven years old or more, the Iron Gate is an informal but civilized switch from the fast-food track.
It is dessert-time now, and there is baqlaawa for $1.50 and homemade yogurt for $1.25.
The total bill for our stable diet was $34.56 plus tip, which one could undercut by skipping the appetizer or, in the case of junior appetites, splitting a main dish. In any event, for a gentle introduction to Mideastern specialties in a most friendly setting, a stop-over at the Iron Gate might be just the perfect holiday-season diversion.