The sign in front of the low-slung building was different, all right: Petra Café. But was it actually a different restaurant or yet another creative gambit by restaurateur Nazeeh Hajeeh? The Jerusalem-born Hajeeh opened the original Promiseland Café in the location in 1998, then changed the name to the Ali Baba Café a few years later, then briefly sold the restaurant in 2003 ("Promises, Promises," September 18, 2003) before reopening as the Promiseland Café once again.
But this month, the venue officially reopened as Petra Café with new owners, a new menu and, finally -- be still my foolish heart -- the option to pay by credit card. The most difficult task for the husband-and-wife team of Jordan-born Abraham and Summer Salem has been reassuring customers that Petra is indeed a brand-new bistro and not just a freshly minted name for the same old business.
"We get people calling in and asking, 'Are you sure this isn't the same owner as the Promiseland Café?' I tell them to come in and look at me," Salem says.
A look at Salem's generously laden lunch buffet would be a better indication that things have changed. The former cook (best-known for his tenure in the kitchen at the beloved old Café Nile restaurant, once a dining mecca on this same stretch of Wornall) offers an array of fresh Greek salad with feta cheese, kefta kebabs, baked chicken, grape leaves, spanakopita, moussaka, hummus and baba ghanoush, pita bread and fresh fruit each weekday.
And the dinner menu revives a lot of old Café Nile favorites, such as a seafood bisque, beef Oscar, roasted lamb and amaretto chocolate mousse.
In other makeover news: Fifty blocks north, Benton's steakhouse, on the 20th floor of the Westin Crown Center Hotel, is keeping its name but boasting its prettiest rehab in decades, including an attractive gas fireplace at the entrance and a new chef de cuisine. Darryl Nash has done wonders turning the $23.95 Sunday brunch into an artistic array of excellent salads, entrées and sumptuous desserts.
The dining room has been beautifully decorated for Christmas and still offers one of the richest panoramic views of the city -- perfect for impressing those visiting relatives in for the holidays.
Happily, some things do change for the better.