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Middle Eastern cuisine and ‘The Kay’ to collide

Darna Manager Safa Abukhdair.

The Kay district in Downtown is about to become home to another business, but this time it’s not a bar, club or concert venue.

It’s a restaurant serving Mediterranean food with Palestinian roots that will take the place of a formerly vacant building. Darna – which means "Our home" in Arabic – is set to open at at 925 K Street in April, if all goes smoothly. It will take the space of Farley’s, a restaurant that has been closed for at least seven years. 

Manager Safa Abukhdair, whose father owns the building and restaurant, said there’s nothing to compare Darna to in Sacramento. "People who really like Mediterranean food will love it," the 22-year-old said. "People who have never had it will come back for more."

The lunch will be buffet style, and dinner will be served traditionally, sit-down style, Safa Abukhdair said. Most recipes are inspired by Safa Abukhdair’s mother, who grew up in Palestine, and is teaching Executive Chef Drian Perez (formerly from Arco Arena) her secrets.

While the menu is still being developed, Safa Abukhdair gave the following examples of what to expect:

• Moussaka – an eggplant-based dish, with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and ground beef
• Shawarma sandwiches – meats will include shredded beef or lamb, mixed with a special sauce, topped with tomatoes and pickles
• Tabouli salad – bulger with finely chopped parsley, pieces of tomato and cucumber, with a dressing made of olive oil and lemon
• Beef kabobs and lamb chops
• Mensuf – rice with a thin layer of bread, pine nuts, almonds, lamb, and topped with goat milk

A wall at Darna is adorned with hand-painted glass, which was made by an artist in Jordan.

The building’s interior has been completely remodeled and beautified, with touches of the Middle East dispersed throughout. Owner Ismail Abukhdair designed the inside, which includes four pillars that stand between the entrance and the dining area. There is also a tiled floor area positioned between the pillars, and an entire wall of hand painted pieces of glass from an artist in Jordan.

"We definitely want people to feel when they come in, that they’re in a different place," Safa Abukhdair said. "It’s different from what Sacramento is used to."

Ismail Abukhdair isn’t new to running a business. He also owns the deli next door – Han’s Corner Deli – and as well as Rodney’s Cigar & Liquor Store for the past 30 years.

His story is a familiar American immigrant tale. At 19 years old, Ismail Abukhdair left his home country in Jerasulam for the Golden State. With few possessions and his family on the other side of the world, he took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Berkeley, before eventually making his way to Sacramento.

Hand-painted glass from an artist in Jordan adorns the walls of Darna, a Mediterranean restaurant set to open soon in “The Kay.”

During a return visit to see his family, Ismail Abukhdair met his wife, married her 32 years ago, and the two made a home in Sacramento. The couple has eight children, including Safa Abukhdair.

She hopes Darna provides a healthy place for people to dine. "Mediterranean food is on the healthier side," Safa Sbukhdair said, noting the choices that include salads, chicken, hummus, eggplant dips, falafels and kabobs.

"I don’t think Sacramento has tasted anything like this before," she said. "The food is going to be amazing."  

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