ORLEANS -- Ask chefs around Cape Cod where they go out to eat and many mention the same restaurant: Abba. They praise its intimate size, the decor, the wines, and especially the food, though they're not quite sure how to describe it. ''Middle Eastern and Asian flavors," says one. ''A fusion of Middle East, Thai, and northern Indian, with a classic French base," says another.
It does seem like an unusual mix. How often do you see scallops grilled in sage-garlic butter sauce, served with a baba ghanoush-style eggplant dish, on the same menu with mussels in a Thai sauce of coconut milk, basil, and pineapple?
Co-owner Christina Bratberg says it's really not that unusual, at least not for anyone who has spent time in Israel. That's where her husband, chef and co-owner Erez Pinhas, grew up and was trained as a French chef. Bratberg calls the restaurant's style pan-Mediterranean, rather than Middle Eastern. ''Israel has a strong Mediterranean and European culture," she says, with elements of North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France frequently found in Israeli cooking.
As for the Indian flavors, Bratberg says that's a common misconception.
''Erez's family comes from Yemen, and the spices used there are sometimes confused with Indian ones," she says, with a taste similar to Indian curries.
Then there's the Thai component. Bratberg says one frequently sees an Israeli-Thai mix in Israel's restaurants.
''Erez spent a good deal of time in Thailand," she says. ''So many Israelis travel to Thailand after they've served in the army." Many Thai immigrants now live and work in Israel as well. In fact, Abba's Thai line chef, Pry Grasint, known to the staff as An, originally met Pinhas when they worked together in Israel. ''He was in Israel for 20 years," says Pinhas.
While some dishes are straight Thai or Mediterranean, others are a complete mlange, like the rack of lamb Pinhas often features.
''I use a combination of Thai and Yemenite spices," he says, ''with turmeric, cumin, cardamom, black and white pepper, and coriander, mixed with coconut milk, cilantro, lemon grass, and fish sauce."
Patrons seem happy to try dishes like oysters with Thai lemon sauce or falafel with Israeli salsa. When it comes to dessert, though, Bratberg says it's hard to break them of their love of the chocolate bomb, an item on the menu of many fine restaurants.
''We make it here, and it's served with Russian crme and raspberry sauce. We're trying to get away from it," she concedes, ''but people always request it."
Abba, West Road and Old Colony Way, Orleans, 508-255-8144, www.abbarestaurant.com. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, open at 5 p.m. $110 for two, including wine. Appetizers $8-$15, entrees $18-$34, desserts $9.