Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review

The same delicious, exotic foods offered by the Mediterranean Chef brand taste even better when sampled in its Cafe

Mediterranean Chef Cafe

5908 Aurora, 512/970-9150, www.themedchef.com/cafe
Mon.-Fri., 9am-8pm; Sat., 10am-8pm
Restaurant Review
Photo by John Anderson

Mediterranean Chef Cafe

5908 Aurora, 970-9150
Monday-Friday, 9am-8pm; Saturday, 10am-8pm; closed Sunday
www.themedchef.com/cafe

Nikki Kaya, the Mediterranean chef mentioned in the name of the restaurant, is a chemical engineer by trade, and an émigré from Istanbul, Turkey. She arrived here in 1995, after paying her dues as a lab rat (the term scientists use for those who toil selflessly in labs, analyzing and logging data) in nutritional analysis laboratories in Istanbul. She repeated that task here, before working her way up to become a food service director for corporate accounts, and taking French culinary classes. She came already armed with a wealth of culinary knowledge, having learned how to cook the dishes of her homeland at the side of her mother and grandmother, but her job background prepared her perfectly for manufacturing food. If the brand name Mediterranean Chef sounds familiar, that's probably because you've seen its products at local and area farmers' markets and on the shelf at local groceries such as Whole Foods, Central Market, and Fresh Plus. It also caters, and will deliver wholesale orders for a price.

The cafe part of the equation involves the spare but comfy seating area in front of the Mediterranean Chef's concrete-block building on Aurora; it sits halfway between North Lamar and Grover, going north off of Koenig, west of Lamar, and just west of that big water tank. With a spacious, tree-shaded parking lot and a groovy Mediterraneanish mural on the side, it's easy to spot. You order at the counter, the food is delivered quickly, and you pay as you leave. The pricing can be confusing, since the cafe charges by the pound ($7.99 per pound), but we ordered a "little bit of everything," including two pita wraps and baklava, and the price was very reasonable.

The pita wraps come stuffed with lamb and beef, or chicken, and are generously filled with lettuce, tomato, sautéed onions, feta, jalapeños, and a tart tatziki sauce. We preferred the lamb and beef over the chicken, but found both options moist and flavorful. I know whole wheat pita is healthier, but I'd actually rather have a plain white pita; still, both are great, even if you force me into whole wheatdom. The falafel, which we had heard raves about, was the weak point of the visit. Frankly, we found it cooked nicely, but dry and under-seasoned; the phrase "bland hush puppy" escaped my lips.

The pies, which come in two versions, are fantastic. The spinach pie is in a golden-brown, flaky phyllo cocoon, and has an ample stuffing of spinach, onion, and feta, seasoned with dill and a few caraway seeds. The meat pie uses sautéed, grass-fed beef, new potatoes, and onion, wrapped in that same crunchy pillow. Grandma's Humus is made with organic garbanzos, tahini, garlic, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice. It comes drizzled with additional olive oil and tastes sprightly and superb; one of the better versions in town. The tabouleh is delicious, using more parsley than you're probably used to, but it has an assertive flavor that really jumps out and grabs you.

We loved the beet salad: a creamy mélange of beets, sour cream, lemon, and a touch of cinnamon – very refreshing. The vegetarian dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) are tasty, tubular treats, filled with rice, herbs, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. My dining companion fancies himself a dolma connoisseur, and he declared them to be among the best he's had in town. I like that they weren't smothered in olive oil, and had some real flavor to them. We liked the baba ghanoush as well: creamy, complex, and with a delicate smokiness from the grilled eggplant; an excellent version. Baklava ($1.95) is so often a dripping, overly sweet mess, drowned in honey. Here, it manages to be flaky, with a crumbly, rich pecan filling, and a light syrup of spiced honey. Well done, madam! We have to put Mediterranean Chef Cafe way up there in the top tier of Mideast venues.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Mediterranean Chef Cafe, Nikki Kaya, Istanbul, pita wraps, dolmas, baklava, falafel, humus

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