Mediterranean mish-mash

Mazza offers a different take on Middle Eastern

The good news is that Mazza Mediterranean Cuisine and Bar (4920 Roswell Road, 404-255-0666) has a great staff and good food. The bad news is that on Friday and Saturday nights, the place is given over to belly dancing.

Of course, this may actually be an incentive for you to visit the restaurant on a weekend night. It was a reason for me to go on a Sunday night. I am on a personal campaign to relegate belly dancers to the status of mimes and force them outdoors to perform only in street festivals. Honestly, I do not get it. I've seen some impressive dancing here and there. I recall one buxom dancer at a restaurant who vibrated tableside with a candle on her head and sparklers in her hands — kind of like a stripper impersonating a fireworks display. But who wants to eat amid fireworks? Oh well. At least where belly dancers are, you can be sure there will be no mariachi bands.

Actually, Mazza is — sans dancers — a pleasantly intimate restaurant with only 20 tables. It's cozily dark, with lots of wood and red drapes and tablecloths. One of the owners, Edries Rahman, was our server. He explained that his family has operated restaurants in Washington, D.C., for 25 years and the concept here is a fusion of Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on Middle Eastern dishes because of the family's Afghan-Turkish heritage.

The restaurant takes its name from the Arabic name for the small plates we know among the Turks and Greeks as "mezze." I'm somewhat confused by the choice of this name because, outside the appetizers, there really aren't any small dishes or at least not enough to build a really interesting meal with them. But this is not unique to Mazza. I go to Middle Eastern restaurants all the time where it's hard to get a mezze platter of anything but the old standards like hummus, falafel and babaganoush.

We bypassed those here and tried a couple of appetizers that were new to us. Turkish manti is ravioli-like dumplings filled with green onions, topped with a sauce of ground beef and yogurt and a garnish of chopped mint. It's also available as an entree. Wayne's choice was nearly-as-good boalanee corsicina — fried turnovers stuffed with green onions and seasoned potatoes, served with garlic yogurt.

I likewise skipped the usual kabobs and ordered kubali palow, Afghanistan's most popular dish that, as far as I can tell, is a lot like India's lamb pulao. This observation of course prompted Wayne to begin his usual geography lesson about the migration of people around Southern Asia. Whatever. The slightly sweet dish features chunks of roasted lamb tossed with cumin-seasoned brown rice full of carrot strips, pistachios and raisins. Wayne chose a special, three fat lamb chops, grilled medium rare, with rice.

For dessert we ordered a fat cannoli — I hadn't eaten one in years — and firnee, a cornstarch pudding flavored with rose water and cardamom, garnished with pistachios. The latter, cool and creamy, tasted like rice pudding without the rice. Pick it over the cannoli. Finally, we ordered Turkish coffee. As we did during our trip to Turkey, we inverted the cup after we finished drinking it to let the sediment form a pattern. We invited Edries to read our fortune but, alas, he could see no further than the very reasonable bill which he was about to present us.

br>?Here and there
Dakota Blue (454 Cherokee Ave., 404-589-8002) has opened in Grant Park directly across from Grant Central Pizza. The place is a bit confusing. The menu calls it a burrito joint and indeed it seemed during my visit to be exactly that. However, I picked up a to-go menu on my way out and it includes five Cuban-style sandwiches that weren't on the inside menu.

The owner informs me that indeed Cuban sandwiches have been added because customers did not find the menu broad enough. I agree and I'll return to try those. In the meantime, I can say that I enjoyed a starter of chips and white cheese dip with jalapeños. My super burrito made with adobo chicken was tasty enough but a mess. It was so loosely made that I couldn't even hold it together inside its tinfoil wrapping. Happily, the restaurant is not overloading the burritos with rice and, unlike the overly friendly but stingy folks at Moe's, the kitchen uses generous meat here ...

Meanwhile, across the street at Grant Central (451 Cherokee Ave., 404-523-8900), the kitchen seems to become more proficient every month. I've long doted on the small white pizza here to which I add anchovies and tomatoes. And the daily meat lasagna is also good. But, lately, the restaurant has added specials that one doesn't expect at a pizzeria. A quesadilla made with grilled shrimp and calamari last week was killer, as was an earlier special of marinated spare ribs. Sometimes the kitchen has gone quite overboard, apparently using every ingredient within the chef's reach, but the trend toward less rococo dishes is welcome, even if someone retains an utterly manic hand with garnishes ...

An anonymous reader writes with this recommendation: "Le Lapin Cafe inside the Interiors Market at 55 Bennett St. is serving the best lunch in town. The desserts are great!" I'll be visiting soon ...

Louise Stewart writes to recommend a new lunch spot, Corner Stop Cafe (195 N. Perry St., downtown Lawrenceville, 770-962-4112): "They serve Southern-style food and since the day it opened, it's been packed."

Regular readers know that while my body occupies Atlanta, my soul resides in Spain. I was happy to see the Aug. 10 New York Times Magazine devoted to how Barcelona has eclipsed Paris as the "vanguard capital of Europe." Although I prefer Madrid, there's no doubt El Bulli in Rosas, near Barcelona, is among the world's great destination restaurants now. I refer the growing number of local tapas chefs to the article for inspiration. Or you might read Christiane Lauterbach's account of her visit in the July issue of Knife and Fork (404-378-3775).

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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