Cabbage rolls (lahanah sarma) are a wonderful way to start a meal at Mandolin Kitchen. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
It’s a table of hearty good eating, beginning with a complimentary bread basket and a bowl of noshes: a few black olives; a dish of sun-dried tomatoes swirled in olive oil; salty white cheese; sweet, creamy butter. To be honest, the baked pita crisps and slices of springy bread were wholly unremarkable on both stops. So don’t dare fill up on them.
Ask your server to bring you an Almaza beer (from Lebanon) or a glass of Orama cabernet (from Greece). Get a meze or two. But unless you are truly ravenous or want leftover food to take home, consider sharing an entree.
Mucver (zucchini pancakes) is one of the standout starters at Mandolin Kitchen in Sandy Springs. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
As for the appetizers, I can’t stop, won’t stop raving about the mucver. Advertised as zucchini pancakes with yogurt, they were more like croquettes: puffy and luscious, oily in a good way, meant to be dabbed with a calming coddle of acidic dairy.
During a quick scan of the menu, I noticed a few nods to Greece (spanakopita, lemony chicken avgolemono soup, ouzo). When I asked the server where the owners were originally from, he told me the giveaway is the yogurt. It is strained of whey the Turkish way, and thus richer, thicker, tighter and tangier than its Greek counterpart.
Owner Okan Ozyurteri and chef Lutfi Kacmaz both hail from Turkey, and you’ll find the putty-textured yogurt dolloped with abandon at Mandolin. It is served on the side of the aforementioned cabbage rolls with tomato sauce (lahanah sarma), another dish I’m crazy about, and it is scooped on both sides of a heaping platter of iskender, a hearty mess of doner kebab strips piled over pita croutons and smothered with tomato gravy.
The iskender is a gut buster. So be sure to balance it with some tabbouleh, choban or roasted beet salad. The tabbouleh isn’t bad. But it comes to the table freshly dressed and overpowered with olive oil, so the longer it sits, the more the bulgur, tomato, green pepper, onion and parsley can soak up the green fat, and the better it will taste. When the richness of the food here overwhelms, take a bite of something green. Or a taste of yogurt.
The eggplant kebabs at Mandolin Kitchen are cooked with skewers of ground lamb and beef patties, and served with rice and pita bread. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
On one visit, the Sunday brunch that ended with that extraordinary lamb shank, we got a little crazy and over-ordered. Kasseri kofte turned out to be dense little hamburgers stuffed with cheese and served with a side of fries. (Perfect for the kiddos.) My eggplant kebab was delicious, but I honestly could not taste much difference between the spicy minced lamb and beef balls that are fire-roasted on the same skewer with the aubergine.
We ended the feast with one of those weird Middle Eastern sweets that has a texture like no other: kunefe. A dessert of Palestinian origin, more commonly known as kanafeh and not to be confused with a certain mysterious presidential tweet, it consists of finely shredded phyllo dough, soaked in sweet syrup and baked in a casserole with cheese. Plopped out hot and topped with crushed pistachios, sliced strawberries, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was a memorable finish to a marathon of eating.
Like that lamb, it wasn’t really necessary. A bite of baklava and a glass of Turkish tea would have sufficed. But the temptations of Mandolin Kitchen are many and exotic. I yearn to go back and try them all.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 6152 Roswell Road NE, Sandy Springs, Ga. 30328. 404-705-8880, mandolinkitchen.com.
Recommended: Mucver (zucchini fritters), lahana sarma (cabbage rolls), iskender kebap (doner kebab and pita smothered in tomato sauce), lamb shank, kunefe (cheese baked in sweet pastry).