We didn’t need the lamb shank. We had already eaten plenty. It would have been smarter to take a walk. Or spend the remainder of this sodden Sunday afternoon dozing off with a good book.
But we had waited patiently for it — there had been a communication breakdown between server and kitchen — and there it was: a beautiful lollipop of a lamb shin, sitting in a delicate slick of tomato-and-olive-oil-kissed braising liquid, chunks of carrot and a few well-scrubbed small potatoes scattered around. An over-the-top stack of charry veggies — thin slices of eggplant, half a plum tomato, a long, curly-toed green pepper — was deftly balanced on the hunk of meat with a skinny wooden skewer.
Tender to the bone, the lamb is emblematic of the rustic Turkish cooking you’ll discover at Mandolin Kitchen in Sandy Springs. The original Rumi’s Kitchen on Roswell Road has been white-washed so that it gleams like a stucco cottage on a Mediterranean isle. Inside the sunny blue-and-white room, open since November, you’ll find the sort of dips (hummus, baba ghanoush); salads (tabbouleh, fattoush); and kebabs that are commonplace in the Middle Eastern diaspora.
Sure, you can nibble on dolmeh and falafel and sip wine from Italy and California. But the best reason to visit Mandolin Kitchen is to indulge in the traditional, home-style Turkish cuisine that evokes the lusty abundance of Konya and Istanbul: cabbage rolls stuffed with ground lamb and rice; a crock of warm hummus topped with crispy pastrami; kebabs of minced beef and lamb beaded with eggplant and arranged on a platter with pita, rice pilaf, and a salad of red onion and sumac.
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.
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.
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).