POSTED ON NOVEMBER 21, 2007:
Classic Mediterranean fare soars to Olympian heights.
"A name of a restaurant is a most sensitive thing," says Sam Senjlawi, owner of Helen of Troy Mediterranean Cuisine, which opened in early March. "I wanted something people would recognize, and 'Greek' is the first thing that comes to mind with this name."
Yes, it does.
Senjlawi's menu features selections from the Mediterranean region. He says he has visited this area and really enjoys this cuisine and decided to open a restaurant because, he says, he cannot find good, reasonably priced Mediterranean food in Tulsa.
Though the owners of dozens of the city's Mediterranean-themed eateries would beg to differ, it's a free country and one more restaurant that offers up something a little different is always welcome.
He has selected family recipes for his menu, including such classics as Falafel, Hummus, Tabbouleh, Baba Ghanoush and Gyros.
Mediterranean cuisine (a broad range of similar, very familiar foods from the Greek Islands, around through Lebanon and down to Egypt) generally translate well into the regional palate here.
My dining companion and I, however, both having traveled the eastern arc of the Great Inland Sea from which this cuisine is drawn, are always looking for something fresh and new. We were eager to sample Mr. Senjlawi's dialectic.
Reviewing the list of appetizers, we were presented a choice of Tabbouleh, Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Meat Pie, Spinach Pie, Cabbage Roll and Tzatziki Sauce.
We went with a small order of Baba ($2.99) and Spinach Pie ($2.99).
Baba Ghanoush is a "dip" made with eggplant, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), lemon juice and olive oil. This was served with hand-made pita bread. We both thoroughly enjoyed the smooth texture and the rich flavor, generally laced with garlic. The olive oil was also nicely noticeable with each bite. The pita bread was very, very soft and fresh with taste--not something sitting in a bag for weeks. It was delightful even without the dip.
The Spinach Pie was served in soft, baked dough and was filled with a mixture of sautéed onions with spinach leaves, a little lemon juice and sumac. (This sumac is certainly not of the poison variety, but a healthy kin.) As a dried berry, sumac is ground to a coarse particulate and bears a tart, sour-lemon taste.
We enjoyed the Spinach Pie, especially the rich taste of the spinach filling. It has a hint of tanginess, no doubt the properties of sumac.
We passed on choosing a salad for our meal although Senjlawi says the Chicken Salad and The Famous Greek Salad are very popular menu selections.
Sandwiches and Main Course items are the remaining foods listed. Sandwich selections include Kafta Kabob, Tawook, Gyro Supreme, Falafel and Hummus Wrap.
Kabobs are the main dinner fare, including Lamb Kabob, Shrimp Kabob, Chicken Shish Kabob, Beef Shish Kabob, Kafta Kabob, Lamb Shank and Gyros Dinner. Lunch portions include one side while dinner portions include two sides, which are Tabboule, Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Tzatziki Sauce and French Fries.
Good falafel is hard to find, so I went with the Falafel Dinner ($11.95), which my server said can be built although not listed on the menu. My friend chose the Lamb Shank ($16.95).
My Falafel dinner came with four rounded Falafel balls, sliced, grilled green peppers, two small grilled cherry tomatoes over a bed of basmati rice. I selected Tabboule and Tzatziki Sauce for my side.
Senjlawi says customers have remarked that his Falafel is some of the best they have had in the United States, saying it comes very close to what is served along the Mediterranean.
Falafel is ground, highly spiced chickpeas (garbanzo beans) shaped into balls and fried. This Middle Eastern specialty is often served with a yogurt-based sauce, Tzatziki, made with strained yogurt, to which are added cucumbers, garlic, salt and usually olive oil.
This Falafel, which can end up being dry and overcooked, was some of the best I've tasted-rich and filling. The Tzatziki sauce was flavorful, the yogurt taste coming through, but the cucumbers adding another layer of taste dimension. The Tabbouleh was parsley filled, very fresh and flavorful.
Senjlawi says the Lamb Shank is the best selling menu selection. He reveals a little of his secret recipe, saying it cooks in an oven for 8 hours with such spices as garlic (which, he adds, diminishes some of the notorious lamb taste), green peppers, onions, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cumin and sumac. "It's so tender, you don't need a knife to eat it," he says.
My dining companion confirmed that note. He thoroughly enjoyed this dish, for its tenderness and its intensely rich blend of flavors. This was served on a bed of Basmati rice.
For dessert, Senjlawi says he serves only one plate ($4.95) with six pieces of classic Greek sweets: baklava with walnuts, cookies stuffed with dates and flower-shaped filo dough stuffed with cashews. I did order this plate of sweets to end my meal, enjoying it with Turkish Tea ($1.75).
Turkish Tea is a national drink brewed with leaves grown on the steep mountain slopes of Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast. This tea is full-flavored and too strong to be served in large cups, so it is traditionally offered in little, tulip-shaped glasses which you have to hold by the rim to save your fingertips from burning.
This tea came with two sugar cubes, and our server gave us instructions that often a cube of sugar is placed on the tongue and dissolves in the mouth as the tea is drunk. I did this with one cube; the other I placed in the tea. It is a delightful drink.
Helen of Troy Mediterranean Cuisine
6670 S. Lewis
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