Hidden from the passing eye, it could be missed. Lying on the fringe of the Design District, Mandolin has quietly become one of this authors’ favorite restaurants. Forget arrogance, trendy ideas, or celebrity soaked hot spots, this is simply wonderful cooking.
Sitting in the courtyard, canvassed by trees with white lights, painted doors hanging on the wooden fence (pixies and fireflies in my dreams as well), one could easily be in Navplion, Paros, or Izmir, many miles from Miami. The décor is no-nonsense and sublime.
Mandolin has evolved over the last year adding indoor eating space and a small market (picture delectable Greek and Turkish olive oils and a few other keepers in their wares). While many a restaurant has come and gone in the Design District since Mandolin opened, it remains a culinary anchor along with Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.
The food has a voice, as the two Turkish chefs prove to be masters of Aegean cuisine and cook up some serious fare. Little brown bags of bread are brought as you peruse a beautifully simple menu, which is very wine friendly.
One great improvement over the years at Mandolin has been its wine list. It includes small labels, boutique finds that are not your everyday reds. Some highlights include ‘off the beaten path’ reds from Turkey, Macedonia and even Lebanon as well as some real special finds from France and Italy. The whites are chosen with the same care, including a rare good Peloponnesian find. It’s a great way to try some really fair priced wines with the exact type of food it should be eaten with.
The servers are extremely knowledgeable about each ingredient and offer more than just what you see. Our server Carlos jumped in to let us know his favorites and talked about the owners’ love of wine and food. The wait staff is calm and pleasant in its demeanor and yet they still maintain a vaguely bohemian feel which makes the atmosphere feel very, um, Aegean. That atmosphere is a lovely compliment to the already fantastic food.
Well on to brass tacks, the food: Some starters that need to be mentioned are the tiger prawns (heads on so beware) grilled with olive oil and paprika ($15), the shrimp and ouzo dish that is nothing but bliss in your mouth ($14), the hummus is perfect ($7) and the lamb meatballs are rich and delicate at the same time.
The salads are all beautiful but with the stars are the Pink sultan an insanely rich and creamy mix of Greek yogurt, garlic and shredded beets (it’s a bowl to share), the maroulosalata is perfectly laced with dill, lemon and scallions but the ambrosia award goes to the Artisanal Greek village salad; the vinegar and olive oil mixture is mouth-watering and something I could eat every day. Shout-outs go to the ‘perfectly’ grilled lamb chops, which may be the best in Miami; and to the Turkish chicken-kebobs.
It’s good to see Greeks and Turks getting along in such harmony at Mandolin, and all of Miami thanks you.