Our Gourmet: Fine flavors from the Mediterranean

February 21. 2017 5:47PM

The lamb shank at Matbah Mediterranean Cuisine is a rich, decadent, meat-lover’s treat — and at $11.95, it’s a great value, too. 
Matbah Mediterranean Cuisine
866 Elm St., Manchester; 232-4066; www.matbahcuisine.com
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Sunday until 11 p.m.
Cuisine: Turkish/Middle Eastern.
Pricing: Most dishes $5-$10.
The scores for Matbah
Atmosphere: 17/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 17/20
Service: 15/20
Value: 20/20
TOTAL: 87/100

Mrs. Gourmet and I have been on something of a Mediterranean kick ever since we visited Mediterrano in Hillsborough last summer. Our latest adventure in Med dining brought us to Elm Street in Manchester on a snowy Saturday evening to visit Matbah, open since autumn just a few doors down from City Hall.

The restaurant is a deep, narrow storefront. Fifteen or so tables for four line the brick walls, with a bar on the left seating another dozen customers. The kitchen is in the back. TVs along the walls display sports, weather reports, and a rotating slideshow of dishes from Matbah’s menu.

And a very attractive menu it is, drawing inspiration from Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. While there are specific lists of hot and cold appetizers, most of the dishes on the rest of the menu are under $10, making it easy to mix and match a meal from the listings of kebabs, seafoods, sandwiches and sides.

Mrs. G started with something we’ve never tried before: Mucver ($5.75), a plate of six fritters made of finely chopped zucchini, carrots, dill and parsley. These were light and fresh tasting, with the dill quickly coming to the foreground. A tasty hot appetizer that we’ll be on the lookout for at future stops.

My appetizer was the house baba ganoush ($5.50), the traditional dip made of roasted eggplant, tahini, garlic and olive oil. While many versions are puréed almost to a hummus-like paste, this one was more of a mince, full of fresh flavors without much of a tahini presence. I ordered homemade pita ($1.50) to go with it, but it never arrived (nor were we charged for it). We did receive a basket of mixed breads, which met our need for a dipping vehicle.

For my main course, I went the mix-and-match route, choosing two kebabs from a list of five, along with a Greek salad. The Kofte ($5.75) and chicken Adana (both $5.75) feature ground meats and spices, formed and grilled. The chicken Adana arrived as a long strip of spiced, grilled chicken. The Kofte comprised three pieces of seasoned ground lamb, and seemed a bit spicier— and a bit drier — than the chicken.

Delivered on wooden platters, both were served on a triangle of fresh pita — not big enough to make a wrap with, but enough to tastily soak up the juices from the meat. Both plates also came with a salad of raw red onions and herbs that I, an onion lover from way back, found to be almost overpowering. I thought both kebabs (and the onions) could have used a sauce — a yogurt or tzatziki sauce maybe, or even some sour cream — to add some moisture.

But where my dinner was slightly dry, Mrs. G’s Lamb Shank ($11.95) was moist, tender and one of the best values we’ve ever seen. A huge, bone-in piece of braised lamb was perched on a bed of bulgur wheat with chunks of beets and carrots, with a rich, thickened lamb jus over all. The combination was simply decadent, and one of the best entrees we’ve enjoyed in a long while.

Our desserts were beautifully presented and tasted as good as they looked. The dessert menu is long, but only a few were available the night we were there. Mrs. G ordered Baklava ($7.50), which featured fig confit in a Middle Eastern variation on the traditional honey and phyllo pastry. It was sweet and flaky as usual, but with a surprising chewy, nougat-like layer in the middle.

I chose the rice pudding ($6.50). It was presented in a small glass, and I was happy to see that it was more of a custard consistency than the milky version I’ve had a couple of times in other Mediterranean restaurants. A light, slightly sweet way to refresh the palate after a delicious, highly seasoned meal.

Value is great at Matbah — our tab for appetizers, dinner and dessert with a glass of wine came to $68.

The service the night we were there was rather slow. The place was packed, and there were two very busy guys multitasking as greeters, waiters and bartenders. They were doing the best they could to keep up, but we had to wait to be seated and have our orders taken. No one checked on us, and we had to ask about desserts. The staff was consistently polite, but they were out straight. We’ll chalk it up to growing pains, but it’s an issue that needs attention.

With that said, the wonderful food and reasonable prices make Matbah a welcome addition to the Queen City dining scene. If you’re in the Manchester area and haven’t checked it out yet, it’ll be worth the trip.

Our GourmetManchester

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