Fahri Ozdil, owner of Café Mediterranean, wants Jewish diners to know his chef is bringing new dishes to the tables that visitors to Israel will recognize and celebrate.
“Yes, we have the kibbeh now we are making as a special that is not yet on our menu, but the chef, we are trying it and the people, they are loving it. Just like when they visit the Middle East, but we make it in the Turkish style, with the Turkish herbs and spices,” he said.
Kibbeh, for novices the likes of me, are shaped like miniature footballs of the NFL variety. These odd-shaped eats are made of ingredients common to cuisine in the east Mediterranean area, and especially in Israel and lands adjacent to it. Historically these lands often are referred to as the Levant, or an area in which Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria reside today. Levantine influences are found in the foods of the region, and kibbeh is one of those hallmark foods dating back many centuries.
Depending on where you are in the that region, the spelling and pronunciation of this complex, specially made entrée can be different. For example, kibbe, kebbah, kubbeh and kubbi all are derivations of this ubiquitous entrée. In fact, travel to Egypt or Turkey, and you’d want to order kobieba and kofte, respectively, if you wanted kibbeh of the type served at Café Mediterranean.
While the ingredient list may and probably does vary some in the preparation, essentially all the above are the same tasty food. Ozdil says his version is classically Turkish, which means the herb-spice profile is that found in most of his Turkish dishes.
The key ingredient is bulgur wheat, which is a cracked wheat that is soaked in water to soften it. Once softened and squeezed to a moist but not wet consistency, the wheat is mixed with ground lamb, coarsely chopped onion, salt, pepper, and other herbs and spices. The mix is then reduced to a paste in a food processor. The paste is formed into balls and the balls are stuffed with a sauté of ground lamb, onions, and pine nuts or walnuts, and shaped into mini footballs. Next, into the deep-fryer and once crisp on the outside, they are ready to serve.
“The taste, people are loving it, and we want people to know we have them now, and especially our Jewish diners. Very good; very good taste and the flavors are wonderful,” he said.
The other dish introduced to me by the chef at Café Mediterranean is salmon kofenos. The salmon is grilled on a skewer after being marinated. The flavor of the salmon chunks is excellent, and the texture is perfectly suited to the dish. Of course, the salmon is the star of the show where this salad is concerned, but there is more.
The mix of ingredients on which the salmon is served is the special part of this salad to my mind and palate. Arugula is the base of the salad, which also features cucumber, red cabbage and fresh dill. Salad greens are dressed in a yogurt sauce with lemon, orange and lime zest, and spices adding wonderfully tart, tasty notes. Strips shown in the photo look the part of giant french fries, but are strips of grilled pita bread, crispy and crunchy, and ideal for scooping up the salad portion of this uniquely Mideast recipe.
If one pictures a Bedouin tent in mid-dessert with heat radiating off the sands, this salad would be the perfect dish to eat. It is refreshing and elegantly cool, wholesome and tasty. Ask for it when you go to Café Mediterranean, and I’m betting you’ll find it delightful!
Very Turkish, too, according to Ozdil. He is committed to Turkish sourcing and Turkish methods whenever those ethnic authenticities are humanly possible for his restaurant. He goes very much out of his way to attain the ingredients needed or to adhere to methods of his native land.
The yogurt in the kofenos salad dish is an example of his penchant for all foods/methods Turkish. “We make our own yogurt from scratch in our kitchen – absolutely! The Turkish way. Two days it takes to make it, that yogurt,” Ozdil said.
The yogurt is basic to many of the dishes you will find on the menu at Café Mediterranean. For Jewish diners wanting to eat kosher style, it is wise to ask how dishes are prepared. Ozdil said that his kitchen will adjust items in order to accommodate special dietary needs. Also, he said that most of his entrée selections do not require adjustment, since meat and dairy are not mixed.
Speaking of Bedouins, Café Mediterranean is on the move, catering in a strange place – the visitor’s clubhouse at Great American Ballpark. Last time the Atlanta Braves were in town, Ozdil was asked to put together a Mediterranean menu for a players buffet. He did. They loved it, he said. Then another request came in for the same bill of fare, this time from the San Francisco Giants. Turns out there is a connection between the people who provide traveling teams with special foods and buffets. The Braves person talked shop with the Giants person, mentioned the rave revues from the players and coaches, and Café Mediterranean is at bat again at GABP, this time with the Giants behind the plates. Go, Reds, no matter what!
At Café Mediterranean, you will find a full menu that includes small plates, soups and salads, sautés and bakes, and more.
See you at Café Mediterranean!
3520 Erie Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio, 45208