Edward and I have friends with deep family roots in Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Iran and Iraq. I’ve enjoyed homemade hummus and baba ghanoush, which are lovingly prepared by an elderly woman from Lebanon and are second to none. We’ve also dined in many Eastern Mediterranean restaurants here and have a pretty good idea how the flavors of the sunny region influence each dish.
While along South Sixth Street a while ago, I noticed Divan Mediterranean Grill next door to Beau Monde and across the way from Bistro La Minette. I have not reviewed a Middle-Eastern restaurant since last winter and thought it was a good idea to sample the dishes from Divan’s kitchen.
The restaurant is BYOB and consists of two long rooms with simple wooden tables and chairs. Our server opened our wine, brought us a basket of warm, fluffy pita bread and a small ramekin of olive oil with two large olives. Edward noticed the texture of the bread was quite different from the thin, sometimes slightly crisp pita that is served in most Middle-Eastern restaurants.
We began dinner with the mixed cold appetizer plate ($22.99). It consisted of hummus, eggplant puree, tabbouleh, American potato salad, a spread of spicy minced peppers and fried eggplant with tomato sauce. Each appetizer was like the bland leading the bland.
Menu descriptions aid diners in anticipation of what each dish will taste like. The hummus had the consistency of library paste and although garlic and lemon juice are listed on the menu, the dip was flavorless. I’ve tasted better hummus purchased from a grocery store. The eggplant puree, which was described as “smoky roasted eggplant,” fared worse as it failed to impart any smoky flavor or aroma. The surprise was the addition of mayonnaise in this classic. I don’t think Turkish cuisine uses mayonnaise. It, too, was bland. The spicy minced peppers had a little kick from the addition of hot peppers, but the texture was somewhat grainy.
Tabbouleh is a classic and Divan’s version was the best of the lot. I liked the addition of finely chopped tomatoes, red peppers and dash of pomegranate syrup, which turned the usual brown hue to a sunny orange/yellow. The fried eggplant with tomato sauce was the runner-up. Cubes of not-at-all-bitter eggplant lacked the smoky flavor but were nicely cooked with red and green peppers. I wondered why grape leaves and cacik, the creamy yogurt/cucumber dip, were not included in the sampler. They would have added a contrast of tastes and textures.
From the “Hints from Turkish Cuisine” part of the menu, I chose stuffed cabbage ($14) while Edward went for the stuffed eggplant ($16), a dish I make at home and have enjoyed in Middle-Eastern restaurants.
Stuffed cabbage has its culinary roots in Russia, Poland and Germany. I have never seen them on a Middle-Eastern menu. I received four rolls filled with a mix of minced lamb and ground beef. There was not much meat in the bundles and they lacked flavor. A tiny drizzle of tomato sauce did little for the taste of this entrée. My dinner came with a mound of steamed rice and a warm sauté of red cabbage, green cabbage and carrots.
The eggplant arrived cool and not piping hot. Half of a large eggplant was roasted, with its flesh scooped out, chopped and returned to the shell along with bits of ground lamb and topped with tomato sauce. The rice and cabbage slaw also came with his dinner.
The use of fragrant dill, parsley, rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper add flavors to Middle-Eastern cuisine. Unfortunately, the dishes we sampled at Divan were anemic in eye appeal and flavor.
One-half tip of the toque to Divan Mediterranean Grill.
622 S. Sixth St.
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