Mandolin Aegean Bistro

Like the plaintive “rebetiko” music that drifts through the oregano-scented air in the lantern-lit garden at Mandolin, the flavors of this Buena Vista East gem exude the soul of the Mediterranean. Much of its charm comes by way of its sincere and hospitable owners, Erhan Kostepen, Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsioukis, whose good taste and simple ambitions have created one of the most comfortable places in Miami to spend an afternoon or evening. They’ve merged their backgrounds — the guys are Turkish, she’s Greek — to create a menu of alluring dishes that are, for the most part, skillfully executed. The staff seems motivated to please — eager, attentive and friendly without being overly familiar. Our young server was quick to offer water, a plate for sharing and wine advice, including a taste of an unfamiliar Greek wine we ended up loving.

Ambiance: Set in a whitewashed, blue-accented 1940s home, the dining room is cozied up with lace curtains, but the truly magical spot is  beneath a broad shade tree that owner Erkaya says “reminded me of home.”

What Worked

  • Straight-from-the-oven pide – a sesame-flecked Turkish flatbread
  • Turkish appetizer sampler – hummus, fava puree and rich walnut puree
  • The Greek trio appetizer of smoky eggplant, briny taramasalata and tangy tzatziki
  • A tight international wine list of about 25 bottles, Old World in style and perfectly suited to the rustic fare
  • Aegean sangria made with white wine, apples, strawberries and touch of rose water
  • Pinky-sized grape leaves stuffed with gently spiced lamb and beef,  dipped in tangy yogurt and drizzled with orange-tinged seasoned oil
  • Soft but snappy squiglets of octopus steeped in red wine and grilled until slightly charred and nearly bursting
  • Tiny black mussels in a classic white wine and garlic sauce
  • Spectacular shrimp ouzo with a peppery tomato and feta sauce
  • Daily fresh fish, grilled until charred, especially the sea breem (also known as dorada or Çipura) and yellowtail snapper
  • The zucchini fritter – a bread plate-size disk like a fluffy potato pancake served with a dollop of creamy yogurt sauce
  • Arugula salad with beets doubling as a symphony of bright, peppery and crunchy elements
  • Good, albeit standard, Greek salad with milky white feta and loads of red onion
  • Crispy hand-cut fries
  • House-made baklava
  • Rice pudding
  • A simple Turkish tea biscuit cake layered with chocolate pudding

What Didn’t Work

  • Overly dressed salads
  • Just fine cheesy spanokopita wraps
  • A flabby moussaka needing more flavor and less pasty béchamel
  • Floppy potatoes


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