The goods: Buena Vista, the quaint neighborhood north of the Design District is fast becoming a draw for locals in search of affordable restaurants serving earnest takes on ethnic cuisine. In addition to Buena Vista Bistro and Lemoni Cafe there is now Mandolin Aegean Bistro, focusing on the rustic village cuisine of the Mediterranean coast. Owners Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsioukis draw on their differing backgrounds – he's Turkish, she's Greek – to create a spot that marries the best of the both worlds. Erkaya is an experienced restaurateur, having helmed restaurants in New York including City Eatery on the Bowery and tapas bar Sala in Chelsea. They moved to Miami earlier this year and along with partner Erhan Kostepen quickly set about creating a casually beautiful restaurant where the food is simple and honest.
Ambiance: The team has restored a 1940's house on NE 2nd Ave and transformed it into something you might find while taking a scooter ride through the winding streets of Rhodes. The window frames are painted Athens blue, Greek plates hang on the walls and antique lanterns hang from trees in the candlelit courtyard. This is the place to spend many breezy evenings drinking wine with friends nibbling on dips and grilled seafood.
The grub: Turkish and Greek home cooking. Prices are low with most small plates $6-$10 and mains $12-$19. Dinner starts with fluffy pide bread (similar to pita but bouncier and flavored with sesame seeds) and a dish of fruity Greek olive oil. From there you could order a trio of either Greek or Turkish dips, which depending on which you choose could come with a hearty spread of walnuts and tomatoes, fava beans pureed with parsley or smoky eggplant spread and fish roe dip. Make sure to order the “kopoglu” which Turkish for son of a dog, a hearty bowl of fried eggplant and zucchinni topped with garlic yogurt and tomato sauce. The tender grilled squid is marinated in red wine vinegar and a trio of lamb “kefte” meatballs are spiced with parsley and mint. Turkish “sucuk” sausage (pronounced soo-jook) is a spicy accompaniment to the savory spreads. Salads are big enough for two and come spiked with creamy feta and lemon juice. Mains include a hefty Village Pasta topped with ground meet and cheese and grilled whole fish with a side of “horta,” Greek dandelion greens.
There's a modest wine list of affordable Greek and South American wines that compliment the citrus and seafood flavors on the menu. And for now, there's one dessert – a chocolate cake which reminds you of a sweet and comforting pie your grandmother always had chilling in the icebox.
Verdict: A romantic spot in Buena Vista, Mandolin recreates the food and atmosphere of vacation villages on the Mediterranean coast.