I lived in Istanbul for a short stint a few years ago and Mandolin reminds me of the restaurant where we found ourselves on New Year's eve that year. It was on the first floor of an old house off Istiklal, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. The chef was friendly but spoke no English. Her eight year-old son was the lone server. (I think he wore a bow-tie or something like that. He was adorable and did a great job.) It didn't seem legal and it probably wasn't but we didn't care, it was New Year's and all the usual restaurants were pushing pricey set menus and mandatory champagne toasts. We were looking for something quiet and low key. And man, it didn't get any more bare bones than this. She had a couple pots of food to choose from (we went to the kitchen and pointed at what we wanted) and then the usual parade of salads and dips. It was straightforward home cooking and it was the most delicious food we'd ever tasted.
Mandolin is a lot more polished of an operation (there are no eight year-old servers running around) but it still possesses a similar charm. The place has barely been open a week and already they've endeared themselves to the neighborhood. Set in a restored 1940's house on the northern edge of the Design District it's the kind of place you always hope to find when traveling to a new city: an off-the-beaten path restaurant with good, simple, affordable food. We feasted on Greek/Turkish mezzes in the lantern-lit courtyard reliving the warm, deep flavors of the Mediterranean.
- addictive home made pide bread (like pita but fluffier and studded with sesame seeds)
- Greek salad with a slab of creamy feta, plump kalamata olives and ripe tomatoes
- lightly battered fried calamari served with an almond aioli
- lamb kefte meatballs spiced with mint and parsely
- tender grilled octopus marinated in red wine vinegar and olive oil
- smoky eggplant dip
and my favorite dish of the night - the "kopoglu" salad which is Turkish for son of a dog, made with fried eggplant and zucchini topped with garlic yogurt and tomato sauce.
The menu is here. 4312 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137. 305-576-6066