Review: Mandolin Kitchen showcases earthy traditional Turkish cuisine


We didn’t need the lamb shank. We had already eaten plenty. It would have been smarter to take a walk. Or spend the remainder of this sodden Sunday afternoon dozing off with a good book.

But we had waited patiently for it — there had been a communication breakdown between server and kitchen — and there it was: a beautiful lollipop of a lamb shin, sitting in a delicate slick of tomato-and-olive-oil-kissed braising liquid, chunks of carrot and a few well-scrubbed small potatoes scattered around. An over-the-top stack of charry veggies — thin slices of eggplant, half a plum tomato, a long, curly-toed green pepper — was deftly balanced on the hunk of meat with a skinny wooden skewer. 

Tender to the bone, the lamb is emblematic of the rustic Turkish cooking you’ll discover at Mandolin Kitchen in Sandy Springs. The original Rumi’s Kitchen on Roswell Road has been white-washed so that it gleams like a stucco cottage on a Mediterranean isle. Inside the sunny blue-and-white room, open since November, you’ll find the sort of dips (hummus, baba ghanoush); salads (tabbouleh, fattoush); and kebabs that are commonplace in the Middle Eastern diaspora.

Sure, you can nibble on dolmeh and falafel and sip wine from Italy and California. But the best reason to visit Mandolin Kitchen is to indulge in the traditional, home-style Turkish cuisine that evokes the lusty abundance of Konya and Istanbul: cabbage rolls stuffed with ground lamb and rice; a crock of warm hummus topped with crispy pastrami; kebabs of minced beef and lamb beaded with eggplant and arranged on a platter with pita, rice pilaf, and a salad of red onion and sumac.

It’s a table of hearty good eating, beginning with a complimentary bread basket and a bowl of noshes: a few black olives; a dish of sun-dried tomatoes swirled in olive oil; salty white cheese; sweet, creamy butter. To be honest, the baked pita crisps and slices of springy bread were wholly unremarkable on both stops. So don’t dare fill up on them.

Ask your server to bring you an Almaza beer (from Lebanon) or a glass of Orama cabernet (from Greece). Get a meze or two. But unless you are truly ravenous or want leftover food to take home, consider sharing an entree.

As for the appetizers, I can’t stop, won’t stop raving about the mucver. Advertised as zucchini pancakes with yogurt, they were more like croquettes: puffy and luscious, oily in a good way, meant to be dabbed with a calming coddle of acidic dairy.

During a quick scan of the menu, I noticed a few nods to Greece (spanakopita, lemony chicken avgolemono soup, ouzo). When I asked the server where the owners were originally from, he told me the giveaway is the yogurt. It is strained of whey the Turkish way, and thus richer, thicker, tighter and tangier than its Greek counterpart.

Owner Okan Ozyurteri and chef Lutfi Kacmaz both hail from Turkey, and you’ll find the putty-textured yogurt dolloped with abandon at Mandolin. It is served on the side of the aforementioned cabbage rolls with tomato sauce (lahanah sarma), another dish I’m crazy about, and it is scooped on both sides of a heaping platter of iskender, a hearty mess of doner kebab strips piled over pita croutons and smothered with tomato gravy.

The iskender is a gut buster. So be sure to balance it with some tabbouleh, choban or roasted beet salad. The tabbouleh isn’t bad. But it comes to the table freshly dressed and overpowered with olive oil, so the longer it sits, the more the bulgur, tomato, green pepper, onion and parsley can soak up the green fat, and the better it will taste. When the richness of the food here overwhelms, take a bite of something green. Or a taste of yogurt.

On one visit, the Sunday brunch that ended with that extraordinary lamb shank, we got a little crazy and over-ordered. Kasseri kofte turned out to be dense little hamburgers stuffed with cheese and served with a side of fries. (Perfect for the kiddos.) My eggplant kebab was delicious, but I honestly could not taste much difference between the spicy minced lamb and beef balls that are fire-roasted on the same skewer with the aubergine.

We ended the feast with one of those weird Middle Eastern sweets that has a texture like no other: kunefe. A dessert of Palestinian origin, more commonly known as kanafeh and not to be confused with a certain mysterious presidential tweet, it consists of finely shredded phyllo dough, soaked in sweet syrup and baked in a casserole with cheese. Plopped out hot and topped with crushed pistachios, sliced strawberries, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was a memorable finish to a marathon of eating.

Like that lamb, it wasn’t really necessary. A bite of baklava and a glass of Turkish tea would have sufficed. But the temptations of Mandolin Kitchen are many and exotic. I yearn to go back and try them all.

MANDOLIN KITCHEN

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 6152 Roswell Road NE, Sandy Springs, Ga. 30328. 404-705-8880, mandolinkitchen.com.

Recommended: Mucver (zucchini fritters), lahana sarma (cabbage rolls), iskender kebap (doner kebab and pita smothered in tomato sauce), lamb shank, kunefe (cheese baked in sweet pastry).


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

Sugar content of most yogurts well above recommended limits, study finds
Sugar content of most yogurts well above recommended limits, study finds

Yogurt has long been touted as a healthy alternative to candy or other sweets.  Studies have found yogurt is a good source of probiotics, protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B. » RELATED:  Probiotics are ‘useless in many cases,’ study says A new study in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), however, has...
This vegan caviar is almost as good as the real thing
This vegan caviar is almost as good as the real thing

For this week’s taste test, we went beyond vegetarian with vegan versions of caviar, cheese and gummy bears. Check out the video above to see how all the vegan products stack up.  RELATED: Get a taste of the new fusion revolution with the 2018 AJC Spring Dining Guide: Global Mashup 
Make this butternut squash stew, perfect for fall dining
Make this butternut squash stew, perfect for fall dining

Learn to make the butternut squash stew from Twain’s:  Last fall I visited Twain’s in Decatur and had this delicious butternut squash stew that was incredibly flavorful and I have been wanting to get the recipe so I can make it this upcoming season. Can you share the details on that? — Chris Brown, Stone Mountain Chef...
Recipes for sweet treats from a Dutch childhood
Recipes for sweet treats from a Dutch childhood

Boterkoek is neither a cookie, nor a cake nor a pie. The Dutch treat is a dense, sweet pastry made from a simple mix of butter, sugar and flour, kneaded into a firm dough, pressed into a baking pan and cooked to a buttery golden delight. “Boter” means butter and that sums it up pretty well. A boterkoek recipe published in the November/December...
Beer Town: Atlanta Brewing Co. rebrands, celebrates 25 years this month
Beer Town: Atlanta Brewing Co. rebrands, celebrates 25 years this month

Atlanta Brewing Co., which until a major rebranding move late last month was most recently known as Red Brick Brewing Co., will mark its 25th anniversary this month with a series of collaboration beers. And on Sept. 29, there’s a big party at the brewery. Though Atlanta Brewing is Georgia’s oldest craft brewery, charting its history can...
More Stories