Mezza Grill

Greek, Lebanese, Mediterranean
$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Mediterranean Delights at Mezza Grill

By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, January 25, 2007

One of the most difficult decorating tasks for restaurateurs who locate in suburban shopping centers is making a big box look like a cozy space. There are few of the nooks and crannies that make an older building so inviting.

Mezza Grill, a two-month-old Mediterranean restaurant in the Broadlands Center Plaza in Ashburn, added a small pond and a gurgling fountain -- yes, right in the center of the boxy space. There are handsome terra cotta tiles on the floor, and the black pond is raised and surrounded by large stones. A few plants are tucked into the arrangement. It doesn't really look natural, but the sound of running water adds atmosphere.

The room is awash in warm colors -- most of the walls are painted terra cotta, while others are golden and veined to resemble stone. A band of slate tiles surrounds the room, and more slate is used to create the illusion of stone pillars along the main walls.

Booths line one of the walls; a banquette stretches the length of another. A fireplace dominates the back wall next to the kitchen.

Rober Amireh, who also owns the Jukebox Diner in Annandale and Domani Ristorante in Ashburn Village, said he chose Broadlands Center Plaza because of its emergence as a dining destination. A recent expansion of the plaza also added Thai and Mexican restaurants, as well as a New York-style deli. At the opposite end of the center, Cafe Panache has replaced 321 Ashland.

"Our menu includes Greek, Lebanese and Turkish items, and we offer the freshest of organic ingredients, a healthy way to eat," said Amireh, a native of Jordan. A chef who has been in this country for 31 years and in the restaurant business for 29, Amireh employs two chefs at Mezza Grill -- one Turkish and one Lebanese.

The menu is extensive, including luncheon specials and breakfast on the weekends, but Amireh said about 80 percent of his customers order the mezza sampler, which includes hummus, falafel (chickpea fritters), stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanouj.

The menu includes beyaz peynir, a chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and green peppers, strewed with bits of feta cheese and served with warm wedges of Greek-style pita bread -- it's puffier than the Lebanese pita that accompanies other dishes.

An appetizer of the Greek specialty spanakopita features three bite-size pillows of phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta cheese, with a lightly dressed salad. Mediterranean cheeses are a recurring theme: Sauteed halloumi cheese -- salty with a texture almost like meat -- is featured on a mound of mixed greens, accented with lemon juice and olive oil. Pan-seared Greek kasseri cheese -- also sharp and salty -- is served sprinkled with parsley and drizzled with lemon juice.

Main courses are primarily various types of kebabs and grilled meats. The Mediterranean Delight entree combines three of these: kofte kebab, chicken taouk and strips of gyro meat.

Kofte kebab, made here with ground lamb and sirloin, looks more like a hamburger patty, but the meat is juicy and well-flavored. Chicken taouk (Lebanese chicken kebab) is white meat strips marinated in lemon juice, garlic, black pepper and spices, and then grilled until they are just cooked through, so they retain their juiciness. The gyro strips, thin slices of marinated lamb and beef, are tender and slightly spicy.

The menu also includes filet mignon shish kebabs -- made with cubes of beef tenderloin -- and broiled shrimp. Both beef and chicken shawarma -- strips of meat cooked on an upright rotisserie similar to that used for gyro meat -- are also served, either as part of a dinner platter or as sandwiches at lunch.

Baked dishes include Greek moussaka (a layered dish of ground beef, potatoes, eggplant and a bechamel sauce) and Greek pasticho (layers of macaroni, beef, bechamel and tomato sauce).

Portions are large -- the Mediterranean Delight has enough food for at least two people at lunch -- and many of the dinner platters include rice and salad. And there is a small wine list featuring mostly Greek and Lebanese wines -- none more than $30 a bottle.

The baklava, made in house and cut into the traditional diamonds or rolled into "lady fingers" the size of a small cigar, are crispy and sweet without being messy or cloying.