Or a "maze"? Or a "mezza"? Or a "meza"? These are all terms for a form of Mediter-ranean dining and Mazza is the name of the award-winning (City Weekly Best of Utah—Best Middle Eastern Restaurant from 2001 through 2010 and Salt Lake Magazine Dining Awards—Best Middle Eastern Restaurant 2001 through 2007 and Hall of Fame 2008) restaurant Clayton recommended (noted at the end of yesterday’s blog).
“Traditionally,…(it) is a way of life that traces its roots to the beginnings of recorded history. The tradition is deeply rooted and is an expression of something Greeks hold dear: socializing (i.e., talking) over a few plates of simple tasty food, letting the wine or spirits flow and savoring the liberating, gratifying effects of the meal and drink together.
“The word itself means ‘middle,’ as in ‘middle-of-the day,’ or between meals, because the mez table is not routinely considered a setting for a full meal. Rather it is something that is eaten mid-day or before dinner. Usually known as little
‘tidbits’ served on small plates to Westerners, these…bear a striking resemblance to appetizers or tapas.... ‘(M)eze’, ‘mezza’ dining is an experience shared throughout the Mediterranean, where small savory plates of food are enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere, where friends and family join in the sharing of food and drink in an unrushed, unhurried environment” (www.tannourinecuisine.com).
“Mazza owner Ali Sabbah keeps a tight rein on his restaurants, so the service and food is always top-notch. Beginning as a small, counter service falafel parlor, Mazza has blossomed into the city’s finest full-service Middle Eastern eatery…. Along with Utah’s best falafel, Mazza also offers a wide array of Middle Eastern dishes including lamb and rice dolaa, musakhan, shawarma and kebabs, delectable baked kafta, maghmoor and much, much more” (www.cityweekly.net).
Mazza also gets a “shout out” at glutenfree travelsite.com, for their menu items are clearly labeled with a gluten-free (or vegan or vegetarian) icon.
Your first impression when entering this restaurant in the 9th and 9th neighborhood of Salt Lake City is upscale Lawrence of Arabia meets industrial. Imported lamps from Morocco hang from the ceiling (photo above) and in niches (right) along one wall.
At the end of the bar stands a cabinet (along the back wall in the photo on the right) in-laid with mother-of pearl that was imported by the owner from Lebanon. To be shipped, it needed to be broken into pieces and then reassembled. It now serves as the restaurant’s wine cabinet.
The exposed ducts are painted to resemble copper and the supporting pillars are covered with punched metal of the same color. Small lights show through the metal work.
At least half of the lunch menu is devoted to the small plates. While there are too many to list here, some examples are: Potatoes
"Harra"—cubes of potatoes skillet-fried in garlic, peppers, cilantro, olive oil and spices; Mujaddara—brown lentils and long grain rice cooked in a blend of seasonings and finished with onions caramelized in olive oil; Muhamara—a traditional Aleppan dip is made with walnuts, pomegranate molasses, toasted bread crumbs, olive oil, and roasted bell peppers and spices ground to a paste and served with lettuce leaves; Hummus—cooked garbanzo beans blended with lemon juice, garlic, tahini, and olive oil; Baba Ganooj—fresh roasted eggplant blended with lemon juice, garlic, tahini, and olive oil; Loobia—green beans braised in a spicy blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic , and olive oil; Tabbouleh—freshly chopped parsley mixed with finely diced tomatoes, green onions, and bulgur wheat seasoned with a minty blend of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil; Fattoosh—chopped Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, parsley, and green onions mixed with seasoned pita chips and dressed in fresh lemon juice and olive oil; and Fried Kibbeh—fried football-shaped treats made with minced beef, bulgur, herbs, and spices with a cucumber yogurt sauce for dipping.
Unable to make a decision, we ordered the four sides sampler plate (it came with two pitas), which included hummus, loobia, fattoosh, and potatoes harra. And each item was as delicious as the one that preceded it.
The potatoes harra (upper left quadrant in the photo) were tender little morsels that had been cooked with slightly browned garlic. The hummus (upper right) was heavenly—silky smooth with small pieces of roasted garlic. The beans in the loobia (lower right) had been long-cooked with whole cloves of sweet garlic, and the sauce had just a faint hint of cinnamon (a common spice in Mediter-ranean cooking). The lightly dressed salad (lower left) was cold and crisp and balanced the three other intensely flavored and texturally “soft” dishes. And the pitas, in addition to being used to scoop the pita, were used to wipe all traces of the cooking sauces from the loobia and potatoes harra.
To round out the meal, we shared a beef and lamb shawarma in a pita with tahini, fresh veggies and turnip pickles. “Shawarma is made by alternately stacking strips of…seasoned meat (beef, lamb or marinated chicken) on a stick.... While cooking, the meat is shaved off…dropping to a circular tray below to be retrieved. Shawarma is eaten as a fast food, made up into a sandwich wrap with pita bread or rolled up in an Armenian Lavash flatbread” (wikipedia.com). While the meat for a gyro is also cooked on a vertical skewer, gyro meat comes off in long strips, shawarma meat comes off in small nuggets of tasty meat.
With our meals, we imbibed on cardamom-flavored ice tea. Cardamom is described as being “slightly sweet, floral, and spicy with citric elements. It leaves the tongue with a warm antiseptic sensation similar to eucalyptus with an additional peppery after taste. Some have described its flavor as spicy and cola-like” (www.cardamomspice.com). Or, you can just say that it tastes like cardamom.
But look closely at the photo above. What is missing? Yes, salt and pepper. I maintain that a restaurant that values its food doesn’t want diners messing with the flavors. They want you to savor the nuances as they come from the kitchen.
We had a chance to speak briefly with Sam, the manager on duty, and she (yes, she) passed along another food recommendation—the Copper Onion in downtown Salt Lake City. So tomorrow we are off to see a restored hotel followed by lunch at the Copper Onion.
Our rating for Mazza? 5.0 Addies, of course.
And I ask yet again, is this a great food city, or what?