Thursday, September 25, 2014

The 10 Best Mediterranean Restaurants in St. Louis

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge LAMB CHOPS AT AYA SOFIA | RFT PHOTO
  • Lamb Chops at Aya Sofia | RFT Photo

The next time you get a taste for flavors reminiscent of the turquoise waters and sun-bathed beaches of the Mediterranean, you don't have to travel very far. St. Louis has a wealth of restaurants that feature the cuisines of Greece, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, France and Spain, offering seafood, lamb, beef and chicken and a bounty of vegetables all flavored by olive oil and native herbs and spices. Continue on for our top ten favorites.

See also: #9: Meat Shawarma at the Vine Mediterranean Cafe & Market

Aya Sofia (6671 Chippewa Street; 314-645-9919)

Chef and co-owner Mehmet Yildiz heads the kitchen of St. Louis' only Turkish restaurant. Yildiz built his menu of familiar Middle Eastern dishes and specialty Turkish recipes based on the traditional flavors of garlic, olive oil, lemon and mint. The kilic baligi kebap is a simple yet perfect pairing of grilled and skewered swordfish and lemon. A little spicier, the adana kebap presents grilled ground lamb on a Turkish sword. And a regional specialty, the imam bayildi, is a vegetarian dish of eggplant baked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and tomato sauce.

click to enlarge RABBIT TAJINE AT BAIDA | JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Rabbit Tajine at Baida | Jennifer Silverberg

Baida Moroccan Restaurant (3191 South Grand Boulevard; 314-932-7950)

Baida is St. Louis' first Moroccan restaurant, open just over a year. An entire section of the menu is devoted to tagine, dishes cooked and served in a traditional lidded clay tagine pot. The tangier, or chicken tajine, is a slowly braised half-chicken with onions, potatoes, preserved lemon, green olives, ginger, saffron and cardamom. A distinctive dish, the chicken bastille is spiced pulled chicken pie cooked with eggs, onions, almonds, cinnamon and honey, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a plum and apricot sauce. And a customer favorite, the mash'wee, is oven-roasted lamb shoulder, rubbed in sea salt, cumin, coriander, garlic, vegetables and saffron.

click to enlarge YOGURT DIP AT CAFE NATASHA. | JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Yogurt Dip at Cafe Natasha. | Jennifer Silverberg

Café Natasha (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411)

Owners Behshid and Hamishe Bahrami have been providing St. Louis with authentic and revamped Persian/Iranian cuisine for more than 30 years. The restaurant's maxim, "We will not offer anything unless it's wonderful," reflects the owners' passion for creating a delicious, authentic dining experience for guests they treat like family. The gormeh sabzie, or lamb stew, is replete with classic Persian flavors of parsley, cilantro and saffron. The smoke-grilled salmon fillet also features the decidedly Persian taste of pomegranate sauce. The walnut olive feta cheese spread represents some of the menu's original recipes. Check out their newly opened Gin Room, headed by the owners' daughter and restaurant namesake, Natasha.

click to enlarge SALMON PISTACHIO AT JOYIA. | JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Salmon Pistachio at Joyia. | Jennifer Silverberg

Joyia Tapas (4501 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-5300)

Joyia Tapas offers a variety of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. A great place to start your meal might be with the one of spreads -- hummus, htipiti, blue cheese, tzatziki or red lentil -- all served with warm pita bread, Lebanese flatbread or focaccia bread. A seasonal soup and salad give a nod to locally available produce, like roasted butternut squash soup and Fuji apple salad with strawberries. Then dive into the diverse tapas menu with contemporary choices such as bacon-wrapped dates, grilled octopus, steamed mussels in a coconut-cashew broth and shrimp and grits. If you're still hungry after that, a full menu of Italian pasta and grilled pizzas, Middle Eastern gyros and kabobs and entrees of chicken, duck, seafood and beef will surely do the trick.

click to enlarge LAYLA | JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Layla | Jennifer Silverberg

Layla (4317 Manchester Avenue; 314-553-9252)

Layla offers an unexpected twist on traditional Middle Eastern fare. From the decor to the menu, old- and new-world style and Middle Eastern and American cuisine have been combined to create a unique dining experience in the Grove. Where else can you find falafel fries, nacho pita, a chicken shawarma flatbread or a beef and sliced leg of lamb burger? There are plenty of familiar dishes, but each includes a novel surprise, such as apricot ketchup, lemon-garlic mayo, pomegranate molasses, preserved lemon guacamole, chartreuse pickles and sumac flavoring anything from wings to onions to roasted apples. Layla's cocktail list is just as inventive.

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