In four street food dishes, Mumtaz cultivated unique flavor and elevated the routine to the exceptional.
The first dish was a lamb and beef gyro on a pita. The meats were broiled and grilled, then sliced in half-centimeter-thick slabs and laid atop thick, chewy pita bread. The sandwich was perfectly balanced, with meat slabs going three deep, creamy yogurt-mint sauce just short of smothering, and fresh, crunchy bits of lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
The unique flavor of this gyro came from the lamb. It was cooked to perfection, highlighting all the earthy and grassiness of the meat without crossing over into gamey. It was slightly tough but juicy, and its cooperation with the beef released delicious fat and satisfied the palate with rich umami. It created the foundation for the yogurt sauce to hit high notes, like a well-played drum set. The balance of texture — chewy bread, relenting meat, crunchy vegetables and creamy sauce — was a feat.
The second dish was a plate of falafel with tahini sauce. The falafel came as plump sand dollars, and had the exact consistency of a thick hush puppy. The fry on the outside of the falafel was non-greasy and thin, but still retained composure and provided a small crunch. The chickpea and fava bean innards were dry but soft; made for the tahini accompaniment.
The unique flavor of the falafel came from what must be fennel seed or tarragon. Mumtaz pulls the KFC card and calls their spices “special,” and thus secret. Though the flavor was subtle, it was unmistakable. Perhaps you have to like the anise flavor to like Mumtaz’s falafel, but even if you don’t, it is used with refinement here. It is sweet and salty, like salted licorice, and it hits your nose first, gets lost when the falafel is in your mouth and then lingers softly in your head until the next bite.
The third dish was baba ghanouj. Eggplant was blended into a thin paste with sesame oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs and topped with spicy paprika. It was served with the thick, chewy and lightly charred pita bread.
The unique flavor of the baba ghanouj came from some process by which smoke is imparted into the dish. It likely either came from grilling the eggplants before they were blended, or the late-stage addition of smoke. It was a wild flavor. The smoke brought out the fruitiness of the eggplant, which so often loses its flavor when cut too thin or fried or baked too long. Here, the eggplant and smoke worked in harmony to make you feel like you’re eating something much grander than bread and smear.
The fourth dish was a plate of kefta. Two long strips of seasoned and grilled beef sat atop billowy rice. It was served with a thick garlic sauce. The beef had been ground and reshaped before it was grilled, allowing the meat to be rolled with parsley, onions and spices.
The unique flavor of the kefta came from the addition of cinnamon to the spice mixture. Its aroma was more striking than its flavor throughout the process of eating, which subdued the cinnamon and let it work behind the scenes to bring out other flavors in the meat.
The other dishes — spanakopita, grape leaves, sambusek (cheese wontons, basically) and baklava — were all fresh and bright.
Mumtaz has been doing this for a while, so you’ve likely already been and experienced their subtle mastery of Lebanese and Mediterranean fare, but if you haven’t, the recommendation is to stop in and taste for yourself.
Mumtaz Mediterranean Food, 588 U.S. 287, Lafayette, 303-926-1400