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Spring rolls from Pho Lang Thang

Posted Saturday, June 13, 2009
Note: Cafe Mediterranean has moved since this review was first published. They are now located in Blue Ash.

Cafe Mediterranean is one of the newer tenants of Anderson Towne Center, the "lifestyle center" built atop the ashes of the former Beechmont Mall. A few generic ghosts from the old mall are still there, including Macy's, TGI-Friday's and K-Mart.

We'd visited Cafe Mediterranean several times over the course of the last year and enjoyed it. In fact, it is among our favorite restaurants in the city. And while the food served tonight was good, it wasn't quite on par with past visits and there were noticeable cues that, unfortunately, things may not be going well for this unique restaurant. We hope we're wrong.

Upon entering, we were greeted to a mostly empty dining room. It was 7 pm on a Friday night, so it struck me as unusual. I joked about the fact that Cafe Mediterranean has always attempted to bill itself as an upscale restaurant, but we and most of the patrons never dress the part. The only "upper crust" aspects of the place include the fine interior appearance and the well-trained wait staff. Some would argue that the prices are also "upscale," but upon closer examination, we found the restaurant's dinner entrees priced considerably lower than its closest competitor, Andy's Mediterranean Grille.

Service at Cafe Mediterranean is nearly always good. In fact, we'd say it's a little "too" good, bordering on fawning. For a waiter, there's a fine line between making sure you are attentive to your patrons' needs and completely smothering them. Our waitress frequently stopped to ask us how we were doing or how the food was. Sister, didn't you just ask us the same question three minutes ago? It tastes the same as it did then.

When we were served a complimentary basket of pita bread, the waitress also set down a small plate of butter. It was actually two tiny, 1/2-inch bits of butter, as though someone in the kitchen had run out of it, stuck a very small pad of what was left onto the plate and then cut it in half. The sight was so absurdly striking that it evoked a chuckle. If they were going to be so skimpy with the butter, why bring it out in the first place? Neither of us could remember ever receiving butter before and it wouldn't have been missed.

We ordered a falafel appetizer that was as good as we'd remembered. Each piece had a pleasingly crusty shell with a warm, soft, chickpea center. A refreshingly cool tahini sauce accompanied the plate.

When our entrees arrived, they appeared at first glance to be prepared perfectly. However, I soon noticed small pools of grease floating atop the sauce poured over my cabbage rolls. While not quite aesthetically displeasing, the dish tasted good, with only one small end piece of one roll being slightly hard and overcooked. My girlfriend's vegetable stew, a well-seasoned mixture of eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, beans and carrots, was as good as ever: flawless. Her dish was accompanied by a decoratively molded mound of bulgar wheat, a tasty side dish that I would describe as the Mediterranean's answer to Spanish rice.

As we left the restaurant, we were relieved to see a few more patrons entering for dinner. Still, the room was only about half full. We hope the lack of people was an anomaly, because this is a restaurant well worth saving. Cafe Mediterranean offers good food with prices and a dining experience easily rivaling its competitors.

Cafe Mediterranean on Urbanspoon
Cafe Mediterranean

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.03.0 stars




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