I must have flunked my geography lessons. When I made plans to dine at Pera Mediterranean restaurant in Mount Lookout Square, I was thinking of the eastern Mediterranean — Greece and Turkey. I did not think I would pass through Italy. Hummus, falafel, moussaka, spinach pies and other staples I expected were on my itinerary, but Pera surprised me with an excursion to both coasts of the Adriatic.
The host was genuinely happy when we arrived at Pera, and we were genuinely excited to not be barraged with the ambient dance music popular in many Mount Lookout dining hotspots. The host, who we later learned was the owner and chef, told us that Pera has been open since November and that business has been steadily increasing. He also informed us that he does not have a liquor license yet, but that we could bring in our own spirits. Conveniently, UDF is across the street. Turkish coffee seemed in the tradition of the décor, but it was not yet available. We were cordially invited to stop by the next day for a Turkish coffee (on the house!). We settled on tea and coffee ($2.25 each). Pera as a work-in-progress was a theme of the night.
The appetizer menu had the delicious standbys I was looking forward to: hummus, grape leaves and falafel, but the first two items on the list were Calamari ($8.95) and Crab Cakes ($8.95). Still having a difficult time shifting my culinary paradigm, we settled on the Sampler Plate ($12.95) — a platter of hummus, falafel, grape leaves, tabouli, baba ghanoush and, a new one to me, ezme. We also thought we’d try the crab cakes, which they were out of, so we chose the Feta Borek ($4.95) instead and were glad we did.
If you have never had ezme, do yourself a favor and order it. It’s reminiscent of a chunky salsa. Spicy in its after-taste, its red peppers, onions, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, walnuts and cayenne pepper were a great contrast to the other platter offerings.
I have never had anything like it.
The grape leaves encased perfectly cooked rice with the great twang of vinegar. The hummus had the authentic texture and taste of chickpeas, and wasn’t overly pureed as hummus can be. It showcased the lightness and the focus on the ingredient that is the soul of good Mediterranean cuisine. The only thing we didn’t devour with the delicious pita bread was the baba ghanoush — whipped roasted eggplant dip that seemed a little slimy.
The Feta Borek was something that, as my boyfriend muttered between mouthfuls, he could “eat all day.” It’s a perfect balance of spinach and feta tightly rolled in phyllo dough and lightly fried. I could not keep my fork out of the mouth-watering accompaniment, thick tzatziki sauce, a yogurt, parsley and dill dip.
While my carnivorous boyfriend had many entrées to choose from, vegetarians like me were limited to dishes in the Italian vein. Meat dishes ranged from Lamb Chops ($19.95) to Apricot Chicken ($13.95) to various Shish Kabobs ($11.95- $16.95).
While he could not wait to order the Lamb Shish Kabobs ($16.95), I struggled. My choices were Grilled Salmon with mashed potatoes and asparagus ($14.95), Seafood Pasta ($11.95) with scallops, shrimp and a Parmesan and Romano cream sauce, Mushroom Ravioli ($11.95) or Seafood Casserole (salmon, tilapia, shrimp, scallops, mussel, potatoes, and mushrooms in tomato sauce; $15.95). I ordered the Seafood Pasta, and, feeling a bit jealous of my boyfriend’s excitement over his meal to come, secretly questioned my dietary choices.
Our meals were delivered by the chef/owner, who lovingly explained the dishes. Seafood Pasta was, just as I expected, linguini with shrimp and scallops in Alfredo sauce. I have to say that my past experience with scallops has not been memorable, but these were delicious, firm and sweet. Again, I stared at that damn Lamb Shish Kabob. I purloined some of the mashed potatoes and lightly sautéed green beans, carrots, and zucchini that accompanied it. These sides were not lifeless plate-fillers. The lamb was, as the boyfriend repeated, cooked perfectly, so much so that he had to stop himself from finishing it so that he could extend his enjoyment to the next day’s lunch.
I was certainly looking forward to baklava for dessert. Of course, they did not have baklava. It had not been made yet. Our two dessert options were homemade Tiramisu and store-bought Brulée Cheesecake (both $5.95). The Tiramisu was excellent and we could taste the coffee and ladyfingers, which was a testament to the dessert’s freshness. The cheesecake was marginal, as I had a hard time forgiving the fact that it was store-bought.
You can’t help but love the owner of Pera and admire his pride in the food he serves. We’ll be back for the coffee and baklava. And that damn Lamb Shish Kabob. �
Go: 1026 Delta Avenue, Mount Lookout
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $10.95-$19.95
Red Meat Alternatives: Varied
Accessibility: Fully accessible