Veteran Nasir Latif returns with a Mediterranean restaurant, which is his best establishment yet.
Though opening a new restaurant these days is surely a perilous venture, when the place is just right for the times, success should follow. And success seems to have followed the opening of Lavash Café, a family friendly, healthful and inexpensive establishment in Clintonville serving mostly Middle Eastern food.
One additional reason is the proprietor, the charming and hard-working Nasir Latif, who is no stranger to the biz, having opened, closed or sold several operations in the last 20 years. And this is his best yet.
Latif knows flavor, and he understands that good food has to be fresh. Take the tabouleh salad. The parsley was crisp, the mint, garlic and lemon juice were fresh and the tomatoes were the best that can be found in winter (Romas). The outstanding fattoush salad was a mixture of chopped romaine, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers and radishes with a marvelous dressing of garlic, sumac olive oil and fresh herbs.There also was a fine Lavash salad and a Greek one.
The owner also knows how to extract the most from ingredients, even humble ones. For instance, the wonderful lentil soup-yellow lentils, carrots, spices and vegetable stock-was actually vegan, but it tasted as if it were made with a rich meat stock. Equally impressive was the lamb slices (spit-roasted) in a gyro sandwich with a fragrant housemade tahini sauce that will make you swoon-not to mention the sandwich with oven-roasted leg of lamb.
Of course, there was good falafel, done in a sandwich or as a platter with hummus and that Lavash salad. The baba ghanoush and just-right lemony and garlicky hummus were excellent. The kebabs were terrific, too-the juicy chicken perfectly cooked and the vegetables beautifully charred. There were also kebabs of beef, lamb and kefta (a kind of sausage made with spiced ground lamb and cracked wheat).
In fact, I liked everything I ate here. In the tastes-great-but-may-not-be-healthful category were the sweets in the glass cases at the counter. There were plenty of yummy nut- and honey-based phyllo pastries (baklava and the like). But the real stars were the rich cakes, cupcakes and cheesecakes made by Latif's niece Jackie, especially a great little peanut butter cupcake and, my favorite, the honey applesauce cake with cream cheese icing.
The restaurant is a big open space, simply but colorfully decorated; it's bright and cheerful. Service is at the counter, and you choose your own table. There's no alcohol, but plenty of sodas, fruit smoothies and various fresh juices (carrot, mango, strawberry and more). The place served good coffee, including the thick, sweet Turkish variety.
Lavash is perfect for the times: tasty and healthful food at bargain prices.
Thank you, Mr. Latif.