Restaurant Review: Shish Kebab
At Shish Kebab, only the decor remains unchanged. New owners and a new chef have shortened the name from Shish Kebab Mediterranean Grill and overhauled the menu.
The mixed-greens salad ($5.95) is an example of the benefits of simplicity: no fruit, cheese, candied nuts or goopy dressing. A good assortment of chopped lettuces and red cabbage is decorated with thin carrot wedges and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
The lentil soup ($4.50 on the menu, $3.50 on the bill) has a complex combination of flavors. The lentils are mostly pureed with potatoes, carrots, celery and onions. But the flavors remain balanced.
The same is true of the falafel ($4.95 for four large pieces). The falafel mix is packed with parsley -- enough to turn the nuggets green inside and to provide an unusual tartness. The contrast comes from a dip in the thick, garlicky tahini sauce.
Most of the appetizers are modest enough not to ruin the appetite. The creamy hummus ($4.95) has a good balance of garlic and tahini.
The tabbouleh ($4.95) -- half wheat, half parsley -- is dotted with tomato and sweet pepper. My serving -- though extremely low in salt, an unusual plus these days -- didn't have much olive oil and lemon juice.
Lamb shanks ($15.95) are available on weekends. The shanks are wrapped with slices of eggplant before a long, slow bake: The meat is well-cooked and seems particularly savory.
The shanks are served with the baking juices, with copious sides of carrots, green beans, celery and potatoes. The side of long-grain house rice has a bit of a pilaf character.
Meat juices from baking also figure in the stuffed eggplant (karniyarik, $12.95). A whole eggplant is apparently roasted, cut in half and topped with a large portion of ground beef and lamb, lightly seasoned with tomatoes and sweet peppers, and baked until tender and juicy.
The kitchen staff knows how to use a grill.
The special spicy beyti kebabs ($13.95), for example, are pungent with hot peppers, garlic and black pepper. The ground lamb is formed into kebabs and wrapped in thin flatbread before being grilled. The flatbread wrap shows plenty of grill marks, as does the accompanying tomato and sweet pepper.
The dish showcases the grilling technique and the spicy meat flavors.
The grilled scallops ($16.95) feature two large skewers loaded with large scallops and a half-lemon, and grilled just long enough to cook the scallops. The delicate result is served with a salad dressed with lemon and oil, and pungent with sliced onion.
The house flatbread is thick, flavorful from fermentation and baked at a high temperature. It's served with an interesting dip of oil and sun-dried tomatoes.
The best bets on the pricey wine list are all Turkish. The Yakut red ($6.95) has great food structure, with overtones of dried raspberries and a tart, dry finish. The pricier "select" version ($8.95), though more complex with oak, isn't as harmonious an accompaniment. The white Cankaya ($6.95) is fragrant, balanced and crisp.
The keskul dessert ($4.95) is a light, almond-flavored custard, with slivered almonds mixed in. It's a refreshing way to end a meal.
The eggy creme caramel ($4.95) is heftier and nicely caramelized on the top and bottom.
1450 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday