In the mood for something new?
SUE KIDD; Staff writer
Doner kebab, gyros, shawarma – plenty of names describe the rotating tower of meat slowly cooked on a vertical grill and eaten throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.
When Zara Mediterranean Cuisine restaurant opens later this month in the Pacific Avenue space that has been vacant since Sea Grill closed in March 2009, diners will get a big taste of shawarma in Tacoma.
Shawarma is the Arabic name for the vertically roasted meat dish. Greeks call it gyros; in Turkey, it’s doner kebab. I call it delicious. What’s not to like about a giant, rotating cone of seasoned meat that’s shaved and served on a platter with vegetables and spreads, or as a sandwich?
The basic recipe of shawarma is strips of meat pressed onto a long skewer that is then placed on a rotisserie grill that slowly rotates and cooks the meat vertically. The seasonings, recipes and methods vary by region in the Mediterranean as do the meats used: lamb, beef, chicken or a variation of all.
Don’t think of this as pressed, ground meat – the stuff that fast casual gyros restaurants around here serve. Shawarma (also spelled shawerma or shawurma) at Zara will be made from whole strips of meat, hand cut, piled onto the shawarma machine, and seasoned in house. Zara chefs will slice hunks of the meat and serve it with shrak, an unleavened flat bread similar to a tortilla. Want pita instead? No problem. They’ll offer that, too.
Meat takes center stage at Zara – and not just on the menu; it’s intended to be a spectator sport in the dining room. Diners can take in the sight of a shawarma station that will hold 20-60 pounds of meat. Whole stuffed lamb also will be sliced at the on-view carving station.
Zara also plans to serve a range of Mediterranean dishes (see the menu rundown below). The term “Mediterranean” can seem so nebulous. So many countries touch the Mediterranean Sea. Italy? Greece? France? Morocco? What exactly is Mediterranean cuisine?
When I asked the operators of Zara to define their version of “Mediterranean,” they told me “Eastern Mediterranean.” What do they consider that to be? The food of Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. A few accents of Jordan, too.
I had a lengthy phone conversation last week with general manager Chip Venzone, who local restaurant watchers will recognize as the former general manager of Pacific Grill across the street, and James Barbara, a chef with longtime ties to Tacoma who formerly cooked at Altezzo in the Sheraton.
Barbara, who was born into a family of bakers on the East Coast, has been working in restaurants since he was 12 and learned to cook in a kitchen owned by two brothers from Naples. His interest in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine grew while working at an Arabic nightclub and restaurant in Seattle.
Here’s what Barbara and Venzone told me about Zara: The flow of the open dining room that Sea Grill designed is intact, and the only structural changes that have been made to the restaurant are the addition of carving stations.
The seating and color scheme has morphed from the seafoam color scheme of Sea Grill to a palate of blue and white, accented with gold. Venzone described a Grecian-style ceiling mural in the bar.
Curious about the name? Zara is an Arabic word that means “to visit.” The restaurant will have seating for 140, with room for about 40 more in the bar and a private room for as many as 50 diners.
The restaurant is owned by Galazios Inc., and will be the company’s first restaurant. The company announced the opening of Zara in February in the space in the Umpqua Bank building that has been vacant since Sea Grill, owned by Seattle’s Mackay Restaurant Group, which owns El Gaucho, closed.
Stay tuned here for an opening date, which the operators expect to be around mid- to late-August. Check blog.thenewstribune.com/tntdiner
for more updates.
Curious about the menu? Take a look at the dishes below. Prices are expected to be $9-$11 at lunch, with entrees from the high teens up to the low $20 range for dinner. Feasts feeding four or five or more diners will be available for around $100:
Dolmades: Seasoned rice and meat-filled grape leaves.
Shrak: A thin, unleavened bread similar to a tortilla, meant to be eaten with shawarma.
Shawarma: Beef and lamb combination; chicken and beef and lamb cooked separately, too.
Kibbeh: An egg-shaped appetizer of a bulgar wheat dough shell stuffed with spiced beef and lamb.
Moussaka: A layered eggplant, lamb and beef dish.
Spanakopita: Savory turnovers stuffed with spinach and cheese.
Seafood: Pan-roasted flounder served with capers, dill, mint and garlic; poached halibut served with julienned vegetables; shrimp scampi served on kebabs.
Sauces/spreads: Roasted eggplant dip baba ghanoush; hummus dip made from garbanzo beans, ground sesame, garlic and lemon; and an enriched yogurt dip made with laban yogurt, mint and black olives.
MARROW IS OPEN
Marrow, the fine-dining restaurant with a focus on unusual proteins and craft cocktails, opened this week at 2717 Sixth Ave. (253-267-5299). Here’s reason to be interested: It’s backed by Jaime Kay and Jason Jones, co-owners of Top of Tacoma, and Kyle Wnuk, former chef at Dirty Oscar’s Annex on Sixth. (I raved about the burgers at Dirty Oscar’s earlier this year.)
When I first wrote about Marrow earlier this summer, Jones and Wnuk said they would offer a range of prices and plate sizes, with an emphasis on unusual proteins (think ostrich and boar) and a companion vegetarian menu. “We’ll be offering a lot of small-plate options, especially with wild proteins that people haven’t tried. They may not want to commit their whole meal to (something they’re not sure about).”
Expect to see small-plate prices beginning at $6. Entrees will top out at $25.
The restaurant will be open for dinner only, at least to start. Tentative hours are 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. The restaurant is for ages 21 and older only. There is seating for about 50-60.
“We’re going to evolve to meet the demand,” Jones said.
Wnuk is a Tacoma native and 1997 graduate of Washington High School. He graduated from the culinary program at Seattle Central Community College. He previously worked at Il Fiasco.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune. Reach her at 253-597-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Zara Mediterranean Cuisine
Where: 1498 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Hours: Open daily for lunch, happy hour, dinner
Opening: Sometime in the middle of August, or later.