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Dining Out

Lebanese fare with a side of martini

Falafel, meat and vegetable-stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, kibbe balls, homemade hummus, and taboule.

Juliette Lynch for The Boston Globe

Falafel, meat and vegetable-stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, kibbe balls, homemade hummus, and taboule.

It may seem odd to pair authentic Lebanese cuisine with more than 50 kinds of martinis, but at Jocelyn’s Mediterranean Restaurant & Martini Lounge, it works.

Since 2009, this family-owned restaurant has been serving unexpectedly impressive Mediterranean fare in a casual lounge setting right off of busy South Broadway. The menu features plenty of healthy Mediterranean dishes, as well as steak and seafood entrees to please all palates.

The main dining room at Joceyln’s in Salem, N.H.

Juliette Lynch for The Boston Globe

The main dining room at Joceyln’s in Salem, N.H.

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A meal at Jocelyn’s begins with a rather disappointing basket of pita bread and butter packets. Thankfully, this complimentary starter is not a complete representation of the rest of the food.

An appetizer worth sharing is the vegetarian combo platter ($19), piled high with falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj, taboule, and vegetarian grape leaves. The hummus and baba ghannouj were incredibly smooth and well seasoned, while the crispy exterior and fluffy interior of the falafel was ideal — especially when dunked in the accompanying tahini. The grape leaves were also delightfully flavorful, although a tad oily for our liking.

Our attentive waitress warned against eating the entire platter, as entrees at Jocelyn’s are abnormally large. We followed her advice and were quickly brought our salads, which are included with each entree. Diners have their choice of Caesar or house garden salads with choice of dressing. Neither salad was anything special, each consisting of too much iceberg lettuce topped with unimpressive vegetables (or, in the case of the Caesar salad, basic croutons). The Lebanese salad dressing fortunately helped to mask the salads’ bland components.

Although Jocelyn’s menu features a mix of Mediterranean and American dishes, the Mediterranean plates are quite superior.

The Mediterranean pasta with grilled shrimp ($18.50) features bowtie pasta smothered in a garlic lemon white wine sauce, and topped with onion, tomato, olives, feta cheese, and plump shrimp (or grilled chicken, $17.50). The shrimp were cooked perfectly, and the salty olives and sharp feta complemented the sweet onion and fragrant sauce well. Our only wish was that we had some crusty bread to sop up the excess wine sauce with.

Another entrée worth trying is the cilantro-tahini haddock ($19.50), which is baked and topped with tahini, cilantro, garlic, and pine nuts. Served over a bed of rice, this dish can be ordered mild or spicy. Being a spice fiend, I went for the spicy version, in which the spices were apparent yet subtle in each bite. The fish itself was cooked well, although it was a tad underseasoned, and the rice below was a decent starch to help soak up the excess cilantro-tahini sauce. The small side of vegetables was unnecessary and clearly pre-frozen, and ended up mostly untouched.

Lunch is served at Jocelyn’s until 4 p.m., and although the menu is similar to the dinner menu, it does present a few more casual dishes. A hummus and taboule wrap ($8) is one such dish, served with your choice of hand-cut fries or rice pilaf.

Mediterranean lunch and “open flame” lunch entrees are also available, including rice and beans ($11), consisting of lima beans in red sauce served over rice pilaf with chunks of lamb, and Gaby’s specialty chicken skewer ($11.50), with grilled chicken marinated in seasonings.

The dessert menu boasts a handful of indulgent options, including the turtle cheesecake ($7.50). Beautifully presented, this New York-style cheesecake rested on a thick layer of dark fudge and a graham cracker crust, covered in a caramel sauce and garnished with a chocolate sauce drizzle. Although I couldn’t tell whether the cheesecake is made in-house, this simple dessert – complete with spray-can whipped cream – was appropriately modest.

Jocelyn’s wine list is impressive yet approachable, with prices ranging from $7 to $9 per glass and $28 to $40 per bottle.

As you would expect from the restaurant’s name, the martini selection is vast, with libations ranging from the cheaper varieties (Red Sunset, made with Bacardi Superior, coconut rum, fruit juices, and a dash of grenadine, $8) to the more expensive (Down & Dirty, made with Ultimat Vodka, olive juice, and blue cheese-stuffed olives, $12). Tuesday through Thursday, select martinis are $5.

The laid back atmosphere at Jocelyn’s pairs well with the affordable prices and incredibly large portions. The more formal dining room — complete with white tablecloths — is separated nicely from the full-service lounge, although the entire setting is invitingly informal.

Michelle Lahey is a professional chef and writes about food on her blog www.theeconomicaleater.com.
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