Every restaurant that wants to be all things to all customers gives itself away. In this era of mishmash fusion and other menus that claim to be expert at cooking at least half a dozen cuisines, you can usually see a tiny thread that reveals who is behind the stove.
In the case of The Grill Mediterranean Cuisine, the cooks are Persian. So while they offer Greek salads and tabbouli and burgers, what they excel at is the food they know best: long sauteed eggplant dishes, a hearty soup, basmati rice, and kebabs.
Tehran native Ali Nowrouzi and his wife, Zara, own the building, which is across from the Embassy Cinema in Waltham, and leased the space to Boca Bar, a Costa Rican restaurant. Nowrouzi took over the 57-seat spot and changed the theme to Mediterranean. Even with blue-and-white striped chairs, and blue woven placemats, you can see oddments of tropical decor left behind.
The dish that is the big reveal is Olovie ($4.99), a chicken and potato salad. On a very quiet night, Nowrouzi brings a sample to our table (on another quiet night, the waiter sets down a very good hummus). Olovie is not much to look at. It’s basically a mayonnaise salad with chopped potatoes, eggs, pickles, and chicken. But for anyone who loves either potato salad or chicken salad, it’s delightful. And it’s a close relation to Salat Olivier, a traditional Russian dish so popular that émigrés have brought it with them to the Middle East and South America.
Then there’s the kashk bademjan ($5.99), another frightfully plain dish of sauteed eggplant, onions, and turmeric, garnished with dabs of whey and fried mint. The flavors are subtle and appealing.
The best kebab plate is made with Cornish hens. Jujeh kebab ($16.99) begins with skinned pieces of the small birds marinated in onions and saffron, then grilled. The succulent little pieces are arranged on a plate around a mound of perfect basmati rice sprinkled with liquefied saffron. Another dish of chicken kebab ($11.99) with fine morsels of bird, and lamb shish kebab ($14.99), with tender meat cooked medium-rare as requested, comes with an invented rice pilaf flecked with corn and green beans, covered with a tomato sauce. Nowrouzi says his pilaf is a Greek version and the homemade tomato sauce his own touch. I say stick to the beautiful basmati with its golden saffron drizzle. Why improvise on a cuisine that once served the court?
Beef kebab sandwich ($8.99) comes on deliciously thick flatbread, rolled with pickles, tomatoes, crisp salad vegetables, and yogurt sauce. A lemon-chicken rice soup ($4), with a fine homemade broth, is sprinkled with corn, which doesn’t ruin the bowl but seems as silly here as it is in the invented pilaf.
If you dine here, you can get movie tickets for $8 (instead of $11 at the Embassy). Sounds like a deal to me. The place is nearly empty after the movie rush. Perhaps because none of the tables around us are cleared — and stay that way for far too long. Not exactly inviting.
But a beautiful plate of Cornish hens cooked over a gas grill, accompanied by rice each grain of which you’d think someone boiled individually, are stars here. No reason to bother with dishes from cuisines that aren’t specialties of the house.