Mina offers Middle Eastern fare in a dressed-up setting

 
 
Posted7/2/2010 12:01 AM

Many of the Middle Eastern restaurants in these parts tend to be casual, counter-service operations or informal storefronts. If you want somewhere a little dressier, suitable for a date, with table service, where you can have a drink or perhaps listen to live music, check out the new Mina restaurant.

Joseph and Mariam Abd Elnour, natives of Egypt, opened their place this spring in the Mount Prospect Commons in the spot formerly occupied by the Italian restaurant Vita Mia. Sons Andrew and Marko help out in the family operation, which serves Mariam's recipes from their homeland as well as other countries of the Mediterranean.

 

White tablecloths feature in a semiformal setting not much changed from the previous incarnation. The Abd Elnours have added some Middle Eastern artwork, including portraits of the restaurant's namesake St. Mina, patron saint of Egypt, a martyr who lived in the third century B.C.

The dressier atmosphere with table service brings prices up above the fast-food spots, but dinner portions are ample. At lunch, daily specials offer $5.99 sandwiches and platters.

Starters include such Middle Eastern stalwarts as hummus, baba ghannouj and stuffed grape leaves. Falafel, crisply fried patties of ground chickpeas, arrived on a bed of greens with a dollop of sour cream alongside. A very light hand with seasoning let the pure flavor of the legumes come through.

We also tried a salad. It came with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and romaine lettuce in a pleasantly minty vinaigrette, but the combination of other ingredients made it unlike any of the options described on the menu. We had ordered fattoush, and like that classic Middle Eastern mélange, our order featured pita chips but lacked the parsley and radishes listed on the menu. Instead, it had Kalamata olives. Perhaps the kitchen got confused about which salad they were making while they were mixing it up?

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Chargrilled kebabs make up a big part of the menu, with choices of chicken, lamb, beef, shrimp and kifta, seasoned ground meat. Nicely grilled onions and bell peppers and a mound of either seasoned rice or couscous accompany each order.

For those who have trouble deciding, the $19.99 Mina Platter offers portions of chicken, beef and kifta, as well as some thin slices of beef shawerma (akin to gyros). For another dollar, the Mina Mixed Grill offers chicken, beef and seafood kebabs.

In our platter, the chicken kebab was nice and juicy and the kifta flavorful, but the beef chunks were a little too chewy.

Baby lamb chops, however, were beautifully tender, cooked perfectly medium-rare and all they should be, served over couscous with the requisite chargrilled veggies.

Also, from the grill, you can try chicken or beef shawerma or Atlantic salmon paired with garlic-herb mashed potatoes.

Beyond grilled items, the dinner menu offers Moroccan eggplant in tomato sauce, a lamb-shank tagine and, for those who miss the site's previous inhabitant, chicken penne Alfredo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The lunch menu also has chicken and eggplant Parmesan sandwiches and a Philly cheesesteak, along with typical Middle Eastern stuffed pitas.

Dessert options, obviously brought in from a commercial bakery, include a small plate of baklava-type phyllo pastries and an excellent, dense chocolate cake that went nicely with Turkish coffee.

Mina features a full bar, although it doesn't look up to complicated cocktails. Drink specials figure on the weekends.

Entertainment schedules are intermittent right now, but Joseph Abd Elnour, himself a professional musician, expects to feature live music regularly.

Delivery is available, as is as outdoor seating.