- 2286 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY, 40204
- (502) 365-1788
- Overall User Rating:
- (4 ratings)
- Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.
When it opened in 2008, Zaytun Mediterranean Grill was an odd sort of hybrid restaurant. It could seat 50 — in quarters tight enough to discourage lingering. And yet, there were hints that the restaurant had plenty of ambition.
Food and service were very fine, and on weekends owner Remy Pouranfar would bring out the tablecloths and shift the emphasis from functional efficiency to cozy comfort.
Four years later, those early ambitions are bearing fruit. Just over a month ago, Zaytun underwent a significant expansion and remodeling. From 50 tight seats, the restaurant expanded to 75 very comfortable seats.
New furnishings and finishes feature softer fabrics, an attractive brick archway that connects the original space to the new dining room, and red pendant lights that invoke Middle Eastern architecture. Even the softly pulsing background music seems purposefully designed to encourage leisurely dining — and the folks I’ve seen in the dining room had the calm, relaxed look of people who were happily settled in for the evening.
And in a post-review phone interview, Pouranfar indicated that Zaytun’s evolution isn’t yet complete — he’s still awaiting delivery of some Persian rugs that are being shipped in from Iran (some of which will be used as hanging fixtures to create an even quieter acoustic environment).
And though he already offers a couple of dozen very affordably priced wines (in the low to mid-$20s), he’s planning to expand the wine program with a list of interesting, value-priced wines from around the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on wines from Italy.
In the meantime, the kitchen, where you’ll often find Pouranfar (or his mother, Gita Pouranfar, whose recipes and ideas are a core part of the menu), is putting out fine, affordable fare — so affordable that you may be startled when your bill arrives.
Three kinds of hummus (each $6) and kashk e bademjan, a Persian variation on baba ghanouj ($6.50), are on offer — and can be sampled in various combinations. Appetizers include fried pita chips with tzatziki sauce ($4), what I guess amounts to a sort of Persian poutine (fries topped with curry ketchup), a blend of four cheeses, sauteed onions and fresh cilantro ($6), and a rotating assortment of olives in portions ranging from 2 ounces ($1) to a pound ($8).
But the best way for a group to start is with Zaytun’s Dream Dish ($9.50), a vegetarian platter that includes kashk e bademjan, a few falafels and your choice of hummus. The falafels are superb — fried globes with a tender, fragile crust and a lush, herb-inflected core; dip one of these into the generous bowl of tzatziki and you might just decide to have yourself a falafel feast — a falafel appetizer runs $5, and a falafel gyro runs $7.50.
I’ve never run into a hummus I didn’t like, but Zaytun’s Tunisian hummus ($6 if ordered on its own) might be my new favorite. Draped with roasted red peppers and plenty of fresh parsley, doctored up with an olive tapenade, it looks great on the plate — and its spicy heat is just prickly enough to be addictive for spice hounds (to back off the spice, opt for the Egyptian hummus (roasted garlic and onions) or the Phoenician, flavored with a mild red pepper sauce.
Filling out the Dream Dish is the kashk e bademjan, a classic eggplant dip with deep notes of caramelized onion and roasted garlic, touched up with hints of mint and chunks of walnut.
The published menu focuses on Mediterranean street foods, but most days Pouranfar supplements the menu with soups and specials that reflect his family’s diverse (German and Persian) culinary heritage. Recent specials have included items like saffron chicken and potato soup, 72-hour mesquite-smoked chicken wings, roasted chicken legs with saffron barberry rice, and assorted stews featuring locally raised vegetables (specials are often featured on the restaurant’s Facebook page).
But the published menu is plenty satisfying. Whether it’s the classic gyros — just beef and lamb sliced from the rotisserie and topped to your specifications ($7.75) — a more elaborate variation dolled up with olive tapenade, fresh parsley, red bell peppers and more ($9.25), or a version made with marinated, sauteed chicken ($7.75), these are great examples of sturdy street food.
Given the popularity of Pouranfar’s father’s restaurant, the nearby Fish-Fry House, it’s not surprising that Zaytun’s kitchen has a pretty sure hand with fish, as well — and a nice, hand-breaded fish sandwich is available ($8.50 with fries). But it’s the Mediterranean-style fish, marinated and breaded in a batter that’s fragrant with Mediterranean spices, that really grabs me (gyros, $8.50, entree with basmati dill rice, $10.50).
And of course you can always finish your meal with a cup of hot Persian tea and baklava — or saffron rosewater ice cream topped with pistachios and whipped cream.