Dining Out: A Mediterranean feast at Samia’s

Samia’s – a new sit-down restaurant opened by the culinary wizard who made her takeout shop a little over a block away a legend in the neighborhood – has arguably the best baklava I’ve ever tasted.

And, true confession, I’ve eaten an awful lot of baklava over the years, including some in Istanbul that until I bit into Samia’s version I had confidently dubbed the best.

But, the neat, flaky morsels that Samia serves up ($6), honey-soaked on the bottom, crispy on top and finished with a gorgeous dusting of ground pistachios, upended all of my previously held convictions about the traditional Mideastern sweet – pretty much the way virtually everything that came out of her kitchen did during a preview tasting the night before the restaurant officially opened on Friday, May 27.

In fact, I tasted far more things than could possibly be profiled in a 500-word column, so I’ll just recap some of my favorites.

Among them was the mint-inflected Fattoush ($7), a lemony mélange of raw chopped vegetables, that delighted with the contrasts of flavor and texture, as well as the little rounds of tart Zatar bread ($8 for four), and the rolled spinach and feta cheese phyllo pies ($7), whose creamy, luscious filling entranced.

I was also blown away by the dips – nutty, garlicky, tart and creamy Hummus ($6); smoky, sultry Baba Ghanouge ($6) and thick and unctuous Labaneh ($6), rich yogurt flecked liberally with bits of cucumber. They were served with housemade pita chips, whose crunch contrasted delightfully with the array of purees.

Did I mention the meat and chicken pies, the meat-filled ones spiked with sweet roasted red pepper and the chicken pies featuring a sweet, tender filling and liberally dusted with sesame seeds ($8 for 4)?

And, that’s just the appetizers…

As a main dish, I sampled from a platter of grilled meats ($28, served over rice), and was impressed, overall, by their flavors and tenderness. The grilled chicken chunks were moist inside and subtly spiced, and the beef was tender and peppery. The housemade lamb and beef sausages were the biggest surprise, small and delicate and fragrant with cinnamon.

As her daughter Nancy explained, Samia Tosson is a self-taught chef who “learned from her mother and sisters” in Alexandria, Egypt, where she lived before emigrating with her husband and children to the United States.

Her culinary endeavor “started out very small,” said Nancy Tosson, selling the food she made to stores before opening up her takeout store at 7922 Third Avenue about 13 years ago. That store attracted and kept customers, both because it ended up being “more of a social spot,” noted Nancy, and also because it “had great food.”

Samia’s expansion to a sit-down restaurant occurred in part, said Nancy, because she was encouraged to take the leap by customers and friends after the location opened up, and it’s more than just a physical extension of her first store.

Rather, said Nancy, the menu has also expanded with a greater variety of Mahashe (which translates as “stuffed things”) such as grape leaves, cabbage, zucchini and eggplant, as well as the addition of Tagine, North African stews cooked in clay vessels.

There’s also an increased variety in dessert options. And, yes, I’m tempted. But, I have to tell you, for now I’m sticking with the baklava.

7809 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11209
Tuesday-Sunday, 3-11 p.m.
Free delivery with minimum $10 purchase

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