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Meditrina Market Cafe a delightful discovery

Menu prices

Appetizers start at $5 for hummus, $6 for our roasted eggplant crostini, baba ganouj or stuffed grape leaves and $8 for beef shawerma. Our special Pizza Provencal was $9. Dinner entrees start at $12 for vegetable tagine, my wife’s pastitsio is $12.50, coq au vin is $14, pomegranate steak is $16 and my lamb stew is $17.

Meditrina serves bottled beers and a variety of wines by the glass from $5 to $7.50 and by the bottle from $20 to $32.

If you go

◆ Meditrina Market Cafe

◆ 24 Washington St., Valparaiso

◆ Hours are 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday

◆ 707-5271; reservations not accepted

Maps

Updated: June 29, 2012 8:06AM



Sometimes if you stray onto a side street from the main road, you’re rewarded by finding something unexpectedly wonderful. That’s what happened to my wife and me when we stumbled upon Meditrina Market Cafe in Valparaiso.

Meditrina is a small 26-seat eatery that feels like a different world.

Meditrina reminded me of one of those little backstreet cafes in Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood, lively little bistros run by Algerian or Moroccan émigrés featuring exotic music and new and delicious taste sensations.

The décor is as free-spirited as the music and menu, with mismatched tables and chairs and a quirky, cosmopolitan vibe to it that was oddly comforting.

Meditrina serves healthy Mediterranean dishes featuring olive oils and fresh vegetables. They are light-tasting, though plenty filling, and beautifully seasoned and cooked. We were famished when we arrived and quickly ordered soup and starters. My wife chose the vegetable lentil soup, which was infused with cumin. I chose the curry potato soup, which wasn’t deeply piquant, but suggested it could be. Our meal was off to a great start.

The starters menu included falafel , stuffed vegetarian grape leaves, chicken shawerma and hummus, but we followed the soup with a small pizza from the specials chalkboard. We chose the Pizza Provencal, which featured a smoky provolone cheese, caramelized onions, Kalamata olives and thinly sliced mushrooms atop a skinny crusted flatbread. The crackerlike crust was richly flavorful and the ingredients melted into our eager mouths. We also ordered the roasted eggplant crostini, which consisted of slices of bread lightly brushed with olive oil and topped with soft, creamy eggplant, spinach and tomato served with white beans. The contrasting textures were a sloppy delight to eat.

As the sister of owner/executive chef Sarah Geary, our server Laura was a big booster of the cooking and answered our questions with patience and good cheer, offering solid recommendations. Geary previously cooked for the fine Mezza’s in Valparaiso, which closed too soon. Now she’s back with a place of her own.

My wife ordered the pastitsio with meat, a lighter-tasting variation on the traditional baked Greek pasta dish that substituted penne pasta for macaroni and used minced lamb. The cream-based béchamel sauce was not as heavy as I’ve had in some Greek restaurants, and the tomato sauce bore just a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, a fine version.

I ordered the lamb stew, and I’m still savoring it days later. The lamb was unbelievably tender and flavorful and the rich tomato sauce so nuanced and sensuous it was almost erotic. The flavorful blend of cardamom, paprika and cumin merged so well in the thick sauce that they tasted like a new spice to me. This was a magical dish.

For dessert we split a baklava, that Greek and Middle Eastern baked nut treat too often drowned in pools of honey or abused by repeated refrigeration. But this baklava was sweet without being cloying and the large portions of walnut added complexity and gravitas to this humble creation. The homemade cheesecake was served with a few sliced strawberries, and even unadorned and plain, offered a satisfying end to our fine meal.



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