Sunday, November 15, 2009

Myrna's Authentic Mediterranian Bistro

UPDATE: As of late 2010, Mryna's is now CLOSED.

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I'm so excited I don't even know where to begin and still retain some semblance of sounding like a calm, rational woman. So grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or your beverage of choice, settle yourself into a comfortable chair and relive the experience with me - this is going to be a long one!

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My husband returned home from a business trip @10:00 Friday night. This was basically considered a layover as he would be flying off on yet another business trip at 8:50 a.m. on Sunday morning. Who wanted to cook a sumptuous Saturday evening meal? "Not I," declared The Food Houndette. So Maarten culled through the "Restaurants" folder on my computer to see recent Stamford additions of places that I was interested in visiting. It was a toss-up: Japanese or Lebanese. Our selection would change the course of the evening.

At 7:15 p.m. we left the house and drove the 1.7 miles to 866 East Main Street and pulled into the parking lot of Myrna's Authentic Mediterranean Bistro.

Myrna's (pronounced "meer-nah") is rather unassuming from the outside. There are no obnoxious neon signs that can be seen from satellites in space, no red carpet leading to archaic doors that require three able-bodied he-men to heave open, and no massive line of "The Beautiful People" clamoring to get in to see-and-be-seen. Just a simple, understated storefront that I happened to notice on one of my restaurant scouting expeditions.

We walked inside and took a table by the window. Myrna's is not a huge place that you could get lost in. It consists of two decent sized rooms (one softly lit, one even more so) which, in the coming weeks, will be miraculously transformed*.

I perused the wine menu and selected a delightful La Marca Pinot Grigio from Italy that was light, fruity, and had no offensive aftertaste. There were a few Lebanese white wine selections on the menu; however, they were dry wines, which I am not a huge fan of.

As we looked over the menu, I actually salivated. I mean, I sat there with my mouth open, bottom lip hanging lower than the pants on a hip hop wannabe and a trickle of spittle hit the table. Between lunch and dinner, there was an array of selections to choose from. As the waitress approached our table, it was clear from the look on my face that I was stumped.  What to order, what to order? I had narrowed my appetizer down to one selection each from the Cold Mezza (Shankleesh) and Hot Mezza (Fried Halloumi Cheese). I'm a sucker for cheese (not once, but twice I smuggled at least 2 kilos of fresh cheese from Holland...shhhh! don't tell anybody), but I've had Halloumi many times before and wanted to try something different. Still, I was torn.

It turns out our waitress was actually the owner, Myrna, but we didn't find this out until much later in the meal. I explained my dilemma to her, and finally decided on the Shankleesh—crumbled feta cheese mixed with fresh tomatoes, onions, parsley, thyme and EVOO. Maarten didn't stress nearly as much about his order as I did; he decided to forego an appetizer because the entrée that he wanted was served with rice and hummus. Instead, he asked that the hummus be brought to the table as his starter.

A few minutes later, one of the waiters brought hummus and pita triangles to our table, followed a few minutes later by the Shankleesh. But the fun didn't stop there. "This is the Halloumi, compliments of the owner." So now we had a table with three appetizers and I intended to do my level best to eat it all. The hummus with tahini sauce and fresh lemon juice was very rich and smooth. Shankleesh was something new to me and it created a veritable party in my mouth. The flavors were robust, fresh and vibrant. The fried halloumi cheese nearly reduced me to tears. It was very dense and thick, with a look more of tofu than cheese, but, of course, the flavor was more full-bodied than tofu had any right to be. The outside was fried a beautiful golden brown and was slightly salty, as halloumi cheese typically is, and the inside was firm yet chewy. Maarten had never tried halloumi cheese before, but agreed with me that it was outstanding ... so much so that he gobbled down two of the four pieces before I had an opportunity to pierce his hand with my fork.

I could have stopped right there with the meal and I would have been completely satisfied. But Myrna wasn't finished with us yet.

Maarten's entrée, the Chicken Shawarma Platter, came out perhaps ten minutes before my dinner arrived, which was almost to his detriment. The dish was aesthetically pleasing and fragrant. "Do you want to taste this?"he asked. Silly man; what a positively ridiculous question to ask me, of all foodies. Carefully, he built a tiny mound of chicken and rice on his fork and pointed it in my direction. Like a baby bird feeding from its mother, I opened my mouth wide. Neither one of us would have been the least bit surprised if a "caw caw" sound had come straight out of my mouth. The chicken was tender and nicely seasoned but, surprisingly, the rice was even more awe-inspiring. Each grain was separate from the next. Mixed in with the rice was vermicilli which amped up the flavor. On one side of the plate was a small Lebanese salad made with fresh greens, bits of cucumber, fresh tomatoes that were firm and crisp, and a bittersweet dressing with a hint of lemon. Delicious!

By this point in the meal, my food still had not arrived, but I was making do with my husband's dinner. I was about to go into a heavenly food-induced coma when my plate arrived. Although I had eaten chicken kebobs many times over in my many years of being greedy, something told me that what I was about to experience would be a culinary tour de force. Rest assured Myrna's did not thwart my lofty expectations.

As chance would have it, the meat had already been de-kebobbed from the two skewers; this was probably a very good thing for the other diners as I have been known to send chunks of chicken shooting through the air like a projectile while trying to remove the meat from the thin metal sticks. My plate too was replete with the rice with vermicelli and a side salad. Without realizing the level of drama involved, I made a Hollywood-style production of eating the chicken. As I slowly raised a forkful of meat to my mouth, the aromas wafted to my nostrils as I closed my eyes and heard the angels sing. And I sang right along with them as I took my first bite. It was by far the juiciest, most succulent and tender morsel of meat that I had eaten in a very long time.

When Myrna came to our table to see if we were enjoying our meals, my first instinct was to kiss her. Instead, I looked up at her with doe-eyed innocence and whispered "It's delicious." She smiled knowingly for she was probably well aware of what it was like to have a cult following.

"How is this prepared?" I asked as I had recovered somewhat and could speak once again like an adult. She imparted upon me the ingredients that made that kebob so damned delicious: garlic, imported Lebanese seasonings, coriander, canola oil and one very special secret ingredient that I vowed would never be divulged from my full lips.

As my husband and I looked out over the vast spread of food on our table, I rubbed my plump belly like my name was Buddha. We were ready to call it a night when Myrna walked over once again and said those three fateful words that did me in: "Room For Dessert?" Then to add insult to injury she started tossing around dangerous words like "cheesecake," "baklava," and "tiramisu" with reckless abandon. In some countries, a person could be thrown under the jail for that.

Maarten had been craving baklava for some time now so his choice was a no-brainer. I, on the other hand, was almost sold on the cheesecake until she mentioned a homemade house specialty called Halva with Pistachio, made with tiny pancakes stuffed with ricotta cheese topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with honey. I've never been one to think that ricotta belonged anywhere except in lasagna, but this was a night about being daring. I answered the call of adventure.

I am ashamed to say that the display which Maarten and I flaunted was not for the faint of heart. Between his four-piece variety of baklava—pistachio, pine nut, cashew and walnut—and and my four pieces of halva, there wasn't a single crumb left on either plate. And it was all on the house, compliments of Myrna.

The complimentary treats didn't end with dessert. Myrna brought to our table two cups of orange blossom water, also known as white coffee, which is generally consumed to cleanse the body after a meal. The orange blossom water was very fragrant and tasted like it smelled. It was, indeed, a wonderful end to a glorious meal.

I can honestly say without vacillating that Myrna's Authentic Mediterranean Bistro was the best meal I have had in Stamford thus far. When you come across a hostess like Myrna who actually cares about the experience that a customer has at the restaurant, you can't help but believe that the same kind of care and attention goes into her food. She is personable, informative and pleasant to talk to.

*Myrna's Authentic Mediterranean Bistro is expanding! In two weeks, at the end of November 2009, the restaurant will be opening a fresh Mediterranean Middle Eastern Market on the premises. Customers will be able to purchase fresh spices and foods.

Does an outstanding dining experience mean you need to have crisp, white linen napkins and tablecloths, a snooty sommelier, classical music piped through the speakers and exorbitant prices to shock the senses? Absolutely not.  I can't say enough good things about this restaurant. And it wasn't until after my tummy was on the verge of bursting from satisfaction and I had come to the conclusion that this was a place that I would recommend in a heartbeat that I learned that they had received numerous awards, accolades and positive reviews from various sources.

My opinion is biased. Not by the words of others, but rather by my own experience, one which left me wanting more.

Would I recommend this restaurant? Oh come on . . . haven't you been paying attention? Without a doubt, this restaurant gets my forks of approval.

Is Myrna's Authentic Mediterranean Bistro a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? It is an excellent value. You get the food that you pay for in well-sized portions that won't leave you walking out the door hungry. Appetizers range from $7-$10, wraps and salads from $7-$11, and the entrées are affordably priced as well.

What about atmosphere and ambience? The atmosphere is appropriate for what the restaurant is. There's subtle Lebanese music playing in the background but it is not an intrusion at all, and the wait staff doesn't hover over you, stare stalker-like at you from the kitchen or snatch your plate away before you're done.
Myrna's Authentic Mediterranean Bistro
Open 7 days a week

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