Locale Profile: Mosaic Restaurant — The Middle East Finds a New Home in Rolfe Square

img_5525If you’re like me, then you’re thrilled anytime you hear of a new restaurant that boasts an ethnic cuisine other than Italian. We all love Italian food, but Rhode Island has more than enough for the entire East Coast, never mind our tiny state. Personally, I’m pining for some great Thai or a place that serves a perfect bowl of pho. This is probably why I named Rasa my favorite East Greenwich haunt, and why I rushed to write about the West African soul food restaurant Monrovia. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I heard about that a new Syrian café in Cranston.

Mosaic Restaurant in Rolfe Square opened for business about a month ago. The owners are Syrian-born brothers Fadi and Shadi Al-Tarazi, who strive to share their food and culture and make patrons feel at home. The restaurant has a bar/café, several seating areas and a hookah lounge. It also has a parking lot, which is a big plus for Rolfe Square.

I decided to try it out on a Tuesday night when I didn’t feel like cooking. I met my friend Christine there and we were instantly welcomed by the friendly hostess/server/bartender/busperson extraordinaire. Upon first glance, the décor was a bit disappointing. Though I loved the infusion of Syrian artwork, mosaics and cushioned seating, the ambiance was definitely lacking. I’m not sure if it was the lighting or the white walls, but the space didn’t feel cozy like I’d picture a hookah lounge/Syrian restaurant to feel.

Fortunately the menu made up for what the décor lacked. Though not huge, the menu offered enough selections to inspire me to try several dishes and to return to try others. My friend and I started with a few appetizers: cheese borak, which resembled spanakopita minus the spinach; foul mudammas, a combination of fava beans and chickpeas in a scrumptious lemony garlic olive oil sauce; and fried kibbeh. The kibbeh seemed to be a signature dish as there were several varieties offered throughout the menu. The appetizer version we selected was spiced ground beef coated with ground chickpeas and deep-fried. The result was a lightly crisp, flavorful bite. It did cry for some type of yogurt or dipping sauce, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

We learned that the restaurant does not yet have a liquor license, but does allow patrons to bring their own. I  happened to have a bottle of wine in my car I’d intended to drink later that evening when watching “The Walking Dead,” so I ran out to my car. Our server promptly provided us with two wine glasses and I was shocked when I saw the bill and discovered that they don’t charge a corkage fee – score.

After taking our order, she brought over a platter of pickled jicama, tomatoes, pickles, pita bread and a dip called mutabbal – charred eggplant pureed with yogurt, garlic and tahini. The charring gave the dip a wonderful smoky flavor and we wiped the dish clean. This was my favorite dish of the evening … and it was complimentary.

Though we were quite full after our dip, vegetables and three appetizers, I couldn’t leave without trying a main dish.  We chose the mosaic skewers – morsels of beef served over rice. The meat had a unique spicy flavor and was perfectly tender. The rice was a bit dry, but overall the dish was tasty. After dinner I tried the roselle, a mixture of herbs steeped in hot water that tasted like a floral tea. It was a wonderful end to the meal.

Will I go back to Mosaic? Absolutely. That eggplant dip alone was worth the trip; plus there were so many items on the menu that I’d still love to try, including the hookah – too much for my last-minute Tuesday night excursion. The ambiance could use some work, and the menu needs some tweaking, but hey, it’s a new business. Plus, these are the attributes that make you feel like you’re in someone’s home instead of in a storefront in Cranston. If you go, don’t forget to bring a stellar bottle of wine.

Mosaic Restaurant, 91 Rolfe Square, Cranston.

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