Kartabar: eclectic, exotic, elegant
We have walked by Kartabar many times on our trips to the Avon, looking through the large plate-glass windows at a lively mix of diners at the bar and dining room. Checking the menu online, I discovered that lamb shank was one of their featured entrees, and that was enough for me.
We dined on a Friday evening, where the well-stocked bar area was filled with young, well-dressed moderns and the two dining rooms were nearly filled with a wide variety of ages and ethnicities.
While Kartabar features a variety of Mediterranean cuisine, the menu also features pizza, half-pound burgers, pasta and Panini.
I knew what I wanted before I sat down. I had my first lamb shank many years ago at the India Restaurant at Epcot and have not been able to recapture the taste since. Chef Nat Hughes made for an unforgettable dining experience with his all-natural braised lamb shank, slowly cooked with asparagus, rosemary inborala wine sauce, and served over mashed potatoes with an incredible gravy ($18.95). The juicy, tender lamb pulled easily off the bone and melted in my mouth.
Joyce chose Mediterranean Kabob ($18.95), tender filet mignon tips on a skewer with onions and red bell peppers, finished with extra virgin oil and served with a side of that delicious tzatziki sauce.
The generous portion was accompanied by rice pilaf and fresh carrots and string beans with a delicious indescribable flavoring. Joyce likes her meat rare, and that’s the way it came.
We started our dining adventure with Hummus Bi Tahini ($7.95), a large plate that easily serves two. The presentation convinced us that we were in for an elegant evening. The chickpea and garlic dip was as good as it gets, drizzled with extra virgin oil and served with foot-long pita chips.
Hughes suggested the Rustic Mediterranean Salad ($8.95), also more than enough for two. The ingredients, finely chopped, included baby greens, roasted peppers, olives, capers, cucumbers, onions, artichokes, tomatoes, pita chips, grilled Portobello mushrooms and a dressing that made it sensational. You can add chicken, shrimp or whatever to the salad, but we liked it just the way it was.
Chef Hughes is a Johnson & Wales graduate who worked at Sapphire, Parkside and other quality restaurants and has been at Kartabar for the past two years. Owner Phillipe Maatuck has operated the popular restaurant for the past 10 years, and the spot has become a word-of-mouth success. The name is a variation of the small town in Lebanon where he grew up.
General Manager Eric kept a close eye on the guests, stopping to chat and tell us about Tuesday night, when he is chef, preparing a special menu and entertainment. We learned about his hometown in Turkey.
We usually pass on dessert, but couldn’t resist the chocolate-banana bread pudding, topping off a perfect evening.
There are other menu items that make it a must to return, including Salmon Concase-grilled marinated salmon over sautéed spinach topped off with tomato concase, and Tuscany scallops-pan seared jumbo sea scallops with roasted garlic and red peppers in a white wine Dijon mustard sauce, served over a bed of spinach. Then again, that lamb shank looks too inviting.
Kartabar is located at 284 Thayer St., just down the street from the Avon. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. For reservations call 331-8111.