Greeks and Turks Unite Over Food
BY SUZY BUCKLEY
Mandolin’s back courtyard is an atmospheric setting for dining and lounging.
Housed in a charming 1940s-era home painted “Athens blue” in Miami’s Buena Vista neighborhood, Mandolin Aegean Bistro is enjoying an incredible barrage of buzz. Greek-Canadian Anastasia Koutsioukis opened the gem late last year with her Turkishborn restaurateur husband, Ahmet Erkaya, and Erhan Kostepen, his childhood friend. Kostepen executes a menu laden with innovative twists on rustic dishes from the villages of Greece and Turkey (think mezes such as fish roe and tomatowalnut dips, zucchini fritters and kefta), while Anastasia and Ahmet cultivate the welcoming milieu: Hand-painted ceramic Turkish “evil eyes” and flickering gas lanterns hang from a canopy of trees in the outdoor courtyard, as sounds of rebetika (Greek blues) and the smell of baking pide bread waft through the air. “I wanted our guests to feel as if they were stepping into a postcard of the Greek islands,” says Anastasia. “This is really a labor of love.”
OCEAN DRIVE: How do you categorize your cuisine?
ANASTASIA KOUTSIOUKIS: We didn’t want to specify that our restaurant is Greek or Turkish, although it’s obvious from the menu. The Aegean region—where the Greek islands meet the Turkish coast—is a magical part of the Mediterranean, all about that really simple, ingredient- driven food.
Describe a dish that exemplifies the menu at Mandolin.
Here, we prepare our shrimp ouzo in a clay pot. It’s shrimp with tomato sauce, feta cheese and dill, with a splash of ouzo—not traditional in any sense: We’ve taken Greek ingredients and turned them into an interpretive, modern dish.
How did the concept for an Aegean bistro evolve?
Historically, Greeks and Turks have been rivals, and yet there has always been this harmony: We influenced each other, shared the same land andbody of water, and the food was very similar. The two cultures would share recipes; the neighbors would play music with one another.
What’s behind the restaurant’s name?
The mandolin is a very understated instrument shared between the Turks and Greeks. When the Greeks were forced to leave Turkey during the cultural exchange, they brought mandolin-oriented folk music with them. Every one of us had a family member who played this instrument, including my mom and Erhan’s grandfather, whose old mandolin hangs in the restaurant. There’s something extremely poetic about this type of music, and at night we play a lot of old rebetika from the ’40s.
Describe the culinary experience you’re trying to create here.
When I was growing up, our meals were always traditionally hearty and healthy, packed with flavor yet prepared using simple ingredients—roasted lamb with potatoes, grilled fish with lemon and oregano, fresh tomato salads and horta (dandelion greens). These kinds of meals helped us preserve our heritage, and that’s what we want to introduce to people. When we serve guests who have traveled to the Greek islands and they tell us, “I feel like I’m in Mykonos!” or, “I’m back on my honeymoon in Santorini,” we feel like we accomplished what we set out to do.
TOP RIGHT: the Greek village salad. TOP, CLOCKWISE FORM LEFT: Erhan Kostepen, Anastasia Koutsioukis and Ahmet Erkaya; Zucchini fritter topped with Greek yogurt and Turkish paprika; homemade pide bread flanked by (counterclockwise from top left) Greek tarama, tzatziki and smoked eggplant spreads, and Turkish fava bean and carrot purée, fresh tomato and walnut dip and hummus
photograph by greg clark