What intrigued me most about Aatish Grill, a new Mediterranean restaurant on Trinity Mills Road, was the short chef's bio the restaurant stuck on its web site.
"Our experienced executive chef Sami Ahmad from Dearborn, MI provides exquisite food," the write-up promised.
There are some phenomenal Lebanese restaurants in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb that has a larger percentage of Arab-American citizens than any other U.S. city. There are patisseries selling delicate pistachio-stuffed mamouls, and bakeries selling fresh pita. The shwarma and kafta are stunning. Dearborn is so firmly associated with good Middle Eastern food that when a New York resident recently sought Middle Eastern recommendations on Chowhound, another poster responded: "If you are from Dearborn, it all depends on whether you are willing to compromise."
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SHOW ME HOW
So saying a chef comes from Dearborn is a bit like saying a wine comes from Bordeaux. While it's not exactly a guarantee of quality, it's very, very promising.
I ate at Aatish last night and liked it. The baba ghanoush had a deep, full flavor, and the grilled meats were well-seasoned. The emerald-green tabbouli was terrifically fresh. But the most interesting dish I tried was the magdous, baby eggplants stuffed with walnuts and red peppers and pickled in olive oil.
It's easy to imagine these tangy eggplant envelopes being sold by the jarful in specialty stores, but the manager assured me they're made in-house at Aatish, a process that takes two to three weeks.
We didn't eat every slick eggplant on our plate, but - long after I've forgotten the powerful garlic sauce and pillowy falafel - I suspect I'll remember those magdous, crunchy and slippery, salty and sour. I doubt they make them any better in Dearborn.