Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dolma

Walking into Dolma, I could immediately tell that this restaurant would be special. It's not very large, seating approximately 20-25, but sunlight streams through the windows and the space is bright but calming. It's a clean aesthetic, but cozy with a few touches of old world Mediterranean charm.

From the same owner as Two Aprons, Dolma, 270 Grand Street, opened up a couple months ago, initially serving weekday lunch and more recently adding a weekend brunch. They'll also soon be adding in dinner, but in a move I personally can appreciate, are moving slowly, making sure the service and menu is under control and that they're fully prepared. The attention to detail and emphasis on good service is immediately apparent and for a fairly new restaurant, it appears to be running almost seamlessly. I was blown away by the easy, relaxed attitude of the servers and staff and the quality of my whole experience.

The menu is made up of some small appetizers, salads, larger entrees, and a very generous lunch special which includes soup, salad, and a sandwich. It's something you can easily customize depending on your appetite and interests.
There are also a number of great vegetarian options and a few vegan or could-be-made vegan options, all intriguing. This is not a menu that's phoning it in on the vegetarian options by adding a veggie burger or a mixed green salad. They have some very thoughtful, well-composed, and flavorful dishes entirely built around vegetables, traits that apply to the restaurant's cooking overall.

On my first visit, I went heavy on the meatballs, starting with the red lentil and quinoa kofte starter. Everything was incredibly fresh and layer after layer of flavor hit my mouth from the seasoning of the quinoa and lentils with the sweet tang of the pomegranate following. It was unique, slightly smoky, and absolutely delicious. I also tried the lamb kibbeh, made from lamb and whole wheat bulgar, served with yogurt and finished with some harissa. The harissa sparked a fiery rush in my mouth, quickly extinguished by the cool, tangy yogurt and emphasized the mix of (mostly Middle Eastern) spices in the lamb.

On my next visit (less than 1 week later, an extreme rarity for me), I tried the green lentil salad as a starter and then had the spinach and feta borek. Again, I was amazed at how much flavor was packed into these seemingly-simple dishes. While the salad was fantastic with a great meld of flavors (the cured beef paired with the sharp bite of the mustard is something I can still taste), the borek was the absolute stand-out of this meal and is probably one of the best I've eaten. The pastry was light and flaky, the feta relatively mild, and the whole thing brightened up by the apricot-almond relish. Truly a pleasure and delight to eat.

I also got the chance to sample the creme brulee while I was there since the owner was handing some out to everyone and while I would have loved a slightly thicker shell on top, the eggy, vanilla flavor and smooth creaminess of the custard was outstanding. Well worth the indulgence and since it's a relatively small serving, it's enough to satisfy without being overwhelming.

All in All
Dolma (no website or social media as of now) is one of the best new restaurants to open in Jersey City over the past couple of years. With a French Chef who came by way of Morocco and an owner with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern background, there's a lot of flavor and influence crossover, all very successfully brought together to create excellent and unique-in-Jersey-City flavors and dishes. There's an emphasis on fresh food, on vegetables and healthy grains, and while some of the larger entrees here are heavier, everything is very well-balanced. There's something for just about everyone including vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free. I should also give a special mention to the coffee - dark, strong, and nicely presented. They don't have a liquor license or do delivery, but they do allow take-out orders. Everything is under $20 but if you're ordering a few things, it can add up quickly and while portions aren't huge, I was more than full when I left and feel the quality of the food and the experience is well worth the relatively mild price tag. 

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