The Mediterranean isn’t known for its particularly perilous waters — but its seemingly simple cuisine can be a trap.
Fortunately, Whitestone’s Mediterranean Grill, 160-24 Willets Point Blvd., admirably navigates the region’s culinary waters to create a dining experience worth visiting over and over again.
The folks manning the kitchen got something right. Mediterranean cuisine remains a tightrope. The long history of all the dishes, whether Greek or Italian and all other points between, often leads many experimental cooks to create Frankenstein monsters. But stick to the script and you’re basically serving the same food as everyone else.
Credit chefs Chris Perrotta and Eddie Cruz (who owns the eatery along with his wife Emma) for not falling into either category. The simple dishes remain simple, but with a delightful twist. The ambitious menu items are resounding successes.
The interior of Mediterranean Grill also speaks of “The Old Country.” The staff greets you like family. The stone tiling and wooden shelves lined with barrels and bottles help set a mood, but don’t overwhelm the senses. You are there to eat, after all.
Our meal started with a Greek salad and I thought I knew what was going to happen. That was before the homemade dressing slapped me across the mouth, unleashing a playful clash of tangy and sweet.
It may be a good point to note Cruz and Perrotta hit the markets for fresh ingredients regularly, hauling in expected items like the veggies and proteins. But Perrotta also grabs ingredients and touches from out of left field. Which explained the next bit of deviant cooking gone awesome…
Fried calamari in a sweet chili glaze — which Perrotta claims is one of the most popular menu items. And for good reason. After one bite, you’ll wonder why you ever risked a squirt of lemon juice in your eye, or wasted time on marinara sauce. The marriage of slight spice and sweetness was the perfect complement to the otherwise blank slate of flavor fried calamari usually offers.
The arancini, mini rice balls with mozzarella and pesto in a bed of marinara, left me suspecting Cruz has a fresh basil plant or two growing somewhere in the back of the joint.
The main course was surf then turf. First, pan-seared salmon with sautÈed spinach and mushrooms, with a ginger, lemon and butternut squash sauce. It merged the best part of salmon, it’s texture and somewhat un-fishy flavor, with a bed of refreshing leafy greens and sweet sauce.
The turf came in the form of Chicken Sorrentino, pan-seared chicken breast, battered eggplant, melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. Every bite melted together in a delightful mix that let every ingredient stand on its own.
Not a carnivore? Cruz and the gang are sure to accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well, showing off a flatbread covered in humus and grilled vegetables I didn’t have the joy of indulging in.
Desserts, like all the other food, are made on the premises. We had the pleasure of sampling the cheesecake, baklava and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. Clearly, three traps, right? Wrong. All three, absolutely delicious without feeling indulgent.
It was somewhere between the chicken and the quickly disappearing dessert I noted my date was uncharacteristically devouring her food.
“I’m a scarf-er here,” she said.
You will be too.
Where: 160-24 Willets Point Blvd., Whitestone
Open: Tues. to Sun., open at 11 a.m.
Closes 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 10 p.m. all other days
Contact: (718) 281-4210