Hidden away on the outskirts of Miami’s flashy design district is the Mandolin Aegean Bistro, a gem of a dining experience that has become my canteen of choice whenever I’m in town. Its relaxed, dimly lit patio is the perfect spot for an intimate dinner with friends or a boisterous get-together with family. Simple, unpretentious food is the specialty of the house, and I’ve spent many a memorable evening sampling fragrant mezes of mussels and stuffed zucchini seasoned with fresh ingredients harvested from the restaurant’s organic garden.
More intriguing is the unique and touching story behind Mandolin, one which taps into a universal love of food to bridge cultural divides. It was opened in 2009 by former New Yorkers Ahmet Erkaya, who is originally from Turkey, and his Greek wife, Anastasia Koutsioukis; they wanted to create a place where two historically opposing cultures could come together at the dinner table. Noticing similarities between the dishes they grew up eating after collecting family recipes, the pair came to the conclusion that their cultures were very much alike.
To make their dream a reality, they renovated a 1939 building in Miami’s historic neighborhood of Buena Vista East and proceeded to fill it with vintage finds culled from thrift stores across Florida, as well as items from their grandmothers’ and mothers’ homes, such as old jars and plates. With a menu focused on dishes reflecting both their backgrounds, the couple proves that one can break down cultural barriers by focusing on what unites us through a shared appreciation for food.
For more information, visit http://www.mandolinmiami.com.
Mandolin Aegean Bistro. 4312 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida. (305) 576-6066
Ahmet Erkaya & Anastasia Koutsioukis
Photos: Courtesy of Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz ; Ahmet Erkaya & Anastasia Koutsioukis