Friday, January 31, 2014

Morgantown Edition: Jasmine Grill

Jasmine Grill
It seems almost as quickly as Golden Finch became a staple in Morgantown, it quickly vanished. With what seems like an unanticipated departure, Golden Finch posted on their Facebook in November:

Closed
"It's time to say good bye
But I think good byes are sad
and I'd rather say hello.
Hello to a new adventure"
Thank you for your patronage
The Thompsons

I'm not sure if there was something more going on behind the scenes, but it seemed like one day, they just decided to close without warning.

That brings us to Jasmine Grill - the brand new Mediterranean restaurant located in the location - 330 High Street. I couldn't find much about the restaurant online, except this kind of mysterious video. And just the other day, they were added to Urbanspoon. After a quick Twitter search (I'm pretty creepy, I know), I saw two mentions about it and realized it was open, so I dragged co-workers Jake and Tony to check it out with me.


Jasmine GrillThey are in the very, very early stages. Like, I'm pretty sure I went the second day they were open. So, some things probably aren't finalized yet. They took advantage of the large windows at this location by plastering some photos and other papers inside them.

Jasmine GrillJasmine GrillOne of which mentions that "Jasmine" is derived from the nickname of Damascus - the capital and the second-largest city of Syria. The sign also says to dine here if you want something authentic, amusing and healthy.

Jasmine GrillJasmine GrillOkay, cool. I walked in and stood awkwardly at the door and asked if we seat ourselves or if we wait to be seated. The gentleman working promptly told me that I order at the counter. Oh, okay. Little different than what I was expecting.

At the counter, they had three menus. I looked at it briefly - but because we were under a watchful eye and I had no idea what to order - then took it back to a table to figure out what I wanted.

Jasmine GrillThey have hummus, grape leaves, falafel, and fries for appetizers. For salads and soups, they have a Syrian oriental salad, tabbouleh and lentil soup. Sandwiches: falafel wrap, kebab sandwich, shish tawook sandwich (marinated chicken, cream sauce in a pita), shaworma chicken (chicken skin strips, cream sauce), potato sandwich and soujouk sandwich (spicy beef on a panini grill). And then there are mixed platters - grilled kebab, grilled tawook (marinated chicken), mixed grilled kebab and tawook, shaworma chicken, and pasta.

Jasmine GrillI went for the mixed grilled kebab and tawook platter so I could essentially taste two dishes.I ordered that, plus a little spinach pie that were already premade on the counter. They also had meat and vegetable ones. And I ordered a fountain drink.

I paid about $16, with tip, and sat down. A few moments later, I was delivered a piping hot spinach pie. Because it had been made then reheated, the bread was a little soft, but almost in a gummy way.

But it was good - spinach was just the tiniest bit bitter, but seasoned very well.

I was getting fairly thirsty at this point, but we didn't receive our fountain drinks until our main dishes came out. Which is a little odd - if the fountain drink station is right there, should probably just give drinks when you order. No big deal, though.

Jasmine GrillWhen my order came out, it was certainly a pretty sight. On the left was a pita with some parsley and spicy tomato sauce inside. Then came a long line of the tawook - marinated chicken - with two grilled tomatoes, some seasoned rice, the kebab, tabbouleh and tomato sauce. They clearly put some thought into balancing the sweet, the salty, the acidic.

I really don't know what this pita thing was - I'm sure someone will correct me. But it had some heat to it. Nice for a little punch of flavor. The tawook chicken was delicious. The chicken is marinated in EVOO and lemon and it was just grilled and seasoned well. Flavorful, moist, good blend of herbs and spices. The rice was also well-seasoned, and I shoveled spoonfuls of it, paired with the grilled tomato, into my mouth.

The kebab was like a long sausage. It was pretty flavorful, but I had some trouble cutting it with the plastic cutlery. There were also paper plates, which don't really elevate the overall impression of the restaurant. Splurge on some forks and knives so I can cut the meat easier. But it was pretty tasty. It wasn't, however, totally cooked well-done. Rarely will I ask for something well-done, but unless it's a fresh cut of meat, I'd rather have it cooked well. Sausages, especially made of a few different types of meat - lamb and beef in this case (I don't think pork was in it) - make me feel more comfortable if it's cooked through. Steak? Give it to me medium. Fresh cuts of meat only have bacteria living on the outside. If it's mixed up like a sausage or kebab, it gets everywhere. If I trust a place, I'll order the medium-well burger. But anyway.

The tabbouleh - fresh parsley, mined onion, lemon and EVOO - was perfect when I wanted a something light, fresh to a bite. And the tomato sauce was perfect for adding some heartiness and robust flavor. I appreciate the thought that went into my meal to round out flavors.

Tony had a sandwich he was a pretty big fan of. Surprising, considering how much he hates everything else. Here's what he had to say:

"The Shish Tawook Sandwich is a great example of two cultures coming together in one dish. It’s basically an Americanized version of traditional Syrian food. The star of the dish was the chicken, which was marinated nicely in citrus and curry flavors. The sandwich, which was more like a wrap or burrito made from pita, also had french fries, garlic cream sauce, a sauce similar to ketchup, pickles and cooked mild peppers on it. It was unexpected, surprising and I would definitely get it again. Try it if you're not so sure about Syrian food."

With a few tweaks - like cutlery and making sure the food is cooked all the way through - will take this place to the next level. So far, though, I was pleasantly surprised with a well-thought out menu, some new additions and some creativity.

They're open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. They can be reached at 304-291-7878.

Grade: B
Jasmine City Grill on Urbanspoon