2372 St. Claude Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70117
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
Fatoush is new to the pack of New Orleans restaurants serving hummus, falafel and kebabs, but there is something much different going on here. This is a Turkish restaurant, and so while many of the names on the menu are the same, the flavors, the presentations and the overall experience are different. This makes it an interesting alternative and worth a trip to check out.
The restaurant opened in the fall of 2011 inside the Healing Center, that new complex of neighborhood businesses, offices and services in the Marigny. Fatoush enters this complex in several different modes. Part of this place functions as a coffee shop, serving sandwiches, pastries, sweets and coffee drinks. Farther back, past the glass-walled, very modern-looking kitchen, there's the main dining room and bar, which is decorated with local art and an installation of Chinese lanterns that gives the impression of clouds hanging from the ceiling. It's comfortable, but not very intimate or warm.
Service is usually efficient and friendly and the staff does a good job of explaining the differences and characteristics of what you're considering. But be aware that this place is susceptible to getting slammed when special events are going on elsewhere in the Healing Center complex, and when this happens service can slow to a crawl.
Right from the start, we could tell we were in for a different sort of meal at Fatoush by the plate of bread brought to the table. We automatically expected pita, but instead discovered a homemade loaf of crusty bread that was closer to focaccia, which was served with a bowl of a spicy, oily tomato and garlic dip. Portions are very large here, and after the complimentary bread it's not really necessary to do first courses. For a little something to nibble on, try the sigarette pastries, which are twists of pyhllo stuffed with feta cheese and parsley. If you come with a group, go for one of the dips, especially the baba ghanoush, the traditional, smoky, creamy eggplant spread. A somewhat more exotic choice is the imam bayildi, a Turkish specialty of pan-fried eggplant filled with tomatoes and onions.
Skewers of grilled chicken, beef or lamb are more familiar presentations, though it's worth experimenting and branching out a bit. That's how I came across the Iskender plate. This is a huge platter mounded with thinly-sliced, grill-crusted lamb and beef atop a foundation of the crusty house bread soaked down with tomato sauce. Moussaka is another good specialty, done in the traditional Turkish way as a casserole of vegetables with olive oil, lemon, cheese and ground beef.
The sandwiches sound conventional enough, but most are made on those crusty house rolls, which makes them much more interesting than yet another pita wrap. The meats are packed into these sandwiches, which are dressed with fresh greens and, on the side, potatoes done like home fries. The gyro is especially good, but while the falafel has good texture it is bland in a way that not even a dose of white garlic sauce can really redeem. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes here, and a few seafood options.
Baklava is the hallmark dessert, and even if you're full it seems appropriate to have at least a little square of Fatoush's version before you leave. Delicate, flaky and drenched in honey, it's a good representation of the form.
Fatoush has a full bar. The café portion of the operation doubles as a coffee shop with a particular specialty in tea. A juice bar is allegedly in the works but has yet to materialize.
Most appetizers are $5. Sandwiches and other lighter options are under $10 and the more substantial entrees average $14. Two people should be able to do dinner here for about $50.
Middle Eastern restaurants tend to follow the same script so closely you can usually order without so much as looking at the menu. But Fatoush is a much different experience. While the fundamentals of grilled meats, hummus and olive oil are much the same, it all comes together in a different and exciting way. It's worth taking a little time with the menu to pick unfamiliar items.