For reasons not quite clear, Baton Rouge seems to have an abundance of Mediterranean restaurants for a city its size, and that’s a good thing.
However, having visited many of them, it’s hard to draw meaningful distinctions. One might have creamier or more lemony hummus, and another a more robust garlic accent to its fare, but a blindfolded diner would be hard-pressed to identify which of the city’s shawarma shacks he is dining in. That’s almost the case with eyes wide open, with most of the restaurants we’ve visited offering a pleasant but fairly nondescript atmosphere.
Then came Zoroona Mediterranean Grill and Market.
In addition to grabbing your attention with an eye-catching décor from floor to ceiling, the menu offers some atypical and tasty items that have us contemplating our next visit.
A lot of thought went into creating a relaxing atmosphere, which includes an attractive lobby fountain displaying the restaurant name, and faux, off-white columns with light fixtures at the top. Cinnamon-red walls extend to the same height as the columns, and feature attractive, ornately framed photos of Mediterranean scenes. Many of the tables have both chairs and bench seats, the latter with an ornate fabric pattern duplicated by the curtains that separate the main dining room from smaller ones along the periphery. An acrylic surface makes the floors look like weathered, marble-like stone.
We made lunch and dinner visits and received prompt and attentive service both times.
The tabbouleh salad with shrimp and chicken ($11.44) was quite filling, especially for a lunch item. The tabbouleh needed more lemon, as it was pretty bland, but with the two small slices and the waiter bringing more on request, it was much better. The small shrimp tails appeared to be boiled or sautéed, and were fine. The chicken, which appeared to be shawarma, varied differently in seasoning with each bite, which we’ll discuss later. In all, an enjoyable meal.
The lamb kabob ($11.99) was delicious. Large cuts of lamb can be chewy, but these were cooked perfectly. The tomatoes, peppers and onions grilled along with the lamb were lightly spiced and less salty than many Mediterranean dishes. The side dish of grilled asparagus was also lightly spiced and fresh.
At dinner, Zoroona serves a complimentary loaf of rosemary bread, and it was a hit with us. The herb is cooked into the bread, which is brushed with olive oil and accented with sea salt, and a dipping dish of olive oil and cracked, black pepper. The bread is soft, aromatic and pleasant, with or without the oil for dipping, and some of our other dishes provided more opportunities to use the bread to sop up extra flavor. The combination meat-filled and vegetarian grape leaves ($6.95) provided a pleasant appetizer; we found the vegetarian version better seasoned.
One of the things we like about Zoroona is the menu includes items beyond the standard Mediterranean fare. One is Zoroona chicken ($14.95), broiled breast meat covered in a cream sauce and accented with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, ripe olives, mushrooms and a dash of paprika. This is a zesty, wonderful dish, and the sauce just begged for the rosemary bread to scoop up every last drop.
The dinner came with choice of salad or lentil soup, and two sides. The soup could have used more seasoning but came with a lemon wedge, which we employed along with the table condiments. Likewise, the salad that came with the other dinner had a dressing with little flavor. The grilled vegetables and garlic-accented cubed potatoes were OK.
The chicken shawarma ($12.95) platter gave us a different perspective on this Mediterranean staple. The chicken was noticeably moist and had been marinated with something we liked but could not quite identify. (We may keep ordering it until we figure it out.) Several pieces of the chicken looked burned, but on closer inspection, this turned out to be a spice rub that had blackened in the cooking process. These pieces were much more robustly seasoned than the others.
We finished things off with warbat ($5.49), a pastry that resembles baklava, but has an ashta cream filling instead of chopped nuts, and is covered with a sweet syrup. Delicate and delicious.