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Terra terrific: Lush food, plush atmosphere make for great grill

Posted 1:18pm on Thursday, May. 13, 2010

Having conquered the world of hummus in Dallas with their mini-chain of Ali Baba restaurants, the Chanaa brothers have expanded their empire with a classy new sibling, Terra Mediterranean Grill.

The first branch opened in Allen, north of Dallas, in October 2009. The Fort Worth eatery opened in the West 7th development at the end of February, and a branch is slated to open in Austin this year.

The menu features Lebanese and Greek standards, such as gyros and grape leaves but also nontraditional dishes like calamari, lamb chops and a fish of the day. The weekday lunch buffet is $12.99, including drink.

The most popular starter is hummus ($6) served with pita bread, and it was easy to see why: Their version of this chickpea spread with tahini and garlic was preternaturally creamy, with a wonderfully mellow flavor. Bonus points for the pita bread, which was house-made and served warm.

The only shortcoming was the lack of texture. The combination of velvety hummus and soft bread made you wish you had some carrot or celery, which may not be traditional but would add some desperately needed crunch. One welcome touch: The hummus bowl was ringed with whole chickpeas.

Moussaka, the eggplant casserole, was listed as an appetizer, but whether it’s served vegetarian ($9) or with lamb ($12), it was hearty enough to be a meal. Layers of eggplant and tomato were topped with whole chickpeas, then baked in an attractive rectangular ceramic dish until the edges browned nicely. The eggplant was baked until just barely soft, with a luscious, decadent texture. One ingredient was definitely not traditional: sliced jalapeños, which ramped up the dish with a dose of chile heat.

Kebabs are Terra’s signature dish, and they come in six options, from chicken ($14) to Black Angus beef ($16) to Atlantic salmon ($18). Wild Gulf shrimp ($18) had six large shrimp on a skewer, with nearly blackened edges and a perky flavor, thanks to a brushing of olive oil and lemon. All kebabs and most entrees come with roasted vegetables — the usual squash medley — and an exceptionally moist and dense saffron rice dish that combines long-grain basmati with vermicelli.

On the recommendation of our helpful server, we tried the saffron chicken ($14), which has chunks of white-meat chicken simmered in a rich cream sauce that has an unsettling bright yellow tint from the saffron. The addition of curry gave the sauce an Indian vibe, but all that cream felt like overkill, especially when the kitchen does such a skillful job of grilling and seasoning meats.

It also does a fine version of kibbeh ($15 for an entree, $4 for a side), seasoned ground beef flavored with wheat, pine nuts and onions, like an exotic meatloaf. You can get it baked or fried, which gives it a crisp crust. The entree is a nice assemblage, since it comes with rice, yogurt and tabbouleh salad.

The atmosphere is particularly plush, with a circular floor plan that creates a sense of movement and excitement. Leather banquettes feel luxurious, and the corner location has windows on both sides that fill the room with light.

There’s one of those trendy indoor-outdoor bars that spills out onto the sidewalk — and unlike the Terra in Allen, the Fort Worth location boasts not just beer and wine but a full bar with chocolate martinis, bellinis and the like.

The restaurant

Terra Mediterranean Grill

2973 Crockett St., Fort Worth

817-744-7485

www.terramedgrill.com

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