With the second Monday that you’re following #MeatlessMondays, you begin to get a bit adventurous; or at least that’s what happened with me. The first time I tried it, I spent the rest of the week being curious about the expanse of vegetarian cuisine and deciding what to try this Monday. I finally settled on the one that piqued my curiosity the most – a vegetarian Lebanese restaurant. I had never heard of Lebanese and veg being used in the same breath. And yet there was Ithaka in Lower Parel, questioning my ignorance with its very existence.
Ithaka is named after an island in Greece, which plays a huge part in the epic Odyssey. The eatery is helmed by the same folks who own Riso Vegetarian Italian Kitchen, situated right below Ithaka. Both restaurants have the vibe of a charming little bungalow but Ithaka gets the high-pitched roof that adds more feel to it. The ambience is somewhat grand with the somewhat lavish couches and there are mysterious hanging swings on the wall. The words ‘exotic’ and ‘Mediterranean’ are generally enough to fool me into trying any kind of food. So it was unbelievably difficult to go against my falling-for-the-same-tricks kind of judgement and get myself to order the Mushroom Cappuccino instead. But the rich, frothy potion with mushroom bits, which arrived in a cup and a mushroom shaped saucer, gently scoffed at me at every sip for ever having thought of choosing anything else.
The creamy goodness of the soup was offset by the tangy, crisp and fresh Water Chestnut and Raw Mango Salad that followed it.
My friend, who automatically winces each time he has something tangy, couldn’t have enough of it. His eyes crinkled at every bite and he chomped on for the pure love of flavour. Now Hummus is one of the very few things that could make me consider going veg. Usually, I would have asked for a serving of hot, fluffy Pita bread or crisp salad vegetables to wipe clean a bowlful. Instead, we went in for the Mediterranean Tart Platter. The choice of hummus in that one platter could satiate all hummus cravings for a month. I would be happy to go back to Ithaka just for this dish. The other thing that can win me over instantly is the word ‘kebab’. It’s the reason I fell for the veg hara bhara kebab in my childhood and cried because I was heartbroken over being cheated under the name ‘kebab’. But the soft Turkish kebab with Green Mustard Sauce, here made my teeth miss the feeling of sinking into meat a little less.
For mains, we opted for a Zatar Pizza at first. It had a crispy pita bread base with ground sumac, dried thyme, dried oregano, toasted sesame, coarse salt and extra virgin olive oil.
And that was the very first moment in the whole meal that I missed having a drink to go with my food. Pizza had better be red and blotchy and have cheese strings attached while pulling off a piece. This one made me picture Sheikhs sitting in hot deserts, having heated discussions and chewing off large chunks of it with hot, mint tea for some reason. It was a lovely experience. But I needed something more gravy-based for my mains. So we ordered the Broccoli and Creamy Rice, a dish that the chef apparently takes pride in. I expected it to be quite heavy since it was cream and rice-based, but it was surprisingly light with subtle flavours. The beauty was also in the dainty mini pita breads that circled the dish.
We ended our meal with a gorgeous Baklava. On the way back, I began to understand that any cuisine is less about meat, more about flavour, nutrition and a million other things. It’s not something we don’t know, but it’s something we non-vegetarians tend to forget more often than not.
How to Get There:
Ithaka – Veg Lebanese Kitchen
Where: Gala 1, Janta Industrial Estate, Opposite High Street Phoenix Mall, SB Road, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Contact: 022 33126957
Timings: All Days 12 Noon to 3 PM, 6 PM to 11:30 PM
Cost: ₹1,000 for two people