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December 14-20, 2005

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First Bite


By Molly Jackel

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

Anatolia, Santa Rosa's new Mediterranean restaurant, is the kind of Mediterranean that's mostly Middle Eastern. The food at Anatolia is a mix of a little Greek with mostly Lebanese and Jordanian influences. On the same block is the well-received Kabab and Curry House, and around the corner is the Tahini Grill with a new Turkish chef (and belly dancing). Looks like we've got ourselves a little Middle East-Near East food ghetto. Downtown Santa Rosa: your one stop kebab shop.

Anatolia, with its cavernous dining room of exposed brick and pipes, also has an exposed kitchen where you can watch the sweating lamb meat spinning on its axis. The dÈcor is nothing special, but it's clean and the staff is welcoming. The place is owned by the same folks who own the Redwood Cafe in Cotati.

We started with a combo appetizer plate ($9.95) of hummus, dolmas, ezme, tabouli and baba ghanouj sprinkled with crumbled feta and olives, accompanied by warm, grilled pita. Everything was homemade and very fresh. The ezme is especially piquant and tasty, a spicy relish of tomato, scallion, walnuts and cayenne; and the baba ghanouj is creamy and smoky.

For entrées, we had the meat gyro ($7.95) and a mixed kebab platter ($15.95). The gyro was a little dry, but tangy and flavorful. I'd recommend the kebabs: the beef had a cinnamony, slightly sweet flavor; the lamb sported a tangy Indian style; and the chicken was lemony and garlicky. And despite the kebab-sized chunks, the meat was still a little pink and tender. The platter came with fluffy rice and a side of grilled summer squash and tomatoes. All of it is nicely prepared and generously portioned.

For dessert, we had two Syrian treats made with phyllo dough. One was a crunchy bird's nest pastry called borma; the other, katayif, was filled with a nut paste; both are terrific for the sweettooths in the house.

If you're in the area and hunger for the flavors of the Middle East, check it out. Everything was tasty and fresh. The service was good, and the management was friendly.

All of which connects in the oddest way with what's really on my mind: the chicken soup I made yesterday.

The broth was deep amber in color and the carrots slightly overcooked. But what's this? Broccoli? Sylvie, my grandmother, would plotz. The egg noodles I added gave it a homey quality, but for my grandmother, it was either knaydlach or noodles, never both. Yet I'd also thrown in matzo balls, misshapen and variable in size. However, unlike my grandmother's, these balls floated. Also unlike my grandmother's, they were light, had salt in them and actually had flavor. (Sorry, Sylvie.)

They say the Internet has made the world smaller. I say nothing beats a good meal from another land for bringing us closer to our global brothers and sisters. After having eaten the good Middle Eastern fare at Anatolia and supped the California bastardization of my Jewish grandmother Sylvie's stalwart soup, I put down my spoon and wonder: Why can't we all just get along?

Anatolia, 527 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 707.527.7799.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.