Dec. 7, 2011
Couscous brings Mediterranean to Murray
By Heather L. King
Special to The Tribune
Murray From the outside, Couscous Mediterranean Grill appears to be just another fast-casual restaurant in the parking lot of a strip mall. Stepping inside, diners are transported to a welcoming environment with intriguing chandeliers and tile work, rich colors and an extensive menu of healthy food that tastes good.
Several years ago, a visit to the cookbook section of any bookstore would have overwhelmed readers with the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, based on olive oil, whole grains and legumes, and fruits and vegetables.
Much of Couscous Grills menu prominently features those same elements with whole-grain wraps, whole-wheat pastas, olive oil and garbanzo chips appearing frequently. (Unfortunately, Couscous doesnt have a liquor license so the wine part of the Mediterranean diet is sadly absent.) The menu is a result of chef and owner Nick Shams battle with personal health issues that required a dramatic change in his eating habits.
As the name of the restaurant suggests, couscous (which is high in fiber and protein and low in calories, sugar and fat) is served as a base or side to many of the dishes, such as the seafood wrap with mahi mahi (or shrimp) for $7.25. The whole-wheat wrap contained big chunks of fish that were well-sauced with a kicky wasabi remoulade.
Salmon pesto on ciabatta ($7.25) featured a generous slab of grilled Atlantic salmon topped with a creamy pesto sauce and fresh tomatoes, caramelized red onions and feta. Before it was delivered, I was concerned about the quality of the salmon that might be served on a sandwich but was pleasantly surprised by the firm texture and added zip of the pesto and fresh vegetables.
I made my sandwich a combo meal for an additional $2.25 and got a drink and an impressive full-sized salad featuring fresh lettuce and mounds of juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumbers topped with Couscous signature lemon-basil dressing. A cup of soup is also an option, and one day recently the soup choice included large chunks of chicken and vegetables in a spicy broth.
Along with each sandwich comes a generous portion of garbanzo chips. These wheat- and gluten-free chips are locally made with chickpea and corn flour and then fried in vegetable oil. They tasted smoother than corn chips, with a slightly nutty flavor, and were a nice complement to mango salsa. While the hummus, mango salsa and garbanzo chip appetizer ($3.99) didnt seem worth the price for the tiny servings of hummus and salsa but the flavors were excellent.
Some of Couscous menu items, such as the shwarma presented in a pita or in salad form failed to wow me. Neither did the baked pasta options, although the whole-wheat penne in the chicken florentine bake ($8.99) still held its al dente tenderness after baking in alfredo sauce.
The 10-inch Couscous specialty baked flat ($6.95) was a hot and filling Mediterranean-style pizza with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil and a nice mix of mozzarella, provolone and feta cheeses.
Perhaps my favorite dish, in terms of taste and culinary creativeness, was the Mediterranean burrito with ground lamb (also available with chicken or steak) for $8.99. The meat was spiced perfectly before being mixed with couscous, refried garbanzo beans, avocados, red onions and finally balanced with a yogurt-dill sauce.
A lunch buffet is available for $9.99, that includes soups, couscous, a baked flat and several entrée options that vary from day to day.
While Couscous is technically a fast-casual restaurant where you order and pay at the counter and get your own drink, service is far beyond whats expected. Food is brought to your table served on real dinnerware and it is not uncommon to have the employees and more often than not, the owner stop by your table to see how everything is and answer any questions. They even clear your dishes for you.
If the steady stream of regulars is an indication, Couscous Mediterranean Grill appears to be a welcome addition to the local dining landscape.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.