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Mediterranean Meals Made in Amherst

There are certain foods that every American is familiar with. Whether or not you have ever eaten Peking duck, tasted genuine antipasti or learned the difference between empanadas and fajitas, the regional cooking styles behind them should be instantly familiar. There are countless other culinary traditions, however, that remain a mystery to the general populace, and as the melting pot continues to boil, new and interesting styles continue to emerge. In this spirit of diversity, a brand-new restaurant called Moti is bringing the flavors of the Middle East and the Mediterranean to Amherst.

Moti is owned and operated by chef Reza Rahnani and is named after his mother, a celebrated Bostonian restaurateur. Located in Amherst Center, the eatery serves up a variety of Persian and Mediterranean cuisine, drawing from traditional family recipes. The Persian style is marked by flavorful spice mixtures and marinades, as well as liberal amounts of onions and rice.

What strikes the diner upon opening up a Moti menu is the health of the options available. While plenty of organic beef and lamb dishes are available, most of the menu follows a decidedly lean trend, and, in contrast to many European styles, which tend to douse main courses in cream or cheese sauces, the Mediterranean traditions lean more towards yogurt, onion and chickpea.

Even where meat is absent, it is hardly missed, as the variety of flavors and textures is enough to satisfy the pallet in dishes such as creamy lentils and falafel sandwiches.

Appetizers offer light fare that are packed with flavor. They range from the familiar hummus platter to the decidedly more exotic dolmades, a mixture of rice and herbs wrapped in grape leaves whose acidic flavor can be a bit overwhelming.  

From there, the menu continues on in a more consistent manner. Many items come wrapped in pita bread or served in a pocket, and whether they feature lamb, chicken or falafel, every sandwich is stuffed with fresh vegetables and homemade sauce.

Seasonings are top-notch at Moti, with all of their meats and poultry marinated in-house, and, although the taste of saffron is nearly omnipresent, it is never overwhelming. Ground beef has rarely seemed so exciting.

Those entrees which do not come wrapped in flatbread are served over a bed of well-cooked basmati rice. This long-grain rice is not simply a background ingredient but a dietary staple, and it serves to absorb the sauces and flavors of the headlining ingredients.

One such item that stood out as a winner is the “famous N.Y. chicken/lamb and rice.” Served with a yogurt-ranch house dressing, the combination of chicken, lamb and veggies is tossed with gyro flatbread and basmati for a fresh and satisfying meal.

Portions at Moti are decent, but not overly large. Most items on the menu range from $5 to $8 and will serve as a respectable lunch, but for those interested in really filling up should look to the larger dinner platters. These are priced at around $15 and are filled out with skewers of Kabob and roasted vegetables.

Other notable items at Moti include specialty drinks, which vary from the tangy and refreshing to the downright sour, like yogurt-based Doogh.

While in past years the cozy location next to Antonio’s has been a sand trap for aspiring restaurants, this one may buck the trend. Available for take-out or dining in, Moti serves simple, tasty ethnic cuisine from traditional family recipes. And while every item may not be suited for the timid American, there is sure to be something on the menu for everyone.

Andrew Sheridan can be reached at asher1@student.umass.edu.

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