Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen officially opens Wednesday evening at 991 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford.
The fourth eatery by Dorjan Puka's DORO Restaurant Group (Treva, Àvert Brasserie, Artisanal Burger Company), features a menu inspired by the flavors of Mediterranean countries, focusing on vegetables, grains, fish and lean meats.
"We're connected to this food," said Puka, who was born and raised in Albania. "We really wanted to bring something unique and different...we love the simplicity, the herbs, the spices we're using."
A variety of salatim (described as "an eclectic mix of spreads and salad-y things") includes labneh, roasted eggplant puree, Moroccan carrots, feta with pickled ramps and Urfa pepper, and crispy chickpeas with spice and sea salt. These are priced by portion: one for $4, four for $12 and eight for $16.
Mezze ($6 to $9), plates intended to share with a table, feature whole roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds; shakshuka, or eggs poached in spiced tomato broth with peppers; crispy whole smelts; falafel; Israeli salad; lamb ragu with hummus; and laffa flatbread with farm-fresh ingredients.
Charcoal-grilled items ($9 to $13) include halloumi cheese, Greek octopus, chicken with harissa barbecue sauce, lamb kofta, hanger steak and duck hearts. Entrees ($16 to $23) feature Moroccan seafood stew, whole Mediterranean sea bass, chicken tagine, braised lamb shank, salmon and Israeli couscous.
Menus will change seasonally, featuring produce from local farms.
"The menu is an eclectic mix of eastern Mediterranean cuisine with all items meant to be shared," said Scott Miller, DORO partner and chief operations officer. "We want everybody to try everything...If you're just coming and sitting at the bar and having a couple of drinks, we recommend the salatim, a couple mezze."
Then there's the meshta - or feast - which allows the team to customize a culinary tour of the menu for $48 a person. Guests may receive a mix of salatim, mezze, entrees, desserts and some surprises, throughout the meal, Miller said. "It's all about having fun."
A full bar highlights cocktails that are "driven to be very similar to the food, very savory and using spices," Miller said, with drinks constructed with harissa, cardamom, carrot and beet juices, star anise and Urfa pepper ($8 to $10 for single servings; $40 to $50 for carafes.) The wine list features selections from Israel, Greece, Lebanon and Morocco.
Zohara's 140-seat space (with a 60-seat patio to open later this month) was formerly home to Plimpton's, a West Hartford destination for stationery and office supplies. After signing a lease in June, Puka and his staff spent nearly 11 months planning and renovating the space. They also traveled for research and development purposes, visiting Israel in addition to heralded modern Israeli restaurants in the U.S., like Zahav in Philadelphia and Shaya in New Orleans.
The restaurant's design reflects its coastal Mediterranean concept with hues of blue, white and natural wood, with patterned floor tiles and wall murals. An open kitchen at the center of the room, with chef's counter seating, allows guests to see the action from multiple angles.
"It's very, very approachable...we don't want anyone to walk in and feel like this is a stuffy place," Miller said. "The term 'Zohara' means to enlighten, to shine from above, but the way I look at it, it means to 'lighten up.'"
Puka said he was "exhausted and happy" to witness his fourth restaurant come to life. "Just seeing it all come together, I'm the happiest man."
Zohara will be open for dinner only at 4 p.m. in its first week, introducing lunch next week starting Monday, May 15 at 11 a.m. Weekend breakfast, starting at 9 a.m., will launch soon. 860-955-0300, zoharact.com; facebook.com/Zoharact.