Wichita has lots of good Mediterranean restaurants, and a few good Indian ones.
Those have been good training grounds for Wichitans who partake of the flavorful cuisine served at Zaytun, a new restaurant at 2020 N. Woodlawn (in the former Fusion Pizza space at Brittany Center) that specializes in food its owner describes as "Persian, Turkish, Lebanese, Indian/Pakistani."
Owner Syed Abbas, a former Latour employee and a native of Pakistan, offers a buffet at lunch followed by an exotic dinner menu populated with kebabs and chicken, beef, lamb and vegetable dishes flavored with curries, chutneys, saffron and cumin.
In its nearly three months of business, Zaytun (which means "olive") is getting word-of-mouth buzz among local foodies.
ON THE MENU: The daily lunch buffet offers a variety of familiar and unfamiliar dishes ranging from hummus and fattoush salad to exotic Persian potatoes and stews, and the offerings change daily. The Sunday brunch buffet is a super-sized feast-like version of the daily buffet.
At dinner, Abbas fires up his tandoori oven and makes fresh naan, kebabs, lamb shank, chicken tikka and other specialties. He's preparing to expand the evening menu soon, and he also hopes to soon serve high tea, featuring spicy Persian teas that he's passionate about.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: Our first visit to Zaytun was during the lunch hour, when only the buffet is available.
That's a good time to visit.
We found the buffet fully stocked with exotic, colorful dishes that were as flavorful as they were aromatic.
The buffet line started with fattouch salad and an excellent hummus that was topped with whole garbanzo beans, adding nice texture to the Mediterranean dip.
Also on the buffet during that visit — chicken and beef kabobs, the latter of which was moist, tender and packed with spicy flavor. Abbas recommended the potato tagine — a plate of sliced fried potatoes that he said are a must at any Persian meal.
He also noted a dish called khoresh ghormeh sabzi, an herbed stew made of beef tips, parsley and leeks. The dish, which Abbas said is traditionally served when important guests are invited to dinner, had a deep, almost purple color and was delicious, even though the beef tips were a bit fatty.
The buffet line also included some interesting and flavorful vegetable cutlets, sliced then fried in a coating that turns them an interesting shade of yellow, and a dish called zarishia polao, made with rice, chicken and exotic berries. The chicken was a little dry, but the dish was interesting enough to make up for it.
During an evening visit, we took a suggestion from Abbas to sample the lamb shank. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender with a pleasing if not slightly under-seasoned leek and mushroom gravy. It was served on top of rice with a side of flavorful fresh green beans and red peppers.
We also ordered the chicken tikka, an orange-colored chicken quarter grilled over an open fire and served with homemade naan and cumin yogurt sauce. The naan is a bit different from that served at other area restaurants — crispier and breadier — but it's addictive. And the chicken was even better when dipped in the yogurt sauce and a side of mint chutney.
We started the meal with an eggplant dip, a Persian version of baba ghanoush that was lighter and more lemony, and finished it with some super gooey homemade baklava and a baklava first cousin called kanafe, made with shredded (instead of layered) phyllo dough, walnuts and homemade syrup.
AMBIENCE: The small dining room isn't drastically different from its Fusion Pizza days. It still features a bar, a wood-fired oven and a scattering of tables and chairs. It's painted in warm colors and is appropriately bright and sunny during the day, dim and moody at night.
PRICE RANGE: The lunch buffet is $9.95, $12.95on Sundays. Dinner entrees range from $11.96 for a beef or chicken kebab to $14.95 for the lamb shank.
SERVICE: If you're the type of diner who likes the restaurant owner to pay attention to you, Zaytun is the place for you. The personable Abbas is a regular presence in the dining room, checking in and chatting with his guests. His small staff of servers was competent and pleasant.