Meme Mediterranean is a light-dining pleasure that arrived miraculously last year in a section of the West Village overrun with trendy gastropubs and heavy Italian outposts.
Its menu offers everything from old-world Moroccan favorites like chunky tabouli and fresh babaganoush to a new take on lemon chicken and a wonderful couscous dish featuring merguez, chicken and chickpeas.
The key at Meme (or Mémé) is freshness, and the menu abounds with crispy vegetables, fragrant herbs and exotic spices like curry, coriander and cumin, all brought together with grilled meats and tenderly rendered starches including golden potatoes and saffron rice.
But the main reason I like to take friends to Meme is for what I consider to be their specialties: their immaculately crafted salads and appetizers.
The must-order on Meme's menu is the combination platter, a moderately priced yet massive assortment of the best in Mediterranean tastes: babaganoush, hummus, beets, tabouli, falafel, matbucha, carrots and roast peppers.
The carrots are cooked in a savory-sweet sauce, while the falafel is crunchy yet firm. The dish alone makes a fine lunch for two, or a great start to a Mediterranean-style evening of leisurely dining, perhaps followed by a salad or bowl of mussels.
The salads are the highlight of any evening at this quaint outpost, located as stone's throw from Abingdon Square at 581 Hudson St. Overflowing with ingredients that taste and feel like they were just picked for your plate, they are inventive and satisfying.
One taste of the Meme chopped salad will have you casting any preconceptions you have on this staple salad type out the window. Consisting of crisp romaine and vegetables tossed with chickpeas, feta, zhatar, pita, olive oil and lemon, this is not your mother's iceberg wedge with Hidden Valley. Instead it is one of the most flavorful salads you'll have this side of the Nile, yet it's just a few blocks from the Hudson River.
The setting is also magnificent at Meme, which lends itself to cool spring or fall nights, sipping a glass of wine and noshing slowly for a couple of hours at an outdoor table while watching the Village people pass by.
Given the Moroccan French word for grandmother - mémé - as a moniker, the eatery draws on the home-cooked style, bringing its diners into what looks like a home kitchen, and serving food that a grandma would be proud to serve.
Brunch is also a delight here, where the Shakshuka Morrocan breakfast brings eggs, spiced tomatoes, onion, pepper, tahini and pita together to make one affordable feast for the senses.
Brothers Alon and Joseph Cohen run Meme together, having named it for their mother - whom they affectionately refer to as Mémé. A great Maghreb cook herself, she instilled in chef Joseph her own styles before moving from Morocco to Israel, where Joseph learned a new cooking style. He then went on to train in France before coming to America, where he has worked at a number of restaurants including Gotham Bar & Grill and the now-shuttered Hosteria Fiorella.
Opening in 2011, Meme is the pair's newest outpost, and the restaurant's Web site calls Joseph's background a culinary trip around the Mediterranean, which is an apt description of the food's served in the compact eatery.
581 Hudson St.
West Village, Manhattan
Dinner Entrees: $15 to $24
LUNCH: Monday thru Friday 11:30am to 4:00pm
DINNER: 4:00pm to Midnight Daily
BRUNCH Saturday to Sunday 10:00am to 4:00pm