I’m a recent Cranston transplant, and one of my favorite secrets of the city is Rolfe Square. This quiet street has authentic and diverse grocery stores and restaurants, including Middle Eastern, Chinese and Russian cuisine. Whether I’m eating dim sum or buying ground lamb, I love this hidden food destination.
Two Syrian brothers opened Rolfe Square’s newest addition, Mosaic, about six months ago. We enjoyed a meal there shortly after it opened, and this time returned with friends. Our party of six had no problem finding a seat, even on a weekend.
Meals at Mosaic start with several complimentary appetizers and pita bread. The beet cubes, mixed olives and pickled vegetables (radish, carrot, scallion and cucumber) added a burst of color to the table.
Sharing isn’t mandatory at Mosaic, but the menu works well if you like to pass dishes around. Our group decided to order several appetizers and mains to share. We started with two classic dips: labneh and mutabbal. Labneh, yogurt strained until it is almost as thick as cream cheese, has a tart creamy flavor.
Mutabbal is an eggplant dip made with garlic and tahini. The first surprise is its light beige color (I always expect it to be darker); the second is its deep, smoky flavor. I’ve had many good variations of Middle Eastern eggplant dips, but this is my favorite. Both dips are drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with ground sumac, a red spice with a tart flavor.
The Cheese Borak’s five golden-fried triangles of dough are filled with white cheese and herbs. Our table kept raving about the Foul Mudammas, a mixture of fava beans, tomatoes and onions in a lemony garlic dressing. The bright flavor woke up our taste buds.
Mosaic is BYOB, but we opted to explore the menu’s non-alcoholic drinks. On an earlier visit I’d enjoyed the licorice iced tea; natural licorice tastes earthy, not like black jelly beans. This time I had the hot Lemon and Cumin drink, an unusual savory tea. Two of us ordered Vimto, a drink made with various fruits, including black currants and raspberries.
After appetizers, we shared three platters and a falafel sandwich. I wasn’t worried about bringing a vegetarian friend because there are plenty of bean- and cheese-based appetizers, but it’s too bad there are no meatless options among the larger platters. Falafel is already available as an appetizer and sandwich, so adding a falafel platter to the menu would be a nice addition for hungry vegetarians. Our Mosaic Kofta platter had both beef and chicken kofta, grilled oblong patties of flavorful ground meat. The Kabsseh with lamb (you can also opt for chicken) had a sweet, flavorful tomato sauce. We were worried about the logistics of sharing a lamb shank, but the slow-cooked meat fell easily off the bone. Both platters came with a dome of aromatic saffron rice.
You should definitely order kibbeh when you eat at Mosaic, if for no other reason than that it’s Syria’s national dish. We ordered the Mixed Kibbeh Platter so we could try three types. All three have the same basic ingredients - bulgur (cracked wheat), ground meat and spices - but they have different characters.
The kibbeh is served with a creamy lentil soup for dipping. The Syrian kibbeh has a football-like shape and is fried. The mishwiyeh kibbeh is rounder and is grilled instead of fried. The platter comes with three of each, plus the kibbeh bil seniyeh, which is like a kibbeh pie slice, cut into diamond shapes. It was fun to discover and discuss the nuances of flavor and texture among the kibbeh.
I can’t leave Mosaic without something sweet. The restaurant’s pastry chef makes the desserts from authentic Syrian recipes. Qatayef are fried half-moon dumplings filled with your choice of walnuts or cream. They come two to an order, so we requested one of each. The Date Tarte was a thin, sweet date cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. The Halawet Aljeben is my favorite, and it comes six slices to an order, great for our group. The outside of this sweet roll-up is made of cheese and semolina; the inside is filled with cream. It’s topped with pistachios and served with syrup that’s lightly scented with rose water.
Hospitality is a fixture of Syrian culture, and I always feel welcomed by the staff here. If you are looking for a new experience in Rhode Island, put Mosaic on your list.
91 Rolfe Square, Cranston