Last week, Yasmine Kotb opened Mina's Mediterraneo, a homey Mediterranean spot that serves up mom's (Sonia Kotb) dishes, in the Upper Eastside. Eater talked with Yasmine about what that first week was like, how it feels to own her first restaurant, surprises, and more. Here's what she had to say:
Overall, how has week one been?
Better than expected. I've been restoring the building for over a year and a half and there were many challenges along the way, but I believed in not only this particular property but in the development of 79th Street. This specific stretch of 79th Street has been unassuming yet is surrounded by wonderful neighborhoods from Normandy Isle and North Bay Village to Morningside up to Miami Shores. What a relief it's been to finally be able to open our doors and welcome in the people of the area. One of the great perks to Mina's is our free, gated, off-street parking lot. I think that's part of the reason people have been venturing in, the parking makes it easy.
How does it feel to own your first restaurant?
Incredibly gratifying. There's nothing like walking through a dining room and seeing everyone enjoying themselves. My parents own a great "mom and pop" restaurant called Mediterraneo in Houston, TX, a city wide favorite over the past 15 years. Mina's Mediterraneo is my take on old and new by taking traditional family recipes that have been around for generations and using them to inspire new versions of my favorite foods. Dishes like the Grilled Kale and Pita Sliders are exactly that, the marriage of old and new, tradition and trend. I'm excited about every plate on the menu because I honestly love every dish. That goes for the wine and beer too. We've compiled a wine and beer list that we love and we've made sure to keep every bottle under $30, most under $25. We want to bring a unique experience to the people of Miami and give them the opportunity to try the flavors of the Mediterranean. There's a reason it's my favorite cuisine and it's not for lack of trying foods from other places. I've traveled the world and somehow, no matter how much I've enjoyed the food from other places, I crave Mom's cooking. I hope the people that eat here will too!
What's the feedback so far on Mina's?
People love the food! They've been very complimentary about the flavors and tell me it's apparent someone has put much love into it? Thank you Mom!
I've heard from a lot of people that they're having trouble deciding what to order because there are so many of the choices on the menu to be excited about. That's great to hear since I made sure to comprise a menu of all my favorite foods of the Mediterranean. I'm hoping that will lead to people coming back regularly and trying different things. People have also been very complimentary of the space; an open warehouse with high ceilings and large loft windows which makes it bright all day long. I wanted to create a place where people could come in for a long leisurely lunch or spend a full evening having dinner. At night, the light dims and the tables are candlelit, so the vibe changes completely. We've put a lot of time and thought into the design of the space so that it feels good to sit and enjoy food and wine with friends and family all night long. We can certainly accommodate anyone in a hurry, but it was important for me to create a place where people can enjoy themselves and not feel rushed. It seems to be working because I've noticed that people have been ordering another bottle of wine after they've already ordered dessert. Of course at $25 a bottle, that's hard to resist.
What's been the best part?
That same feedback? walking around and seeing people enjoying our family recipes with so much excitement about both the food and the space.
Building a restaurant from an abandoned warehouse was a challenge and certainly tried me at times, so it's been really gratifying to hear that the immediate community has appreciated the effort that went into the project.
What's been the worst part?
As you may imagine, opening a full service restaurant that seats 95 has provided little time for sleep, but that was to be expected. Honestly, I don't have any complaints. We held a free friends and neighbors night for the people that were involved in the building and opening of the restaurant. Our dining room was full, everyone was relaxed and comfortable, and our staff had the opportunity to have a full trial run. I was worried that we'd have more difficulty pulling it all together but that night really helped work out a lot of the kinks before our opening.
What's been the biggest surprise?
The turnout on the first weekend was the biggest surprise. I haven't advertised, just a small "NOW OPEN" banner on the front of the building. I underestimated how many people from the surrounding neighborhoods had been monitoring the construction process in anticipation of the opening. I'm lucky to be surrounded by very active communities like Belle Meade, Morningside, Shorecrest, El Portal, and Miami Shores. These people are very communicative with one another and have been spreading the word faster than any advertisers could have. I plan on being an active and vocal member of the "Upper Eastside" community so I'm grateful that so many neighbors have come in to dine with us already. I'm pleasantly surprised that many have returned 2 and 3 times in the first week!
If you could travel back in time one week and give yourself advice for the opening, what would it be?
I'd probably tell myself to relax and take it a little less seriously. I wanted to make sure everything was going to be perfect for the opening so I probably made myself more nervous than necessary. I'd go back to enjoy more and stress less.
What are the most popular dishes so far?
Our menu is so diverse, people tend to share everything so they can try more. Our cuisine encompasses dishes from most countries of the Northern , Southern Eastern coasts of the Mediterranean. Our pizzas are a perfect example of just that. The Moroccan pizza has been a favorite because of the fresh merguez and home-made harissa (a "hot-sauce" made from toasted, roasted and ground, herbs and spices). Of course, most people start with a few dips and have been particularly curious about the Besara, a traditional Egyptian dip made of fava beans, similar to hummus but in my opinion, more flavorful. The baked kibby and stuffed cabbage have also been popular, traditional dishes that truly feel like someone's grandmother made them. My mother's spanakopita is unlike any other, so people take one bite and immediately put in a second order. We've also sold a lot of Coq au Vin and Beef Bourguignon (French comfort food), two dishes you won't typically find in Miami. I'm surprised how much Lentil soup we're selling, considering it's summer. We puree our lentils so the soup is smooth and silky, and with just the right amount of spice, it's become a staff favorite. The Israeli Salad, Falafel Sliders, Vegetable Tagine, and Grilled Kale Salad have received a lot of attention from the often forgotten vegetarians out there. As a former vegan, I wanted to make sure there were many choices for those that opt to eat meat free. The Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Tart is getting rave reviews with not only the health conscious but with chocolate lovers alike! The Tiramisu and Baklava are huge sellers in Houston and we've been selling out here, so I guess Miami shares in the sentiment. My favorite is the Nutella Pizza with bananas? now THAT'S old meets new.
What lies ahead?
We're working on our weeknight specials, like Spanish night with Paella and Sangria or Moroccan night with Tagines and Moroccan beer at great discounts.
We will also be expanding outdoors! We're creating a huge outdoor garden dining space complete with outdoor bar, scheduled to open late this fall. I hope that same comfort level we've created inside extends outside. Sit, sip, eat, laugh, enjoy. Complete.
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