The hamsa—an open hand with an eye on the palm—is regarded as a powerful symbol in many Middle Eastern cultures, representing good fortune and positive energy. It’s also known for its protective qualities, and is particularly useful for guarding against the baneful curse of the old “evil eye.”
Colorful paintings of this symbol hang throughout Chico’s newest Mediterranean restaurant, Meze Moon Mediterranean Cuisine, ranging from traditional representations to modern takes (Mickey Mouse lurks in the eye of the one in the restroom). But they’re not the only touch of something mystical here; the fledgling restaurant’s excellent food, exceptional hospitality and exotic atmosphere all coalesce to create a transcendent dining experience.
The downtown eatery is divided into two dining areas. The main door opens into the restaurant’s central, cafe-style section, with one wall dominated by a counter display case filled with various forms of mouth-watering baklavas and Turkish delights. There is also a more formal dining section, replete with ornate wall coverings and fancy chandeliers (decorations left over from the former tenant, the short-lived French restaurant Provencal). Windowed doors running along another side of the cafe offer glimpses into the main source of Meze Moon’s supernatural power—the kitchen. As appealing as the décor is, the most obvious and attention-grabbing element upon entering the building is the beguiling blend of rich, delicious aromas.
“Meze” is the Mediterranean term for appetizers, and that portion of the meal is not to be missed here, where dinner begins with some of the restaurant’s excellent fresh-baked bread and herbed butter. The Meze Moon Combo ($19) is a great starter and features dolmas, falafel, pita bread and an array of dips and salads—on the night of this reporter’s visit, it was baba ghanoush, hummus, tzatziki, tabouli and ezme. I’d previously experienced all of these except ezme—a slightly spicy tomato-based concoction—and each was exemplary.
For our main course, my dining companion and I shared two entrees—the beef koobideh kabob and beef/lamb gyro plate ($24 each). The former was served with grilled tomatoes and a side of ratatouille and the latter with fresh tomatoes, pickles and garnished with tahini sauce. Both included jasmine rice. Again, everything was perfectly prepared, or very near it (some might say the gyro was a bit salty that night, but I didn’t mind at all).
We were too stuffed for dessert by the time we finished the main course. However, our wonderful server gave us two complimentary slices of baklava to go. We ate them later that night, and the dessert was fantastic, still moist with honey syrup; it was a dreamy late-night snack.
All in all, the meal was magnificent. It’s a bit on the pricey side compared with other local Mediterranean options, but given the overall dining experience, it was well worth it. Meze Moon now sits near the top of my list of local eateries for special occasions.
Man behind the moon
I returned to the restaurant the following Saturday afternoon to meet the owner, Emin Tekin, with whom my partner and I shared a few cups of Turkish coffee.
The conversation was frequently interrupted as Tekin was drawn away to greet a large lunch party; confer with an employee; accept an application from a potential employee; and pull the day’s batch of lamb shank from the oven (“I slow cook it overnight to give it the special texture and flavor,” he explained). Still, he was relaxed, welcoming and spoke about the importance of honest, kind and attentive hospitality.
Tekin is a veteran restaurateur who migrated to the United States from the Kurdistan region of Turkey in 1999. After attending Stanford University and Foothill College and working for several years as a dishwasher and line cook, he studied at the now-closed Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco.
He currently owns two other restaurants—another Mediterranean eatery and a brewery, both in San Francisco—and has run a handful of others (including Chico’s short-lived Oya Mediterranean Grill, which was located just a few doors down from Meze Moon and lasted about a year before becoming a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis). He said luminaries who’ve enjoyed his meals include former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a Turkish president.
Tekin, who opened Meze Moon about two months ago, said he now lives in Chico full time. He spoke fondly of this area and expressed his desire and efforts toward making his latest venture a true community restaurant. To that end, he features local artists on the walls (the Hamsa series is the work of Michael Mulcahy); buys local ingredients from the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market and other local outlets (all ingredients are sourced within a maximum 500-mile radius, he said); tithes a day’s profits each month to charity; and aspires to contribute to and uplift Chico’s dining and nightlife culture.
As an example of Tekin’s commitment to hospitality, he agreed to read our coffee grounds, a skill he frequently shares (free of charge) with diners, and especially couples. After a disclaimer that the divination was done purely for entertainment and to share his culture, he asked us—one at a time—to place our left hand over the upturned coffee cup and make a wish.
After the reading, Tekin asked us to grade the veracity of his insight on a percentile scale. Overall, I’d say he hit our personalities at about a 70 percent rate; the other things he mentioned remain to be determined. While the future remains uncertain, one thing is 100 percent clear: Meze Moon offers a delicious, unique and even magical dining adventure.
Meze Moon Mediterranean Cuisine
163 E. Second St.