Atlanta's latest global culinary expedition goes abroad and brings back the Middle East to Buckhead. The team behind Mission + Market and Tre Vele, Ryan and Jonathan Akly and Chef Ian Winslade, have now opened Zakia Modern Lebanese, named for the Akly's grandmother.

The restaurant build-out is gorgeous with elements of ancient Lebanon (realistic-looking faux-stone columns) mixed with modern aspects of Middle Eastern design, elegant furniture, and crystal chandeliers. During the day, light pours through the 150-seat dining room, at night the neon lights from Tower Place accent the dim, romantic lighting. The bar area, too, is impressive, like a luxury hotel bar with sumptuous seating for 12 and an adjacent lounge area. At the front of the restaurant overlooking Piedmont, there is a table for 2 that will be a special experience come spring.

What is Lebanese cuisine, you ask? Basically, it's standard Mediterranean fare, with lots of whole grains and vegetables, as well as fish and shellfish. Proteins are usually chicken, lamb and goat with an abundance of olive oil used in the preparation and serving. Zakia, while labeling itself as "modern Lebanese," more adheres to traditional Mediterranean fare, and the dishes are very approachable.

We started with some mezze (or small plate appetizers), their fresh pita came right out of the pita oven and was so light and pillowy it almost floated off the table which we dipped in exquisitely fine olive oil. Then some Baba ghanoush which is smoked eggplant and a grilled shrimp dish served with frilled dates and mint yogurt were also excellent starters. For the mains, we had grilled branzino and the chicken tawook kebab, a tender, spiced yogurt-marinated grilled chicken cooked on a skewer. The dishes are very rich in flavor but like most Mediterranean cooking, you don't leave the restaurant feeling super full, just satisfied.

Ironically, I my wife and I had our first date where Zakia now sits. It was 2001 and the Hawaiian concept, Roys, was an exciting new addition to the restaurant scene. But 21 years later this area has been totally redeveloped and a massive mixed-use live-work-play has taken over. Joining Zakia at the Lenox Road luxury apartment complex this year is a location of California-based sandwich shop Mendocino Farms a milkshake and dessert shop called Yard Milkshake Bar. Basically, a city within a city.

Zakia joins the ranks with other excellent Middle East/Mediterranean/Spice Route cuisine concepts such as Rumi's Kitchen and Delbar (both Persian-centric) as well as Atrium, Aziza and forthcoming Carmel also coming to Buckhead (Israeli), as elevated Middle Eastern food offerings. Expect more exciting offerings from this region for some time to come.

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