First Dish: Fata Morgana Mediterranean Cuisine

Nikki BuchananFebruary 16, 2022
Share This

Photo by Nikki Buchanan 

What drew me like a spell to a new Mediterranean restaurant in North Scottsdale? Weirdly, its name — Fata Morgana, which sounded exotic yet vaguely familiar. As it turns out, Fata Morgana is the Italian word for the sorceress Morgan le Fay, who was King Arthur’s half-sister and his antagonist. She could work all sorts of magic, including creating mirages in the ocean. Now, here’s where it gets interesting: the ocean mirages still cited today can be explained by science (something about light and thermal inversion), but they are still named for this medieval enchantress of literature. Pretty cool, huh?

So yeah, that all got me going. Then I read Fata Morgana’s kosher menu, which offers the Middle Eastern standards we all know — falafel, hummus, kebabs. shawarma and the like — as well as dishes far less familiar such as the Moroccan tomato salad called matboucha and the Israeli breakfast sandwich called sabich (introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews). Now my curiosity was really piqued.

But I have to be honest, most of the three or four dishes I ate on this first visit were either a little bland or in some way disappointing. Although my friend and I wolfed down crunchy, taquito-like Moroccan cigars, filled with ground beef and served with tahini, I expected more flavor than they offered up. This is Mediterranean food, after all, beloved for being bright, fresh and lively. But the tahini seemed subdued and maybe a little slick — not the smooth, intensely nutty stuff I love — and the cigars were more about texture than taste. Good, easy to eat, but not great.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan 

Would I order them again? Eh, maybe. They’re not much of a bargain at 4 for $10. Then again, it’s unrealistic to expect the same prices we were paying before the pandemic turned everything upside down. For now, restaurant prices are up because food prices and everything else are up, and we have to live with it.

I was even more disappointed by the Fata Chef sandwich, combining fried eggplant, roasted jalapeño and chicken schnitzel (another Israeli standby introduced by the Ashkenazi Jews). It sounded fabulous, that combo, but the chicken and eggplant are almost indiscernible. They both taste like unrecognizable fried things. And while the matboucha and jalapeño are there, they don’t provide the acidic or spicy pop this sandwich so desperately needs. The best thing about it is the vaguely focaccia-like, faintly pita-like Moroccan bread called Frena. Its crusty top and bottom are sensational, as is its light, airy middle.

A side of garlic fries — thin, crispy and herb-flecked in the online picture, where they are described as “homemade” — are none of these things. For starters, they appear to be the store-bought frozen variety, which our waitress confirms, adding that the homemade fries were coming out limp and sodden, so the kitchen sometimes switches to store-bought.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan 

This raises more questions than it answers, but our server is lovely, upbeat and wonderfully solicitous, bringing us a second order which aims at crispiness but still misses the mark. They’re better, I guess, but if I’m honest, they taste terrible. Too much garlic, for one thing, and they’re mealy. Maybe just a bad brand of store-bought. Who knows?

Here’s what I do know though: Middle Eastern restaurants often hang their hats on fantastic French fries — the dearly departed Crazy Jim’s for one, De Babel for another. And let’s not forget Café Chenar. So having great fries is generally part of the Middle Eastern restaurant experience.

On a positive note, the best part of our lunch (aside from our adorable server) is mild, chunky baba ghanoush — a little sweet, a little earthy — served with light, puffy pita, both so pleasing that I wonder if I shouldn’t give Fata Morgana another chance.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan 

It’s brand new, and the kitchen most assuredly has some kinks to work out, but maybe they’re way better than the impression my first couple of dishes has suggested. Maybe my less-than-wonderful experience was a kind of Fata Morgana? I’m going with that for now.

7116 E. Mercer Lane, Scottsdale, 480-687-2243,


For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.