Maydan: A Countdown

6:10 pm:  Sunday evening. Car ride en route to Maydan- the Middle Eastern, deservedly lauded, restaurant located in an alley near 14th Street and Florida Avenue, NW. 2nd visit for my husband and me.  1st visit for our dining companions.

They are VERY excited.  Their enthusiasm reignites mine. Concern: will the restaurant live up to the expectations created by word of mouth, not to mention prestigious awards? (i.e. Bon Appetit’s #2 Best New Restaurant in America, Food and Wine 10 Best Restaurants 2018.)  I mull this over.  Enjoyed previous visit but wasn’t completely bowled over. Attribute it to: 1) seated upstairs away from action and 2) influenced by reaction of our tablemates

6:15 pm: Make two resolutions.  1) To myself: drink one glass of wine with dinner.  No cocktail.  Focus consumption on food.  2) To friends: we must order lamb shoulder.

Friends on board.  Husband plans to order barramundi, while meat-eaters have their way with the lamb.

6:20 to 6:51: Conversation veers away from Maydan menu. Catch up on life. The women discuss “This is Us” compared to “Thirty Something.” The men share cooking tips and discuss kitchen design.

6:52 to 6:57 pm: Arrive. Park. Make our way down alley towards restaurant. Pull open heavy blue wooden door, which serves as alluring entryway to Maydan. Friends express intrigue over lack of signage. My heart rate increases significantly.

7:00 pm: Scan crowded room pulsating with energy and focus on the restaurant’s showpiece- its massive fire pit. Zero in on the awe-inspiring brick hearth and hanging meat dripping fat onto the flames. The vision stokes hunger pangs.

7:05 pm: Our party of four led to diminutive high-top table.  Advantage:  proximity to oven and ability to be an eye-witness to the cooking. Disadvantage:  Concern over not having enough room on table to accommodate large number of dishes. Acknowledge that this is owner’s intention.  Maydan is about being cozy, sharing, and community. A place to gather.

7:07 pm: Scan the restaurant. Note that Maydan owner Rose Previte and Chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan don’t appear to be present. Register slight disappointment.  Move on.

7:08 pm: Shift attention to cocktail menu. Shove aside vague recollection of pledge not to have cocktail.

Halawa catches my eye. Description of drink that blends Reposado Tequila, tahini syrup, orange liqueur, fresh lime and pistachio dust.  Find irresistible. Order cocktail from attentive, likable server. Points for not over-explaining menu, concept, or how many dishes we must order.

7:12 pm: Sip cocktail and congratulate myself for ignoring initial pledge to skip it. Note that it counts more as food than drink with floating bits of pistachio and the flavor of tahini shining through.

Halawa cocktail

7:13 pm: Study menu and solicit consensus on what to order.

Results:

From the Kitchen, Salads, etc: Hallomi with peanut dukkah and honey.  Cauliflower with zhough and lemon. Hinbe, a dish with dandelion greens, lemon, garlic, fried shallots.

From the Kitchen, Spreads:  Beiruti Hummus with tomatoes, parsley, green peppers and scallions.  Zaalouk with charred eggplant, tomato, garlic, lemon and cumin.

From the Fire, Vegetables: Eggplant with Georgian walnut sauce and pomegranate molasses. Beets with Shanklish, zaatar, and olive oil.  Summer squash with honeyed labneh, lemon and pinenuts.

From the Fire, Seafood: Barramundi with dried lime, tamarind, chile

From the Fire, Large:  Lamb Shoulder with Syrian Seven Spice.

Condiments:  Tomato jam, harissa, ezme (tomatoes, onions, peppers), chermoula (Moroccan herb sauce). Consider ordering all 7 condiments since they are $1 each.  Decide against it.

7:17 pm: Continue sipping cocktails. Server returns with apologetic look.  Restaurant out of barramundi.  Uh oh. Husband agrees that vast amount of dishes we ordered will more than suffice.

7:25 pm: Begin to wonder why we haven’t been served any food.  Take long sip of drink as distraction and chew on pistachio bits.

7:27 pm: Parade of servers descend on our table bearing multiple bowls of sauces and dips, and a plate of warm pita bread.  Four pairs of hands tear into bread, soft and pliable in some places, crisp and charred in others, and eagerly scoop up contents from whichever bowl is closest. The flavors of Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Georgia, Turkey are interwoven, transforming dishes and transporting diners.  Colors are bright, flavors intense. Hear myself release a deep, audible sigh of satisfaction.

7:34 to 7:56 pm:  Food now arriving at a steady pace. Cauliflower dressed with spicy green chili paste (zhough) brightened with lemon.  Haloumi cheese speckled with sesame seeds.  Salty, nutty, sweet.  Squash, eggplant, and beets slightly burnt from open flames.  Dressed in creamy sauces, glossy, smoky, and vibrant. Mix and match spoonfuls of condiments- adding depth- but also just for the fun of it.

Maydan halloumi

Maydan Eggplant

Maydan beets

8:03 pm:  Slowing down, aware that the pièce de résistance is yet to come. And there it is… sumptuous plate of lamb placed before us.  Server brings carrots, freshly grilled and flavored with harissa paste to my husband as apology for running out of fish.

Maydan lamb shoulder

8:05 pm:  Savor every bite of tender, juicy, laced with Middle Eastern spices, lamb shoulder. Marvel over red onions spiced with sumac. Crisp bits of meat, deeply singed from the grill somehow make their way onto my fork.

8:30 pm:  Think to myself: no one wants dessert.  Let’s not get dessert.  Wait, I’m a blogger.  Must try a dessert.  Order one cheesecake with green apple compote. Four spoons.

8:39 pm:  This dessert not my thing.  Everything that came before it- absolutely my thing.

 

10:00 pm: Home. Post Instagram photos. Smile broadly.  And think…. Maydan ….where every minute counts.

 

Maydan, 1346 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009

 

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