If you’ve had dinner in a branch of Five Guys in Beirut, then you’ve had an experience to mirror mine tonight. I ate in Kababji, the first restaurant the Lebanese chain has opened in the US. It’s just south of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC.
When I first arrived in the nation’s capital, I had my dinner-ordering habits formed by a food writer at the pinnacle of his career. Then, we used to order just about one of everything a restaurant had to offer. Now, I find it hard to give up the practice, even when eating alone. He, of course, used to eat a mouthful or two of each dish and then move on. He never took leftovers home. He restrained himself from passing comment to the wait staff–he saved it for the headline. Now, following coded messages from his cholesterol levels, he agrees to fewer assignments and eats out less. I have failed to follow his excellent example in all of the above.
Tonight, arriving at happy hour, I ordered the mezze sampler (hummus, tomato, cucumber and mint salad, and baba gannoush) and a delicious oregano martini. The salad was beautifully fresh and the platter came with a basket of hot pita bread. It was absolutely a meal in itself. Unfortunately, I had also ordered a chickpea and yogurt dish, another kind of eggplant salad, and, yes I confess it, a baked potato. Well, it was described as fresh from the oven, and served with sea salt and olive oil. Thus presented, no Irish person could pass it up. I also ordered a glass of red wine, straight from the Bekaa valley. The waiter looked at me knowingly, charitably thinking “food critic” rather than “glutton”. I humoured him by taking surreptitious pictures of the decor–lumps of masonry lugged from the Lebanon, a quarried wall, and lots of iron work and terracotta paint. It works very well.
The $7 sampler was far and away the best dish of the evening. The yogurt and chickpeas lacked salt and the eggplant salad had too much. The baked potato? Don’t bother. Thin skinned, straight from the microwave and served with a sad looking bottle of salad oil, no sea-salt in sight. No-one could have eaten everything I ordered, but really no-one would have wanted to.
Nonetheless, the service was charming, the happy hour specials were good and good value, and the kebabs, which I have yet to try, looked fresh, lean and delicious. The wine is only $6 a glass and the cocktails are novel and, based on my experience, delightful. Perhaps I’ll go back soon and fill you in on desserts and arak…