There are few things in this world that the Food Snob loves more than a good kabob. So, when the Snob heard rumors about Washington Street Cafe's new five-course Lebanese dinner offerings on Friday nights, I was naturally intrigued.
As cultured as the Snob is when it comes to all things food, I had never tried Lebanese fare. The Snob, however, is an avid fan - and close personal friend - of travel writer and food guru Anthony Bourdain, who hosts the show "No Reservations." Good old Tony recently ventured to the Arab country and reported good things about the cuisine, so I knew I had to try it out.
The joint was pretty quiet when my dining posse rolled up, but there were six of us and we livened things up. One of the cool things about the dinner, which runs from 5 to 9 p.m. every Friday, is that you can bring your own booze. My companions and I brought a bottle of wine and some ouzo, a Greek anise-flavored liquor - the closest thing we could find to the Lebanese version called arak.
Our first course consisted of a variety of appetizers: thinly-sliced toasted pita chips served with a simple yet flavorful olive oil infused with thyme and sesame seeds; a tangy side of baba ghanoush; a garlic and herb feta spread that tasted similar to Boursin cheese; and chilled, soaked almonds. It was a nice, light spread to tide us over, and the homemade pita chips just kept coming.
Next up was a tasty lentil chard soup, rounded out with lemon and cumin, as well as potato, carrot and onion. This was followed by a tart tabouli salad with plenty of lemon and parsley. The portion sizes were reasonable - just enough to keep you satisfied but not too much to engulf your belly before the main act.
Entrees are the only portion of the meal that the diner has to decide on, as the rest is part of set menu. There were four choices: lahim mishwee, beef kabob marinated and skewered with veggies, as well as dajar, a chicken kabob served with the same fixings. For vegetarians, there was a falafel, served over lettuce with tartor, a tahini, garlic-lemon sauce. Finally, and decidedly the most exotic option, warak arish - grape leaves stuffed with chunks of lamb meat and spices, served with a potent cucumber-garlic sauce.
Now the Snob knows that she mentioned how much she loves kabob (in fact, if it came down to it, she would give her first-born child for the perfectly-prepared meat stick), but, in the end, the lamb was too tempting to resist. And a good decision it was: The lamb was cooked to a tender perfection, immersed in airy rice and hugged snugly inside the grape leaves. The Snob ate every bite and wished there had been more.
The Snob's dining companions were also impressed with their meals - in fact, the Snob's better half said the beef kabob was one of the best he'd ever had. All the dishes were served with garlic-cilantro potatoes and roasted veggies. The one complaint of the Snob's dining companions: The roasted veggies served on the side were far too salty. If you go, ask them to go easy on the salt.
The meal was rounded off with crunchy baklava and fresh fruit with Lebanese-style coffee (similar to Turkish coffee or espresso but not quite as strong, with a light, nutmeg flavor) in cute little porcelain cups. All told, the meal came to a grand total of $23.95. That might sound like a lot up front, but the Snob bets you won't find many places in Concord that serve up five courses for that price (though, to be fair, not being charged for alcoholic beverages likely made a big difference).
Overall, it was a nice, leisurely dining experience, and definitely a nice change of pace for the Snob's palate. While the cafe's setting is a little tight, it's comfortable and laid-back, with a lovely mural of the Mediterranean Sea on the wall to help put you in a relaxed mood.
Reservations aren't required, but if you're visiting with a large party, it's good to give the cooks a heads-up so they have enough appetizers prepared.
Saztain! (That's bon appetit in Arabic.)