One of our favorite things about trying new food and restaurants is meeting people. We have had the chance to interact with some of the most genuine people throughout our Discover Arlington journey. Whether it's speaking directly to the owners or the managers, each experience is better than the next.
This week's featured restaurant is a true Arlington, VA classic, Lebanese Taverna. Founded in 1979, this family-owned establishment has seen great success in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Founded by Tanios and Marie Abi-Najm, the couple came to America with their five children seeking safety after escaping the civil war in Lebanon. When they purchased the first Lebanese Taverna restaurant in Westover, they were walking into a previous restaurant named, Athenian Taverna. Knowing they could only afford to change part of the sign, they changed it to Lebanese Taverna. Since the start, Lebanese Taverna has grown to reach six full-service restaurants, four cafes and express locations, one market store, and a full-fledged catering business. Not bad right?
We were invited to a tasting at their Pentagon City location (1101 S. Joyce St., Arlington, VA, 22202). We were greeted by their General Manager, Hamdi. He sat us down and explained their expertise in pairing certain dishes with certain wines to create the perfect palate. We were open to anything they offered so we started with a glass of Chateau Ksara, Reserve Du Couvent, Bekka Valley, Lebanese red wine, which was a rare red blend. It was the perfect flavor to pair with their warm pita bread served with zhatar (olive oil, herbs and sesame seeds).
They then brought us a large sample platter of almost every small plate on their menu. On the platter (pictured below), we tried a varierty of everything. Our favorites that stood out from the small plates were the Baba Ghanoush (puréed eggplant, tahini, garlic, + lemon pomegranate (when in season) and the Falafel which is a mix of chickpeas & fava bean fritters served with tahini sauce.
Normally, I am not a huge fan of eggplant but all three eggplant dishes that we tried were excellent. The Baba Ghanoush was so light & airy which left me feeling a touch of lemon after every bite. The Shakshouky dish, comprised of roasted eggplant, scallions, tomatoes, garlic, pomegranate molasses dressing, was another major hit in our books. The final eggplant dish was the M'Saka which is just oven roasted eggplant, chickpeas, tomatoes, onions and garlic mixed together. All of these eggplant dishes went very well with the pita and smooth Chateau wine. I could not get enough of Lebanese Taverna's Hommus. I would typically call myself a "hummus" connoisseur as I am always experimenting with different flavors and varieties. This hommus was made of simply puréed chickpeas, tahini, garlic + lemon---the perfect combination. Other incredible samples we tried were the Tabouleh, Grape Leaves, Shrimp Arak (pictured below), Maanek and Spanakopita.
Next up, we were introduced to a second glass of red wine of the Wardy, Chateau Les Cedres from Bekaa Valley. This was definitely a heavier, medium blend but paired extremely well with the Taverna Octopus (Spanish octopus, date-celery-walnut salad, date vinaigrette, grilled lemon and cilantro pictured below)!
We also induldged in one of their main starters, Kibbeh Nayeh. This was comprised of lamb tartare, bulgur, onions and mint (seen below).
Now, what you might not realize is that this is raw lamb. Since neither Blake nor I are huge fans of sushi, we have a hard time when it comes to eating any certain types of raw dishes. Blake decided to take the first bite with his red wine in one hand and pita in the other. Hamdi explained how important it was to pair this dish with their homemade garlic butter, an onion, mint and a piece of pita bread (pictured below). After a worried look while he continued to chew his first bite, Blake proclaimed that it was absolutely delicious. He convinced me to dig in which I did. I was unfortunately still not a huge fan of the consistency, but Blake was a huge fan of the entire dish, especially the flavors.
We then indulged two of their main entrees, Chicken Curry and Chicken Farrovi. Hamdi brought us a third glass of red wine to try, Sean Minor "Nicole Marie," a blend of Merlot and Zin made in Napa Valley, CA. This was a bit on the sweeter side and much heavier than the first two wines we tried. We dove into the Chicken Curry (chicken, potatoes, bell peppers, coconut milk, chili peppers, quince-mango chutney and Lebanese rice pictured below).
I was a major fan of this because of all of the incredible flavors that paired so well together. I've never had a curry served with a quince-mango chutney and that added a completely different taste to it! As for the Chicken Farrovi (pictured below), I thought Blake was going to pass out from how happy he was eating this dish. With each bite, you could taste the aromas of the roasted, deboned half chicken, roasted vegetables and zaatar potatoes. The chef takes nearly 15- 30 minutes to cook this dish allowing the dish to melt in your mouth after each bite. Incredible.
We were finally greeted with two desserts- Halawet Jibne (a sweet cheese crepe served with semolina pistachio brittle and candied orange zest pictured below) and Knafe Bel Jibne, (a warm, sweet cheese tart, golden semolina crust and sesame seed biscuit). Out of everything on the menu, these were our least favorite given that we are not huge fans of sweet cheese in desserts. However, the Knafe Bel Jibne golden semolina crust was extremely tasteful with just the right amount of sweet.
Leah's favorite dish: Hommus
Blake's favorite dish: Chicken Farrovi
Definitely check out Lebanese Taverna if you are in the mood for a date night, take-out or just want to grab something at their market/grocery store. In addition, they offer full-service catering so keep them in mind for any family party, wedding or corporate event! You will not be disappointed. To learn more about what they have to offer, please visit their website.