Recently I blogged about a Korean restaurant which I enjoyed their savory offerings, but only after having complained about how hard it was finding one that was worth raving about. The same sentiment can be applied to Middle Eastern restaurants. I guess this can be attributed to me being spoiled by my visits to the many exemplary establishments in Detroit, where my brother used to live, with a plethora of such eateries, and hence the competition for excellent fare. The other reason could be pointed to my invitations to a Lebanese-Armenian friend’s house for his mother’s divine dishes. But recently, I came across a newfound restaurant serving such cuisine that is worth mentioning.
Jerusalem Restaurant is located in Bailey’s Crossroads, Fairfax, VA, quite off my beaten path of restaurant hunting. But an online coupon perked my interest in this establishment since Middle Eastern cuisine is scant on my blog site. Located off the busy Route 7, it is quite a spacious place sitting in the middle of a strip mall. Walking into it, you sense the rather exotic decor immediately by the art and the furniture. After greeting my dining companion, we quickly corralled a number of dishes to be savored and written about.
The appetizers are divided into the cold and hot sections. From the former, we honed in on a couple. The first was Trio Platter. The beautiful square plate arrived with Hummus, Babaghanouj, Labneh, and complementary, yet de rigueur in such establishments, olives and pickled radish. The Hummus was smooth, creamy and tangy, all the necessary notes for it to be successful. The Babaghanouj exuded the necessary smokiness as a counterpoint to the luxurious silky roasted eggplant, with a tinge of garlic. The Labneh was thick and creamy, much like Greek yogurt, tasting tangy and fruity from a drizzle of olive oil. The complementary olives and radish were tasting rather fresh and house-made, beckoning us to nibble on them throughout dinner. The pita bread tasted fresh and which was the perfect vehicle to transport the various dips to mouth, albeit a bit thicker than the Lebanese kind, which I prefer. The second order caught my attention immediately upon seeing it on the menu. Makdous is dish of small green eggplants stuffed with a filling of crushed walnuts, red pepper, garlic, and marinated in olive oil. The vegetables were cooked through without falling apart encasing a stuffing that was enticing and quite exotic, being nutty, extremely garlicky, and all brought together by a long marination in olive oil. As starters, my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed these openers.
My friend’s entrée order was quite standard fare for Middle Eastern cuisine – Chicken Couscous. The bowl arrived with the grain mixed with vegetables, topped by pieces from half a chicken. The couscous was a departure from the Moroccan style that I was used to, being a bit stodgy and tangy due to the use of tomato as its stock base. The companions of squash, carrot, chickpeas, and potato were the usual. However, the squash and carrot were slightly undercooked (the only time I prefer my vegetables thoroughly cooked). But it was the chicken that was getting my undivided attention. The pieces were moist and thoroughly cooked encased by a smoky and crispy skin, which made them very irresistible, albeit a bit under seasoned. The waitress explained that the chicken was slow cooked for an hour, then finished on a grill resulting in that wonderful crispy skin. Even though the couscous didn’t make an impression, the tasty chicken was sumptuous enough to make up for the deficiencies.
My order was another discovery just like the eggplant appetizer. Hannet is made with lamb and rice, and one bite into the dish got me hooked. The lamb tasted properly seasoned and was fall-off-the-bone tender while exuding its characteristic meaty flavor without being over whelming. Obviously it was boiled in a stock until its proper doneness. The accompanying rice was no shy partner in this dish. The Basmati rice was light and fluffy, tasting extremely savory from the use of stock, and wonderfully aromatic from the use of green cardamom pods (more subtle than the dark ones). The combination of rice and lamb in each forkful was a harmonious marriage, made more tantalizing by the slivers of nutty almond and slices of pungent raw onion. The side of sauce was fiery, pungent from garlic and onion, and lemony, all elements to elevate the dish even further. This dish was indeed an eye opener and a success for me.
Even though we were very sated from the various courses, we were tempted throughout the meal by the dessert display sitting under some bright lights a few feet from us. It was quite difficult choosing from the rather large array of sweets, some of which I recognized and savored before. Eventually, we chose Warbat. It is pretty much fillo dough encasing a custard, and soaked in syrup. I must say I wasn’t too impressed with this one for its slightly cloying sweetness which begged for an orange-blossom water note, and the custard was not rich enough to elevate it beyond pedestrian. Maybe another choice from the many would have been more successful.
I’m glad I trekked a distance to try out this restaurant. The meal openers were successful in my mind, with the properly made hummus, labneh, and babaghanouj dips, to the stuffed marinated eggplant that was exotic to spark some curiosity in us for the rest of the meal. The chicken in the couscous dish really hit the spot with its smoky crispy skin and fairly moist flesh. My lamb rice dish was an excellent choice with the tender meat and the wonderfully fragrant savory rice. Even though the dessert was a bit of a let down, I’m curious to discover the rest of their sweet fare on future trips. It is about time I found a Middle Eastern restaurant worth mentioning, and Jerusalem Restaurant is worth the hike.