Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Phoenician - In Your Face Flavor

Last Friday we treated ourselves to dinner at the Phoenician. We had dined there a couple of weeks ago with friends. But that experience was less than satisfying. The place jumped with diners and our waitress wasn’t quite on the ball. We ordered the Mezza and had no room to put all of the dishes. And since I was not very familiar with Lebanese fare, I had no idea what I was consuming. Some things I liked, some I didn’t, but what were all of those things called? No clue. I did lust after a few kebab entrees that wafted our way to land on other tables…

…That lust propelled us to try again. For our 2nd trip we arrived about 8 PM. The early show had left and the light night crowd had not found the place, yet. All to our advantage since we were seated in a comfy corner replete with plush maroon cushions. On this trip not only did I admire the over the top d├ęcor (the interior is vastly different from the chili pepper lights and Corona beer mobiles that La Casita sported), I also noticed the Persian-type rugs gracing the floor. Our waitress (who gave immaculate service throughout the evening) immediately appeared with a basket of regular and toasted pita triangles, homemade yogurt flavored with lemon and a hint of mint, marinated cucumbers, and a sampling of green and black olives. This abundance of welcoming bounty set the tone for the rest of our meal – full in-your-face intense flavor.

As we nibbled we perused the small wine list. Over half of the offerings were Lebanese. And, yes, there is decent wine from Lebanon. For this evening we chose Chateau Ksara Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bekaa Valley. Very tasty and more similar to a Bordeaux style than a California style. If you go, take a chance on it or another Lebanese offering. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

We decided to share a starter and a salad before digging into our entrees. We had a tough time choosing a starter. Lots of options and most salivatingly tempting. We finally opted for the Fatayer Kishik - Baked pastries filled with a mix of seasoned aged dried cheese and onions. We received two round pastries, a little heavier than puff pastry topped with what looked like a red seasoning (we assumed it was the cheese and onions). Somewhat different than what we expected. And while the seasoning was intense, this was not our favorite. No matter. Next, we ordered Tabouli - A traditional Lebanese salad prepared with fresh parsley, tomatoes, diced onions, crushed wheat, fresh squeezed Lemon juice, olive oil and spices. I’ve had tabouli before – lots of couscous, a few sprigs of parsley, some chopped up tomatoes and onions, and the spices of the moment. Why call it a salad? Not this time. This salad had a right to be listed at the top of the salad offerings. On a bed of lettuce a mound of fresh chopped parsley sat, tossed with diced tomatoes and onions and just a touch of crushed wheat. What a fresh taste along with the fresh squeezed lemon and vinegar and spices. Somewhat different than we expected, but, in this case, head and shoulders beyond our taste expectations. I’m trying to figure out how I can make a bastardized version at home using roasted red peppers.

On to the entrees. Hubby decided to try the Chicken Taouk - Tender white chicken breast meat, marinated and skewered with, tomatoes and onions, and green peppers served with rice pilaf and green beans. Basically, chicken kebabs. He liked the fact that the meal arrived already deskewered. Much easier to eat and less risk of any tasty morsels skittering across the Persian-style floor coverings. The edges of the onions and peppers were slightly charred, but did not impart any burnt taste. The restaurant also used sweet onions which is our onion of choice at home. The chicken was accompanied by an extremely intense garlic paste. When I tried it all by its lonesome, the stuff burned going down. Whew. But it was exactly what the chicken cried out for (in small quantities). I decided to get the Chicken Shawarma - Sliced then grilled marinated chicken breast, served with rice pilaf green beans and tahini sauce. My chicken was jammed packed with Lebanese spices (I’m not sure what they were). And while I did not really like the tahini sauce, I did enjoy my chicken with the garlic paste. My dish definitely had more of an intense flavor, but both were wonderful. The rice pilaf and green beans were decent, but the flavorful chicken stole the show.

We were very pleased with this 2nd visit and definitely enjoyed the new flavor sensations.

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ali said...

We (me the vegetarian and my partner, the half-Lebanese omnivore) finally made it to The Phoenician last week. I agree that the service is top-notch and the decor quite lovely. BUT... the food was just OK. We stuck to a collection of starters as our entree. Omnivore Partner thought the kibbeh was excellent, very similar to the family recipe (that she doesn't know how to make). The falafel was quite tasty, but the accompanying sauce contained far too little tahini. The big stumbling block for me was the hummus, which was just blah. Not inedible, but hummus isn't that hard to get right, and this was much too chunky and, again, much too light on the tahini. Everything else was OK. Nothing to write home about -- and no where near the quality of the phenomenal Greek restaurant my colleagues and I happened upon last night in the Dallas 'burbs.

Janet said...

Dh and I went to Phoenician about 6 weeks ago and were disappointed. The service was too much (upselling, etc.) and while the wine we had was good, it wasn't $60 good. The owner was very overbearing and the way the food was served was awkward and the food was nowhere as good at Grapeleaf and much more expensive. And when the CC bill came it was listed as La Casita...LOL

RVA Foodie said...

La Casita is evident at The Phoenician just below the surface if you look closely. Nonetheless, they are attempting to do a hairpin 180 degree turn in terms of quality and in large part I think they're succeeding. There have been inconsistencies reported in various blog posts, but I know that the owner reads these entries (and I've encouraged him to chime in). Thus far, I think the business has been encouraged by the influx of customers and critical acclaim. For me, the test will be when I go back in and order the mezza platter.